Transitioning to a toddler bed is a big move that can have parents shaking in their boots. Yes, you always knew this move was coming but doing it can feel terrifying, especially if you have been having restful nights!
This move doesn’t have to be scary! In fact, I’m going to set you up for success in this transition. In the end, I promise there is something SO sweet about seeing your little one in a big kid bed.
How do we know if it’s time?
Many parents will try this transition too early. I see this happen for a few reasons:
1.Parents will transition their child after they turn a year old because they are now classified as a “toddler,” so they think that they should be in a toddler bed.
2. Parents will transition around 18 months because their child now seems to hate their crib. Realistically, they are likely going through a peak in separation anxiety. If you want to read more about this, then check out my blog on the ages and stages of separation anxiety.
I highly recommend waiting until as close to three years old as possible before transitioning to a toddler bed. At three years old, your child will have more impulse control to stay in bed, they will understand how to follow rules better, and they will have the language skills to better understand this change!
There are a few exceptions to this rule, however. If your child is consistently climbing out of the crib or if their nipple height is taller than the crib railing, then we must transition them for safety reasons. Don’t worry if this is your child -- we can still make this work!
Delay the Change if You Can!
The longer we SAFELY delay this change, the more smoothly it will go! If you have a little climber on your hands, I’ll share a few hacks that might buy you some more time:
Turn the crib around: If your crib is higher in the back than in the front, then turn the crib around! This may make it more awkward to lift your child up and over the crib railing in the short-term, but it will also buy you a few more months in the crib! It’s okay if the sides of the crib are also shorter in length, most children will need to use the longer sides of the crib to have enough room to get up and over (If your child has proved me wrong and can climb over the shorter sides of the crib then we will still need to transition them to a toddler bed to keep them safe).
Use a Sleep Sack: Sleep sacks make it harder for your child to climb out of the crib. Let me emphasize: this is not a foolproof plan! Some kiddos are especially nimble! However, most kids will have trouble getting the footing they need to maneuver out of the crib if wearing a sleep sack. Take note, this would only apply to traditional sleep sacks, as opposed to sleep sacks that include foot holes for your child. If your child has their foot out then they can still get the traction they need to climb up and over the crib.
Make sure the crib is on its lowest setting: Most cribs are adjustable and have 2 to 3 different heights. I recommend adjusting your crib to its lowest setting once your baby can get on all fours, or once your baby can get in a sitting position (whichever comes first). Chances are, you’ve already done this, but it’s worth double-checking if the mattress can go lower. Putting the crib mattress all the way on the ground is NOT recommended. While this option is tempting, it does not guarantee safety, as there is an increased risk of entrapment.
Do NOT use a crib tent: While on the outside, these products seem like a good idea, they come with safety risks. I do not recommend using a crib tent. If your child cannot stay in the crib, then it’s time to transition them out!
Getting Ready to Make the Move
When your toddler is close to three and getting too tall for that crib, you’re probably ready to make the move to a big kid bed! Follow this transition timeline to make sure your little one is set up for success!
A Few Weeks Before: Introduce an Okay to Wake Clock
An Okay to Wake clock will be your BEST tool to help your child stay in bed! If you are not using one already, I recommend that you start using one about two weeks before you transition to a toddler bed. Check out my Okay to Wake Clock blog to learn more!
If you’ve used one in the past and have gotten a bit slack on your implementation, that’s okay! This is the PERFECT time to become consistent with that tool again.
Three Days Before: TALK about it!
Something I love about working with toddlers is that we can PREPARE them for change! Change is hard, and it’s so exciting that we can talk them through the changes that are coming! About three days beforehand, I want you to start talking about the change to a big kid bed.
Every day go over the rules of the big kid bed. Make it EXCITING. Bring it up OFTEN. Here is a quick script of what you could say:
I am SO excited for your big kid bed! You are growing bigger every day and you are ready for this! Let’s practice the rules for your big kid bed:
1. When the light is red you _____________ (give your child a chance to finish the sentence “stay in bed”)
2. When the light is green you _____________ (give your child the chance to finish the sentence “GO out of the bed!”)
The Big Day: Throw a Party!
