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Ultimate Guide to the Toddler Bed Transition

Posted on . Last updated .

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Cara Dumaplin

toddler bed with navy blue bedding and construction vehicle decorations around the room

Do you know one of the most common causes of toddler sleep problems???

Moving out of the crib too early!

It’s true!

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?

1. Your toddler is consistently climbing out of the crib.

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.

Please know: 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.

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.

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:

You have a new baby who needs the crib.

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. 

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.

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 your little one is 24 months or younger and isn’t sleeping well, I can help! 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. If your little one is an ABCs of Sleep graduate, please know that we offer 1-on-1 support via phone consult that can help you to get your toddler back on track.

How to transition to a toddler bed:

If you’ve decided it’s the right time for your toddler to transition to a toddler bed and your toddler is a great sleeper, I’d like to share some tips and tricks to make the transition easier for you and your family.

1. Communicate expectations before the transition.

Start talking to your toddler about transitioning from his crib to a toddler bed early – especially if your toddler has a hard time with change – so he’s prepared for his new sleep environment, and it doesn’t feel like a surprise. For some toddlers, it can be a scary thought to let go of a crib they love and see as a safe space. We want to give our toddlers time to adjust to the idea of a new bed. When you talk about transitioning to a toddler bed, reassure him the only thing changing is his bed: everything else about sleep will stay the same.

Waiting until your toddler is older also makes this transition so much easier since he can understand the change and express any feelings he has about it. Plus, if you’re struggling with sleep issues, waiting until your toddler is closer to 3 years old gives you more time to take care of those issues. Remember, there’s no rush to get safely-sleeping toddlers out of their cribs!

Watch how this mom talks her son Lukas through his last night in his crib.

2. Swap out the beds or redecorate while your toddler is out of the house.

Your toddler seeing his crib taken apart and moved out of his room can be an emotional moment. Taking the crib out and moving his new toddler bed in while he’s gone keeps him from getting upset and from having the option of moving back into his crib.

3. Check for new safety concerns.

After replacing your toddler’s crib with his new toddler bed, give the room a safety check. Your toddler will experience new freedom now that he’s no longer confined to his crib, so it’s important to look for any potential safety issues. Make sure to:

Bottom line: Your toddler’s entire room must be as safe as the crib was.

4. Be prepared for some big feelings when transitioning to a toddler bed.

The first night in a toddler bed can be exciting, scary, or something in between. You may find your toddler has some big emotions over missing his crib. Create space for your toddler to feel these feelings, and validate what he’s feeling, but remember to stay calm as you talk to him about his concerns.

Parents – remember, our little ones can read our emotions like a book, and their emotions feed off of ours. So if you need to, take some time to process your feelings about the change. We don’t want to make our toddlers think moving into their toddler bed is not okay if we also get upset or stressed.

Let’s see how this mom handled Lukas’s big emotions over missing his crib and his new toddler bed.

When you put your toddler to bed the first night, keep his routine the same and give him extra comfort if he needs it. Even if your toddler is a great sleeper, understand that it may take longer for your toddler to fall asleep at bedtime.

Here’s the same sweet Lukas waking up in the morning in his new bed for the first time.

What if my child begins to wake early in the morning after transitioning to a toddler bed?

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? 

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 

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.

  • 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.

If your toddler’s sleep is a struggle, my Toddler Sleep Training class will help – arriving fall of 2022!  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.

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