Transitioning from crib to toddler bed

Apr 4, 2022
10 min read

I know it feels like just yesterday you were putting your newborn to sleep in the crib you had carefully chosen for them. 

Now, you’re wondering if it is the right time to make the transition to…the BIG kid bed? 

This transition to a toddler bed can feel quite daunting but the good news is that if your toddler is in a great sleep routine, this change will be easier to tackle. Our Little Ones App can help make sure you and your toddler are on the right track when it comes to their sleep, which will ease the transition to a toddler bed.

In this article, we’ll explore this big transition and provide some tips to ensure it goes as smoothly as possible for you and your little one. 

In this article:

  • When to move your toddler out of their crib. 
  • Reasons you might move your toddler to a bed. 
  • Setting up your toddler’s room. 
  • How to prepare your toddler for this transition. 
  • Naps or overnight first?. 
  • What if they won’t stay in their new bed?

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When to transition to a toddler bed

So your baby isn’t a little baby anymore, you finally have to admit that they are most definitely now a toddler! Where did that time go? 

This can be a tricky transition so it’s crucial that you are making this change at the right time for your child. Making the move from a crib to a toddler bed isn’t just about age. Your child won’t hit a certain age and suddenly be ready for a bed. The most important thing is that they are developmentally ready for this transition. 

So how do you know if they are ready for a toddler bed? 

We recommend keeping your child in their crib as long as it is practical, safe and comfortable to do so. Between 2.5 - 4 years old is often the ideal time to move out of the crib, as your child can communicate their needs more clearly at this age. 

Once your child has transitioned to a bed you’ll see that this changes the dynamic. No longer are they safely contained in their crib…now the power has shifted and they can get out of bed whenever they want to, and as many times as they want to! This sudden freedom can quickly turn their nap and bedtime into a game. 

This is why it’s important not to rush this transition. Ideally, your child needs to have a good sleep routine established BEFORE you move them to a toddler bed. This means that they need to be used to having a nap in their crib at the same time each day and that they can self-settle for their nap and at bedtime too. 

If you need support teaching your toddler to self-settle then have a look at our Our Little Ones App which has a range of settling methods suitable for toddlers to move them gently towards self-settling. 

If your little one is sleeping well in their crib and you don’t need to move them to a toddler bed yet, then don’t! As the saying goes ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’. There’s no need to rush this transition, do it at the right time for you and your child.

Reasons you might move your toddler to a bed

There are many reasons why you might be thinking about moving your toddler out of their crib. Let’s take a look at some of them now…

Age

Once your baby becomes a toddler it can be easy to think that the next logical step is to move them out of their crib and into a toddler bed. As we’ve discussed though, there isn’t a magic age where a child can no longer be in their crib. Just because they have turned 2 or 3 years old doesn’t mean they HAVE to be in a bed now. 

Safety

If your toddler is climbing out of their crib and you feel it is dangerous to continue using it then this would be a good reason to make the move to a new bed for your little one, particularly if they are over 2 years old.

New sibling

If you have a new baby on the way then you may be wanting to move your toddler into a bed to free up the crib for your new arrival. Financially, this makes a lot of sense but it’s important to consider if this is going to work for your toddler. 

If your child is over 2 years old, then this transition could work for them. If your toddler is under 2 years old though, they likely still need to be in a crib. In this case, you could consider using a bassinet or Moses basket with your newborn initially.

They have outgrown the crib

Perhaps your child has had a growth spurt and all of a sudden they are too big for their crib, meaning it is no longer comfortable for them. If so, then this would be a reason to move them into a bed to provide more space for them while sleeping. 

They “should” be in a bed now

We’ve all been there as parents when you’re talking with friends who have children and the conversation turns to sleep. You casually mention your child sleeps in their crib to be met with shocked faces…”they’re STILL in their crib?!”Or perhaps it’s a comment from well-meaning grandparents… “you were sleeping in a bed by now, they’re too old to be in a crib”. 

