You and your toddler both probably wish you could keep them cocooned in their crib for the rest of their life. It’s not hard to imagine why. For you, a crib keeps your child safely contained, keeping them from exploring at inconvenient or dangerous times and surrounding them with everything they need. It’s also a safe haven for them — a comfortable place your toddler can sleep and play.
But babies grow. And soon enough, they outgrow cribs. They learn to climb. New siblings arrive. Pretty soon, that cocoon seems cramped and it’s time to make the transition from crib to big kid bed. But when’s the right time to transition your child from their crib to a bed, and how can you help them through the process?
The biggest concern most parents have when it comes to making the crib-to-bed transition is safety. While most kids can easily make the transition between 18 months and 3 1/2 years, it really depends on your child.
If at all possible, try to wait until your child is closer to 3 years old to give them a chance to develop the maturity it takes to stay in a big bed at night. If your child is climbing out of their crib, consider moving the crib mattress to the lowest level before moving your child to a bed. If your child’s crib mattress is on the lowest level and they’re still climbing out of their crib, it’s probably time to make the move, since your child could injure themselves as they climb out of or into their crib.
If you’re having another baby, it might be time to switch your toddler to a new bed so the crib will be available. You should try to make the switch at least 6-8 weeks before your new baby is due. This will give your toddler enough time to get used to the new bed and not make them feel like the new baby is taking their bed.
Depending on your child’s age, you may also consider borrowing or buying another crib. Having a new baby is going to leave you with little sleep. If your toddler isn’t ready for a bed, that means less sleep for everyone. Instead, decide if your toddler is truly ready for a bed, and don’t be afraid to keep them in a crib if that’s best for them.
You’ve decided it’s time to move your toddler from their crib to a new bed. As most parents know, making big changes in your toddler’s life can be stressful for both of you. Instead of jumping into the transition, take some time to prepare you and your child for the move.
- Involve your child. Let them pick out new bedding for their big kid bed. If you’re picking out a new bed, let your child have a say. You can even let your toddler pick out a new stuffed animal to help ease them through the first few nights.
- Child-proof your toddler’s room. Of course, you’ve probably already looked over your baby’s room with a critical eye. But now it’s time to look at your child’s bedroom again with your toddler in mind. Can your child tip a dresser? Unlock windows? Pull down curtains? Some parents have the best success when they pull any unnecessary items out of their child’s room, at least for a time, while their child gets accustomed to the freedom of a regular bed.
- Think about timing. Even if you feel like your child is ready, their transition from crib to bed won’t go well if the timing is wrong. Avoid making the transition during other big changes like a new sibling coming home, starting school, toilet training, or moving.
- Do it a little at a time. Instead of making the transition in one day, try to set up a mattress in your toddler’s room and let them practice sleeping in the big bed during naptime. If that goes well, make the full transition at night.
- Keep bedtime routines. Just because your child’s bed changes doesn’t mean their bedtime needs to change. In fact, keeping your toddler’s routine the same will help them feel safe, even in a new bed.
- Be prepared to have your patience tested. Kids will be kids. With newfound freedom comes curiosity. Your child will probably want to explore their bedroom (and beyond) long after bedtime has come and gone. Set clear ground rules with your child and stick with them. The consistency will help your child understand what’s expected. For children who won’t stay in their room, try putting a baby gate in their bedroom door.
- Remember to give rewards. Praising your child for staying in bed and sleeping well is a good way to reinforce good behaviors. Set up a sticker chart or give your child a special treat when they’ve done well.