On the day of the transition, I want you to make it a big deal! Let your toddler “help” you rearrange their bed/room. Take them shopping to pick out a new pillowcase or sheets for their bed, and throw a mini celebration! This does not need to be expensive by any means, but try baking a cake or making their favorite dinner! A few balloons can help too!
Bedtime on the Big Day: Carry on like normal
You are not going to change ANYTHING in your child’s bedtime routine, EXCEPT remind them of the rules before you leave the room (i.e. Stay in bed until your light turns green!).
Optional: Secure the Room
This is where I sometimes lose parents. This step is optional but, in my opinion, this step is IMPORTANT. As I have said before, safety is my priority. Your child has never had so much freedom in the middle of the night, and we need to make sure they are safe while we ourselves are sleeping.
As long as you still have a baby monitor in the room, I suggest having a way to keep your toddler in the room too. At least for the next 3-12 months.
This is where you say, “You want me to lock my child in their room?!”
And I say, “Yes please!”
Hear me out. This truly is no different from being in the crib. When they were in the crib, they couldn’t get out of their room either. Now we have just expanded the area in which they can explore, but we have taken away the crib. Essentially their “crib” has grown to now include the whole room.
Chances are that you have baby-proofed your child’s room to the max (and if you haven’t… this is your cue to do so!), but are you ready for your child to have free, unsupervised reign of the whole house? If they can open the door to their room, can they also open the front or back door and get outside?
Usually, I find that parents don’t want to lock their child in because they are projecting feelings they have about being locked in a room. As an adult, if someone were to lock me in a room, I would be stressed! As an adult, I KNOW how to keep myself safe in the rest of the house. Children don’t, and sometimes we need physical boundaries to help keep them safe.
If you are not comfortable with the act of physically locking their door from the outside, then a few alternatives are to:
1. Put a childproof door handle on the inside of the door
2. Put a child gate up on the outside of the door
3. Install a door alarm that will go off if your child leaves their room
Keep in Mind!
As with any transition, things may look a little different in the coming weeks.
Expect your child to sleep in all new places
Decide ahead of time if you expect your child to stay in their bed while their light is red, or if you just expect them to stay in their room. I highly recommend opting for the boundary of staying in their room, unless there are multiple children in the same room. If you opt for trying to keep your toddler in their bed, they will have a lot of extra stimulation from you going in and out of the room to redirect their behavior.
But in the short term, expect some very interesting sleeping choices! Your child is bound to go through a phase where they sleep everywhere EXCEPT their bed. This is okay! If your child wants to sleep on the ground, let them sleep on the ground. They will naturally learn that their bed is much more comfortable in time! Until then, they are safe wherever they want to sleep in their room.
If your child becomes too distracted from playing in their room, try removing all of the toys except for stuffed animals and books. Limiting distractions will naturally help your child resort to sleep when they are tired.
Expect a Honey Moon Period
Many parents will go through this transition and they will be SHOCKED at how well it goes. For the first week, sleep may feel FLAWLESS. Your child goes to bed, stays in bed, and wakes up when their light turns green the next morning!
Then the excitement of the toddler bed wears off, and now they are looking for a new type of excitement. Maybe they are getting out of bed and exploring the house, or maybe they are staying up all night long calling out for you or playing with their toys.
Return to your Sleep Training Method
This is the perfect time to return to your sleep training method. I highly recommend a leave-and-check method at this age, but if your child needs a more involved method, then the chair method can also work wonders. Not familiar with sleep training methods? Check out my blog below
In my experience, this transition usually seems more daunting than it actually is. If we can time it right AND set consistent boundaries, then it often goes much more smoothly than we expected. If it doesn’t go smoothly, then I would be happy to help! You can set up a consult to talk by using the link below.
Edited by Emily Schafer