Suddenly you start to doubt yourself, thinking that perhaps they’re right and you should move your toddler into a bed now. Remember though, no one knows your child like you do. If they are sleeping well in their crib and there are no other reasons to move them yet, then it’s simple, don’t move them. Start this transition when your child is ready, not when other people think they should be ready.

Sleep challenges

If your child’s sleep has been challenging for a while, it can be tempting to think that a change of sleep space may somehow, magically, transform their sleep. That once they are in a bed, you won’t need to lay with them anymore, or hold their hand or rock them to sleep. 

I hate to be the bearer of bad news but I can tell you that moving your child into their own bed is very unlikely to fix their sleep woes. In actual fact, it is more likely that it will make their sleep and settling worse! 

Whether they are having trouble getting to sleep by themselves, waking in the night or starting the day too early, all these problems will still be there whether they are in their crib or in their bed. If you move them to a bed too soon, you may also find yourself facing new problems such as playing ‘Jack-in-the-box’ with your toddler getting out of their bed constantly. 

If you need a hand getting your toddler’s sleep and settling back on track, our Our Little Ones App can help.

Setting up your toddler’s room

So the time has come to make the transition to the BIG bed, but now you’re faced with even more questions… what size bed, what kind of bedding, how do you make it safe and so on.

Bed

Most parents choose to use a toddler bed to start with when making the transition out of the crib. This is because it is roughly the same size as their crib and is low to the ground, meaning your toddler can get in and out easily and if they roll out of bed, it isn’t going to hurt them. 

Many cribs now can convert to toddler beds by removing one side of the crib to allow them to get in and out. Keeping the other side of the crib up provides a sense of security and familiarity for your toddler and can help to ease this transition. If your child has outgrown their crib though, or you need the crib for a new baby, you may want to look at getting a full sized bed for them as this will last longer.

Bedding

We recommend using a sleeping bag or sleepsuit with legs for your child for as long as possible. This ensures your little one stays nice and warm as they aren’t kicking the covers off. No one wants to be woken in the middle of the night to pull up a duvet/comforter! Keeping something familiar, such as their sleeping bag, will also help to ease the transition to their new bed. 

When it comes time to move to a pillow and duvet/comforter, there are lots of options and it can be great fun shopping for ones they’ll love. Look for bedding made from natural, breathable fabrics such as cotton. This makes it easier for your toddler to regulate their temperature, meaning they are less likely to overheat. We also recommend buying at least two bedding sets so you have a spare set in case of accidents in the night. 

Remember that safe sleep guidelines recommend that nothing should be in the crib with your little one before 12 months of age. 

Bed guard/rail

Some children move a lot in their sleep. If your child is a wriggler then you may want to consider using a bed guard/rail so they don’t accidentally roll out of bed. 

Stair gate

If your house has stairs then consider installing gates at the top and bottom of your stairs. This way, if your child does get out of bed in the middle of the night or in the morning, you don’t have to worry about them falling down the stairs. Some parents choose to put a gate on their child’s door instead, to ensure they remain safe in their room when they get out of their bed. 

How to prepare your toddler for this transition

As Benjamin Franklin said “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail”. So let’s look at how you can make this transition as smooth as possible for your child…

Talk to your child

Very few children cope well with sudden changes to their bedtime routine so give your child prior warning that a change is coming. You might say something like “In 5 sleeps time you’re not going to sleep in your crib anymore. You’re going to sleep in a bed because you’re getting more grown up.” Each day repeat it and count down the days so they understand change is coming.

Keep your language positive but understated. As parents we tend to hype things up to try and get our children excited. However, this can sometimes have the opposite effect and make changes seem daunting and scary to them. The calmer you are about this transition, the calmer your toddler will be, as children have a way of picking up on our emotions.

If you do decide to move your toddler into a bed to free up the crib for their new sibling, think carefully about how you phrase this to your toddler, and where possible do so before baby arrives. Finding out that they’re moving to a bed because the baby needs their crib now can be upsetting for toddlers and make them feel pushed out or resentful towards their new sibling. Instead, make it a positive experience - they’re moving to a bed because they’re so grown up now. This way it’s not the baby’s ‘fault’ that they cannot sleep in their crib anymore. 

