In our parenthood journey, there’s a few things my husband and I have taken our sweet time on. Our girls drank from baby bottles until they were almost two. We made the decision to do extended rear-facing with our twins’ car seats. So it’s not a surprise that we waited as long as possible to make the biggest change of all: the transition from crib to bed.
There were so many thoughts spinning in my head whenever I’d even think about the idea.
All my questions boiled down to a variation of “But how?”
When we couldn’t hold out anymore, I did a lot of research to help make the transition from crib to bed as easy as possible. Here’s what I found, in six easy steps.
Know when to make the transition
Decide what “big kid bed” means for your family
Revisit your toddler proofing strategy
Get your child excited
Keep up the bedtime routine
Help your child stay in bed
This may seem like a basic question, but it’s perhaps the most important. Is your toddler ready to make such a big change? Laura Markham, PhD, a parenting expert, says that it’s critical not to make the transition from crib to bed during a time of stress or lots of change. That means if your toddler is in the middle of potty training or you’ve just moved, it’s best to hold off. Too much change at once will make life harder for both you and your toddler.
Pediatricians like Kaitlin Carpenter, MD, says that while most kids can make the transition between 18 months and 3 1/2 years, it depends on your child. She explains: “If at all possible, try to wait until your child is closer to 3 years old. This gives them a chance to develop the maturity it takes to stay in a big bed at night.”
Once your toddler starts trying to get out of bed and the mattress is already as low as it can go, it’s time to make the change.
What if you need the crib for a new baby on the way? It’s best to start the transition at least two months before the baby arrives.
When you’ve made the decision that your toddler’s time in the crib is done, the next decision is to consider if a toddler bed or twin bed is best for your set-up. This choice is personal and can be based on room size, your financial situation, or if any hand-me-downs are available. The following questions will help you narrow down your choices.
What’s the best bed size for us?
You may want to explore removing a panel of their crib, especially if it’s a convertible crib, as the first step to making the crib-to-bed transition.
If that’s not an option for you, measure the room and see if a toddler bed or a twin bed is a better choice. The mattresses in toddler beds are typically the same size as crib mattresses, so the configuration of your room may not change much. If you opt to go big and choose a twin bed, keep in mind that you’ll need a bit more space. Twin mattresses are normally 10 inches wider and almost two feet longer than a crib mattress. Remember to consider the size of the frame in your planning.
Is the bed the right height?
A too-tall bed will make it hard for your child to get in and out, and will also increase the risk he’ll hurt himself if he falls out. If you have an active sleeper and you’re concerned about the bed height, you can also consider placing the mattress directly on the ground.
Do we need bed rails?
Another possible addition to the big-kid bed are bed rails. Some transitional beds come with them, and others can be bought separately, but these help ensure that your toddler won’t fall out of bed. You may want to place rails on both sides of the bed to prevent your toddler from sliding between the bed and the wall.
With this transition, you are losing the ability to make sure your toddler is safe in their crib from bedtime to morning. Now is the time to look closely at your baby proofing game. Reassess your home through the eyes of a newly independent toddler who can now wander around their room and your home – at night and alone.
In your toddler’s room, be sure all furniture is secured to walls and replace any outlet covers that have gone missing. Some parents – including celebrities like Kristen Bell – recommend switching their kids’ doorknobs so they can be locked from the outside and prevent little ones from escaping. Controversial? Certainly. But no one knows your home – or your little one – like you do.
Take a look beyond the nursery, too. If your bedrooms aren’t on the first floor, ensure you have a stair gate at the top of the stairs, and that it’s closed every night. Be sure to lock all exterior doors to your home so your toddler can’t roam outside. It’s also a good idea to replace outlet covers and secure furniture to walls in the rest of your home.
One of the most exciting steps about transitioning from a crib to a bed is involving your little one in the decision-making. As you undoubtedly know, toddlerhood brings opinions, and often strong ones! Making the leap to a big-kid bed is an important step in your child’s development. Letting them take part in the transition helps them feel excited and proud.
Whether you shop online or head to a store, let your toddler help pick out colorful bedding, a fun pillow, or a new stuffed animal. This can help him understand and look forward to the change he’s about to embark on.
You can also read books that focus on characters who are making the crib-to-bed transition. This helps your little one realize they are joining a special, big-kids club and learn from others who overcame concerns about their own big move.
Kids learn best through play, so act out a bedtime scenario with stuffed animals or dolls. Role play by putting one toy down for bed and have the other loveys take turns saying good-night to the lovey. Let your toddler cover the lovey with a blanket, kiss it goodnight and pretend to turn out the lights. Seeing this will help your toddler understand what it will be like when it’s their turn to sleep in the big bed.
With so much change – even exciting, positive change – kids need some consistency. Keeping a bedtime routine while transitioning to a big-kid bed is key.
Bonnie Dimmick, a certified sleep sense consultant, recommends keeping things predictable. “This is a big change for your little one – don’t try to make any other changes at the same time or you may have a big mess on your hands. This includes even little changes, like offering new foods at dinner on the first day of moving to a big kid bed,” she says. “Toddlers can be very sensitive to change. When you’re getting your toddler ready for bed on that first night, don’t alter your bedtime routine, and don’t switch up bedtime. Keep everything as predictable and mundane as possible.”
So if your routine is dinner, bath, brushing teeth, going potty and reading stories – then that’s what you’ll be doing on the big night. You’ll just have the bed in the room, rather than the crib.
If you haven’t established a bedtime ritual that helps your little one fall asleep, now’s the time! It’s important to create a soothing routine before transitioning to a big kid bed.
Having an easy and enjoyable bedtime routine benefits everyone – and you’ll likely see the positive effects of it during the day. Regular bedtimes during early childhood are an important influence on children’s behavior.
One caveat to these recommendations is that on the first night in the big kid bed. You may need to start your bedtime ritual just a little earlier because your toddler is so excited. That’s okay!
With this new-found freedom, it’s inevitable that there will be lots of night-time exploration. Whether it’s for another hug, a request for water, or a raging case of FOMO like one of my daughters, prepare yourself that your toddler will leave her room.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that when your toddler gets out of bed, calmly and quietly lead her back to her room and tell her she needs to stay in bed. When she crawls back into bed, tell her what a good girl she is for being there, and then leave the room. You can also tell her that you’ll come check on her during the night. For many children, it provides much-needed assurance.
Your toddler may benefit from a visual cue, such as an okay-to-wake clock, as a sign that it’s fine for them to get out of their bed. Or you could make a family rule that they can only get out of bed when you come to wake them up.
Avoid rewarding bedroom escapees by letting them snuggle with you on the couch or have an extra cookie. Instead, shower your little one with verbal praise when they’ve stayed in their room all night.
Final Thoughts on Transitioning your Baby to a Big Kid Bed
Watching your baby go from crib to bed is a sign that your little one isn’t so little anymore. For some parents, this transition is bittersweet. And for most, this transition will take longer than one night. Be patient, consistent, and firm – and you’ll get through the night uninterrupted once again.