At every point in a toddler’s life, it happens: the dreaded and feared transition from a crib to a big kid bed. Veteran parents and new parents can all agree that this is one of the most dreaded milestones of toddlerhood-right up there with the transition to solid foods.
But does moving from a crib to a toddler bed really need to be so bad? The not so simple answer is yes and no. The true answer relies on how you choose to approach the transition.
I get the it-the prospect of your toddler having the freedom to get in and out of bed at will is not fun. But, if you go into it this knowing that it’s going to take some time and patience, it will make this transition much smoother.
When should I move my toddler to a big kid bed?
When should you move your little girl or boy to a big kid bed? That’s pretty simple: wait as long as humanly possible and only do it if you HAVE to. The Journal of Sleep Medicine suggests waiting until your child is 3-years-old.
Children need to be old enough to begin to resist temptations and to have some impulse control. Children don’t start developing this level of self-control over their own behaviors until they are three.
There is absolutely no rush in transitioning to a big kid bed. It’s not going to hurt them or stunt their growth if they stay in the crib longer.
One common misconception is that as soon as a toddler climbs out of the crib, he needs to move to a big boy bed immediately. Give this a little time and see how this behavior develops. Is he doing this consistently? Is it dangerous? Is he getting hurt?
If your answer is NO, then keep her in her crib and wait on the big girl bed. Some kids climb out, fall, cry and never do it again.
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If you really want to keep your climbers in their cribs, try a crib tent. This is a fairly inexpensive and safe way to keep those littles in their cribs. Especially if you have very young climbers who definitely are not ready to move out of the crib.
Signs your child is ready
- Consistently climbing out of the crib with what you’d consider dangerous behavior.
- Growing too big/tall for the crib.
- Able to follow and understand directions.
Types of big kid beds
Once you’ve decided to make the switch, you need to decide which type of bed to use. Some people like to just lay the crib mattress on the floor. This keeps things fairly simple because you won’t have to purchase any new bedding etc.
Should I skip the toddler bed? This is a question I see often. This is going to be based on personal preference and there is no right or wrong answer. You just need to weigh the positives and negatives of both options.
The benefit of getting a toddler bed is that you don’t need to purchase a new mattress-assuming you don’t need the crib for a new baby. You can buy a new bed or you can go the re-sale route. There’s always a lot of them listed on Facebook Marketplace and they are usually pretty inexpensive-this is the option I used for baby #2.
The final option would be moving straight to a twin (or bigger) sized bed. With the twin bed, you won’t have to spend money on a toddler bed, only to have to buy a twin bed a year or so later. So, this may be the most economical option in the long run.
How to prepare for the transition to a big kid bed
Now that you’ve decided on a big kid bed, its time to start preparing. That’s right, you can’t just jump into this; its called a transition for a reason.
Once your toddler has given you all the signs that he is ready for a big boy bed, you need to start talking it up! They need to know that a big kid bed is coming and that it is awesome!
Many toddlers are super excited to switch beds, but just as many aren’t. So getting them excited about it will help with the transition.
Let your toddler help pick out her new bedding and make sure she has her comfort items in the bed with her. The new bedding will help get her excited and the comfort items will keep her feeling secure.
If you don’t already have a bedtime routine set-up, make sure to get this established before you make the big switch so that they know what to expect. Bedtime should be a quiet and peaceful time so taking stimulating toys out of the room may be necessary.
The freedom of the big kid bed
The freedom that toddlers suddenly have during this time is the absolute hardest part of the transition. This is the part that most parents fear. But don’t worry, there are several behaviors you can model to help make this transition smooth.
- Establish a bedtime routine
- Repetition: follow-through with your routine every single day, no exceptions.
- Check back in: When you are preparing to leave the room the first time, let them know that you will be coming back every few minutes to check on them and make sure they are ok. This can help keep them in their beds.
- Consistency is key: If your toddler keeps getting out of bed, DO NOT let them sleep with you. Do not acknowledge them, just quietly pick them up and put them back in their own bed. Even if you have to do it 20 times a night. Eventually, the behavior will stop.
- Don’t React: Kids love nothing more than to get a rise out of you. Even though you probably feel like you’re about to lose it, just keep calm and don’t say anything.
Helpful bedtime tools
If your child is suddenly getting up at 5 am ready to start the day, an Ok to Wake Clock may be really helpful. This clock will show them via lights when it is ok for them to get out of bed.
You may need to work on this with them a bit, but most kids respond really well to these types of clocks.
This white noise machine with a nightlight is also highly rated and may be really helpful in keeping your toddler in his bed. It has shown to be really helpful in getting infants and toddlers to fall asleep quicker and to help them feel more secure when parents leave the room.
If your toddler needs a little extra motivation to stay in bed, Bedtime Charts are really simple to use and are great motivators. You can download this one that I created and then get started. I laminate all of my reward charts so I don’t have to print new ones out all the time, and then use dry-erase markers. If you don’t want to get a laminator just for this, you can print several sheets and use stickers to make it more exciting for your child.
When it comes down to it, there is no perfect time to transition your little kid into a big kid bed. Ultimately, you need to do it when you feel it is appropriate and right for you and your child.
While you are in the thick of it, just remember that like everything else, this is just a phase, and it too shall pass.