Do you know one of the most common causes of toddler sleep problems???
Moving out of the crib too early!
If your toddler struggles with sleep, transitioning out of the crib is rarely “the fix.” In fact, it usually makes the issues WORSE.
Before 2 ½ years old, most little ones simply do not have the developmental capacity to understand the statement: “You need to stay in bed.” I know it can be exciting to create a "big boy" or "big girl" room, but keeping your toddler safely in the crib just a bit longer will actually make the transition to a toddler bed much easier.
At some point, every little one WILL eventually transition to a toddler or twin bed (I know, I know. If only we could keep those little ones in the crib forever). Let me share with you some of the common signs your toddler is ready to transition to a toddler bed and how to make the transition.
What are the signs your child is ready for a toddler bed?anchor
1. Your toddler is consistently climbing out of the crib.anchor
This is simply a safety issue. If a toddler is regularly climbing out of the crib, the crib is no longer a safe sleeping space for him.
However...before you transition for ONLY this reason, here are some ways you may be able to keep your child safely in the crib a bit longer:
Make sure the crib mattress is in the lowest position.
Consider turning your toddler’s crib around. Some cribs are taller in the “back” and shorter in the “front.” Turning the crib around can make it more difficult for your toddler to climb over the top.
Push the crib into the corner of the room. This blocks two possible sides of the crib for climbing.
Put your toddler in a sleep sack whenever she sleeps in the crib. This will make it more difficult for her to lift her leg up and over the side of the crib.
Use a “two-way talk” baby monitor and firmly say, “NO” if you see your little one beginning to crawl out of the crib.
Safety Tip: Crib tents are not a safe option for keeping your child in a crib.
2. Your toddler is asking for a big girl or big boy bed.anchor
Some little ones never crawl out of the crib, but they do eventually want to sleep in a more adult-style bed. Your toddler may have seen a friend or sibling with a toddler bed, or she may have just decided the crib feels like a baby bed. When she asks, it’s time to start thinking about the transition. We don’t typically see this until at least 3 years old.
3. Your child is simply too big for the crib.anchor
Maybe the crib size is keeping him from getting comfortable or maybe he’s getting too heavy to lift in and out of the crib for nights and naps. Many children reach this point at around 3 - 3 ½ years old. It simply isn’t practical for them to remain in a crib any longer.
If you haven’t seen any of these signs yet, please delay your toddler’s move to the toddler bed ESPECIALLY if sleep isn’t going well in the crib.
When NOT to transition to a toddler bed:anchor
You have a new baby who needs the crib.anchor
This can create the impression for your toddler that he is being “pushed aside” for the baby. It can also just create more stress for everyone. Times of big necessary transitions – like going from one baby to two (or three or four) – are usually not great times to add any unnecessary transitions.
Instead, consider buying/borrowing a crib or using a bassinet, portable crib, or play yard for your new baby until your toddler is ready. (If you haven’t yet taken my newborn class, know that it can help set your new baby up to be a great sleeper with no crying involved.)
You think it might magically fix sleep. anchor
If sleep is a mess, transitioning to the toddler bed often causes sleep to become more difficult.
Many times, what you’re seeing is your little one simply exercising their voice. I’ve got a little trick for you if your toddler is fighting bedtime. Hint: It does NOT include a toddler bed.
Others are telling you your little one SHOULD be out of the crib.anchor
My youngest son was safely sleeping in the crib until he was almost 3 and a half...Other people teased me about whether he would take the crib with him to college. I just smiled and knew that our whole family was sleeping well because I didn’t rush him when he wasn’t ready.
Expert Tip: You don’t have to transition to a toddler bed simply because your child is ready to potty train.
If you're struggling with sleep, I can help! For babies under 2, the 5–24 Month Collection will give you tools and walk you step-by-step through a plan to conquer nights, days, and every bump along your sleep journey. For those older than 2, Toddler Sleep Training can teach you developmentally-appropriate strategies for independent nights, successful days, and smooth transitions through the toddler years.
How to transition to a toddler bed:anchor
Remember, there’s no rush to get safely-sleeping toddlers out of their cribs, but if you’ve decided it is the right time for your toddler to transition to a toddler bed, here are some tips to help make the transition easier for you and your family.
