Let me just start by saying that this transition gives me the most anxiety, as it does to many parents. Although I have had the experience of assisting moms and dads through the toddler bed transition, I have not yet personally experienced it in our home. I know we still have time, but that doesn't mean I haven't thought about it and slightly obsessed over it. I just recently purchased the rail extenders for our twins’ cribs just to have in our house in case the transition sneaks up on us. 

If your child is not nearing 3 years old and you have thought about transitioning…pump the breaks! It’s not quite time to make the big change just yet! Let's first address the common reasons why parents transition their toddler out of the crib too soon.

 

1.    You may need the crib for a sibling

If you need the crib for a sibling, look at buying used or refurbishing a crib. Ikea has cute, no frills baby cribs for around $100. No need to disrupt your toddler’s sleep (and yours) for this reason. There are other ready options to consider. Plus, your newborn will likely sleep in a co-sleeper, bassinet, or pack n play, meaning you won’t need the crib for at least another 2-3 months after baby is born.

 

2.    You have a crib climber

Think about troubleshooting your tiny ninja before ditching the crib. If they aren’t in a sleep sack already, I would start using one. Sleep sacks have many benefits since they are a wearable blankets that help to keep little ones warm, and they also can prevent them from lifting a leg over the front of the crib.

Assess how you can discourage the climbing. Be sure the mattress is on the lowest setting, and then, if needed, turn the crib around. The back of cribs typically is higher than the front. Your child is climbing out the front because that is where the door is. Turning it around can buy you some time. Talk to your child. Tell them it isn’t safe to crawl out and they could get very hurt. Catch them in the act and communicate that it’s not okay to try to climb out.

 

3.    Check the schedule

Always take this opportunity to make sure that you aren’t asking your child to sleep too much! Sleep needs continue to decline and at 2/3 years old, your child definitely is ready for more awake time. Typically, they need about 6 hours awake time before nap and 5.5 hours of awake time before sleeping for the night. Increasing sleep pressure for them will discourage the crib shenanigans.  

  

So, what age should you transition your little one out of the crib?

If there is one thing I want you to take away from this it's PLEASE DON'T RUSH IT. My advice is waiting until your child is 3 years old at the minimum. Moving out of the crib and into a toddler bed takes cognitive understanding and maturity from your child. Just because they are a certain age or size does not mean they can compute the expectations we expect from them (staying in their bed). Manufacturers of cribs will suggest moving your child out once they reach a certain height, but if they are not climbing and leaning over the rails, I don’t see it as a problem. Use your best instincts here. 

9 times out of 10 the transition will be difficult, and the once 15-minute bedtime routine now turns into an hour+. Sometimes there is a honeymoon phase with the new bed and the transition is seamless. Be advised that preschoolers will test the boundaries ALL. THE. TIME. Have a plan in place for when they start to do this. If not, they will catch you in a weak, exhausted moment and new habits can form—habits that are definitely difficult to break at this age. 

 

Think about it like this:

A crib was once a physical boundary for your child. It was the constant reminder to "stay in bed". Now that the crib is gone, we need to treat the entire room as their boundary and safe space, because they still require that reminder to stay in bed. So what can you do? Remove all toys in the beginning and make things as safe as possible; bolt down dressers and furniture. As the transition settles, soft toys and books can be introduced back in. The reason why I strongly suggest this is we want to be sure we are giving our children the best opportunity to sleep. That is why they are in bed in the first place, right? Having distractions such as toys, lights, screens and even parents in the room all work against the goal of falling asleep.

Some kids do well with the transition, so if it worked for you at a young age I applaud your success. But for most, parents find themselves making bribes, desperate pleas, and playing an exhausting game of ping-pong in and out of the room. This is the perfect time to make know what the expectations are, which are no different than when they were in a crib. Have a family meeting and create your child’s sleep rules. This is a step-by-step visual showing them how their routine will go and where they sleep all night long.

transition from crib tips graphic

 

What do you need to do to the room before you transition? Think minimalist! Remove everything that isn’t bolted down at first. Take out all toys and distracting items. If you have a daredevil, bolt their dresser and any furniture to the wall. Their room is now their new sleep space and keeping it stimulant free is the way to be. Don’t move their new bed to a new spot in their room. It may not be feng-shui at first, but you can fix that down the road. Keeping it in the same spot in the room will keep your child feeling secure. Take note of any loose cords or objects they can injure themselves with. Be prepared to install a safety device to their door, if needed. Tell them that when they make a good choice, the safety device doesn’t need to be use, but that their door will stay closed an unlocked if they stay in bed. It’s very dangerous to have a young child wandering the house in the middle of the night when we wouldn’t hear them. This isn’t a torture device or something to threaten them with. Calmly tell them that they need to stay in their room in order to stay safe. If you tried the transition and it was a failure, it’s okay to reassemble the crib and try again later. Get the crib back out and try again in 6-months. Sleep is what keeps us clear-minded and patient which is what we all need to survive raising our tiny humans.  
A few takeaways to keep in mind when transitioning to a toddler bed:
  • Don’t rush it. The older the child is, the smoother the change will be
  • Brainstorm keeping them in a crib as long as possible. Look at other alternatives if a new sibling is on the way   
  • Discourage crib climbing   
  • Make their room as distracting as possible and keep the bed in it’s same position for a few months   
  • Create new boundaries and do not waver on those. This is the prime age for boundary and limit testing!

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AUTHOR: Lindsay Loring is a certified pediatric sleep consultant and owner of Tweet Dreamzz. Lindsay is certified through The Family Sleep Institute and has completed studies in baby and toddler sleep, as well as breastfeeding support and SIDS Awareness. 

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