There is no “best” time to move your toddler from a crib to a bed. While most little ones begin transitioning to a big kid bed somewhere between ages 2 -3 ½, there really are no rules about making the switch. Moving from a crib to a bed is a huge transition for little ones that can result in night wandering, new fears, and new insecurities.
To make the transition as smooth as possible, it’s best to avoid making the switch during other major transitions (potty training, starting preschool, moving, or the arrival of a new baby). As toddlers grow, they are suddenly faced with numerous transitions. They experience a fair amount of pressure to “grow up”. It’s best to conquer one major milestone at a time, whenever possible, to avoid bombarding toddlers with several transitions at once. Many parents move toddlers into beds the minute they start climbing out of the crib. While climbing out of the crib is scary, one episode does not necessarily mean that your toddler will try again (case in point: My son jumped once, cried for a few minutes, and never jumped again). As long as your toddler isn’t hurt, try not to overreact. Toddlers love attention, positive and negative, but will often move on if they don’t get the intended reaction.
*If you do have a new baby on the way, consider either making the switch 8 weeks prior to your due date, so that your toddler has ample time to adjust or borrowing a second crib (or using a co-sleeper or pack and play) for the new baby for the first few months.
Here are some tips to help ease the transition:
1. Assess for readiness: It’s tempting to move a toddler to a big bed the minute they turn two, but many toddlers are not actually ready until closer to 3 ½. Toddlers can become very attached to their crib and the associations with it (being a baby and security). Ideally, the best time to make the transition is when your child asks for it. Try not to rush the transition based on input from others or external pressure. Toddlers do know when they are ready to move on. If you have a toddler who sleeps well in his crib without much complaint, don’t make a change. Try to avoid excessive “big boy” or “big girl” talk when discussing the topic, as this tends to add pressure to the situation. Mention it, point out beds and bedding, and wait for your child to show signs of readiness.
2. Shop together: Changing from the safety of a crib to the strange new world of a bed is big. Allow your child to play an active role in making the transition by allowing him to choose the bed and new bedding. You want your child to feel as safe and secure as possible. Allowing him to choose how his bed looks and feels gives him some much-needed control over the situation.
3. Placement: Consistency is always essential when introducing big transitions. Try to place the new bed in the same place (or as close to it as possible) as the crib. Moving everything around can cause stress for some toddlers. Try to keep the room as similar as possible. It’s also worth noting that while some toddlers like to watch the crib leave the room, others become upset when watching the crib leave. You be the judge!
4. Comfort items: Yes, your child picked out a nice new bed and fabulous new bedding…but it’s very possible that he will still want his old comfort items. Coveted toddler blankets, loveys, a favorite stuffed animal, and other comfort items should all make the transition. The most important factor is that your child feels safe and secure in his new bed. Let him choose what that looks like.
5. Safety items: Even if you used a small toddler bed for a while or converted your crib, moving to a bed is still a big jump. You want to focus on the safety of your child. Invest in side rails for both sides of the bed, even if it is pushed up against the wall (toddlers can get accidentally stuck between the bed and the wall). Sometimes the best crib sleepers suddenly become fearful when they transition to beds.
6. Lights: This is also a good time to add a couple of nightlights to the room, as the change can cause toddlers to feel insecure at first. Soft, filtered light can help decrease their fears. You can get all sorts of lantern fairy lights in shapes of stars, flowers, butterflies and more. Or you could opt for a projection light that will turn your little one’s ceiling into a starry, planet-filled galaxy.
7. Routine: There’s nothing like a new milestone to throw a toddler off balance. Make sure that you have a well-honed bedtime routine long before you make the crib to bed transition. Keep the routine exactly the same, right down to the number of stories read to the continuous music or white noise machine. The only change should be the actual bed. Maintaining consistency ensures safety and comfort for your child. Try not to travel until your child has truly adjusted to the new bed.
8. Empathy: Change is hard, even for adults. Many toddlers will become clingy and cry a bit more during the adjustment. Show empathy to your child, tell him what it felt like when you switched to a bed, let him know that you understand that this is difficult and that you will be there for him every step of the way. Patience is everything during these major childhood transitions.
9. Books: Books are always a good idea when preparing a child for a big transition. “Big Enough for a Bed” (Sesame Street) by Apple Jordan and “Your Own Big Bed” by Rita Bergstein are great books for toddlers preparing to make the transition. Other ideas include getting creative with new bed parties and scrap books of the crib days…only you can truly know what will work for your child. Less fanfare often works the best.