Get them involved 

Your child hasn’t made this decision and moving to a bed is unfamiliar to them. They don’t understand what this change means because they haven’t experienced it before. To help them feel involved and positive about the transition, consider letting them pick out their own bedding and invite them to help you make the bed. You might also want to let them choose a new cuddly toy that is going to sleep with them in their bed. This can also provide some security for them, to have a cuddly friend to keep them company.  

Practise 

You might want to spend more time with your toddler in their room on the days leading up to the transition, especially on the day itself. This will help them to feel more secure and comfortable in that space and give them a chance to adjust to how their room has changed. 

Consider using some teddies or dolls to role play going to sleep in the new bed and staying in bed all night. Make sure to give the teddy/dolly lots of praise for staying in their bed all night! This helps to send the message to your child that this is what they will also need to do when they get into their bed.

Think about safety

Think about other aspects in your child's room that may need changing, moving or removing for safety reasons. Now that your child will be able to get out of bed whenever they want, they could potentially access things that are unsafe, such as:

  • Wires 
  • Blind cords
  • Cupboard or drawer locks
  • Electrical outlets
  • Tall furniture they could climb
  • Breakable items

If you don’t already have one, a video monitor is a great investment as it allows you to check on your child without disrupting them. 

Naps or overnight first?

When transitioning to a toddler bed, we recommend starting with their overnight sleep as they will be more tired and so are more likely to settle easier. Stick with your usual bedtime routine and then give them a chance to settle themselves to sleep in their new bed. It may take longer than usual but don’t worry, they are just adjusting to the change and this will get quicker over time. 

Once they are used to going to sleep and staying asleep in their bed overnight, then you can try doing their lunch nap in their bed as well. If you don’t have the option to keep both your child's crib and bed though, you can go “cold turkey” and move to the bed for overnight sleep first, followed by their nap the next day.

What if they won’t stay in their new bed?

This is the biggest fear isn’t it?! That your toddler will keep hopping out of bed, perhaps even coming out of their room altogether.

Chances are they ARE going to get out of their bed. Why? Because they can! Toddlers love to test boundaries and this is an exciting new boundary to test. So expect that they will get out of bed! 

The best way to tackle this is to silently return them to their bed each time. Don’t chastise them or offer bribes to stay in bed, remain calm and keep interaction to a minimum. A simple “back to bed” each time or even nothing at all and they will soon realise there is nothing to gain by getting out of bed.

Conclusion

Moving your toddler out of their crib and into a bed is a big step for you and your child and it’s important not to rush it. Wait for the right time so that this move can be a positive experience for everyone.

There will, of course, be new challenges along the way but hopefully you now feel more prepared to meet those challenges. Your little one is growing up and moving into a big bed is just the start of a new and exciting adventure together. 

If you’d like further support with your child’s sleep or help with transitioning to a new sleep environment, you will find everything you need in our Our Little Ones App. You’ll also have access to the Little Ones Village, housed in our mobile app, where our certified sleep consultants are on hand to support you every step of the way.

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Bibliography

Is Your Toddler Ready for a “Big Kid Bed”?. (2022). The New York Times. [online] Available at: https://www.nytimes.com/article/crib-to-bed.html  [Accessed 9 Mar. 2022].

NHS Choices (2022). Reduce the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). [online] Available at: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/baby/caring-for-a-newborn/reduce-the-risk-of-sudden-infant-death-syndrome/  [Accessed 9 Mar. 2022].

Rochester.edu. (2022). Moving Your Toddler from Crib to Bed - Health Encyclopedia - University of Rochester Medical Center. [online] Available at: https://www.urmc.rochester.edu/encyclopedia/content.aspx?contenttypeid=1&contentid=4492  [Accessed 9 Mar. 2022].

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