1. Prepare the roomanchor
With the new-found freedom that comes with no longer being confined to the crib, it’s important to look for any potential safety issues within your child’s room. Get down on your hands and knees and see the room from your child’s perspective. Is there anything that could fall on them? Anything they can get a little finger stuck in? Any choking or tripping hazards? Be sure to:
Expert Tip: Make it your goal for the entire room to be as safe as the crib was.
2. Involve your child in the processanchor
Allowing toddlers to be involved in the transition will make the process so much easier. So, how do we do that?
Talk about the new “big kid bed” before it’s time. Reading books about the transition can be a great way to do this.
Let your child make simple choices. Think: the color of the sheets, the print or character on the comforter, which end of the bed the pillow goes on, or which stuffed animal gets to join them in the new bed.
Including your child in the process will help them get excited about this new stage.
3. Communicate clear expectations anchor
Toddlers thrive when they have clear boundaries. Communicating your expectations ahead of time helps prevent bedtime battles. On the day you’re planning to transition to the toddler bed, talk to your child about how they’re going to stay in bed until you come to get them in the morning. You may even want to “practice” during the day by having them show you how they can stay in bed until you turn on the lights.
Expert Tip: If you haven’t considered an Okay to Wake Clock, this can be a great visual reminder. “You’re going to stay in bed until the light turns green!”
4. Maintain your normal bedtime routineanchor
Maintaining your normal bedtime routine provides safety and security to your toddler as they are preparing for this transition. Ideally, the only change is that at the end of the bedtime routine, you’re tucking your little one into a bed instead of a crib.
Expert Tip: Maintain a confident attitude throughout the bedtime routine. Little ones mirror our emotions so if you’re cool and calm, they’ll know everything is going to be just fine. On the other hand, if you seem anxious or unsure about this transition, they will be too. Rest assured they can do this, and so can you.
5. Have a plan if they get out of bedanchor
Getting out of bed may or may not happen after you tuck your little one in that first night. It’s not unusual for toddlers to test the boundaries you laid out ahead of time, so having a plan is crucial for seeing success. So what’s your plan? It could be as simple as this: Any time your toddler gets out of bed, you’ll calmly walk them back to bed, tuck them back in, and leave the room.
Know that if you want more step-by-step guidance through this transition and all sleep transitions for ages 2, 3, and 4, I have a class for you. Toddler Sleep Training is a gentle approach to helping you have a great little sleeper… one who stays in bed all night long.
What if my child begins to wake early in the morning after transitioning to a toddler bed?anchor
Your toddler may wake up a bit earlier in the morning. His toddler bed isn’t yet familiar, which can make it harder to drift back to sleep in those early morning hours. This issue may resolve itself as your toddler becomes more familiar with his new bed. But if early morning wakings are a struggle, please see 10 Culprits for Early Morning Wakings: Why is My Baby Waking Up Early?. I find that an OK-to-Wake clock can be very helpful for many toddlers who struggle with waking up early.
Why won’t my 2 year old stay in their bed? anchor
If your 2 year old is getting out of bed frequently, it could be a sign she is just not ready for the transition. A 2 year old has a hard time developmentally understanding "stay in bed" because their impulse control is so immature. This is why I recommend waiting until children are over 3-years-old for this transition. If your little one is under 3 and struggling, consider going back to the crib if it's a safe option.
Tips for toddler bed success anchor
When your toddler is ready to transition to a toddler bed, follow these tips to make it a successful transition for the whole family!
Start with a great sleeper!
This will make all the difference and also help with other major transitions and milestones in your child’s life. If you’re currently struggling with sleep and your child is under 2 years old, check out my 5–24 Month Collection. If your toddler’s sleep is a struggle, my Toddler Sleep Training class can help! I’ll give you the tools you need to meet your toddler where they are developmentally and help create a great sleeper. It’s never too late to set loving boundaries around sleep to help your toddler grow into a successful sleeper.
Wait until your toddler is closer to 3 years old or older to make the move to a toddler bed if you can do this safely.
Give your child time to prepare by talking frequently with them about what will happen.
When you make the transition to a toddler bed, stay consistent with your bedtime routine and expectations around sleep.
Stay calm and validate your child’s feelings surrounding this big transition.