When it comes to making the transition from a crib to a big-kid bed, there are two questions on many parent’s mind. The first is when do we make the move, and the second is how do we do it? As your toddler sleep consultant, I’m here to help you answer these questions.

I first want to cover the “when.” This is quite honestly one of the biggest mistakes I see parents make with toddlers, switching their child out of their crib early.

The answer to this question is…not now! Unless your child is 3 years old or older, they should stay put in their crib for as long as possible.

The first reason I say to wait is, a child younger than three-years old is rarely capable of understanding the responsibility involved in moving to a bed. This includes having the cognition of knowing that getting out of bed is not an option and foreseeing the consequences of their behavior, if they do get out of their bed.

A child closer to three is much more capable of understanding the expectations involved with their “big kid bed.” You will need to clearly outline the new rules that go along with their new bed and enforce them as your child tests the boundaries. An older child will be much better at foreseeing the consequences of his/her actions and be able to resist the urge to get out of bed and explore (or come see what Mom and Dad are doing).

Safety is widely overlooked when transitioning a young child out of their crib and into a bed. Could your child get out of their room? What would they get in to? Would they fall down the stairs? I’m weary about any decision that would put a child at risk.

The second reason I say to wait is, toddlers are master negotiators (and manipulators at times). Many parents assume that the answer to their child’s sleep trouble is moving into a bed. What they didn’t bargain for is the battle they are going to face, keeping their child in that bed. I see this all the time as a toddler sleep consultant. An early move from a crib opens parents up to a whole new world of bedtime problems. Your toddler wasn’t sleep well in the crib? Now not only are they not sleeping well but they are also able to run around the house while refusing to sleep. I promise you that a “big kid bed” is only going to make your child’s sleeping difficulties worse and your frustration level higher.

When the times comes, switching to a big kid bed is going to be a whole lot easier if your little one is already sleeping through the night. A toddler who is well rested and able to fall asleep independently is far less likely to leave their room at night, which is the single biggest issue that parents run into when they move their little ones out of the crib.

Why you would make the decision to transition earlier?

Many parents say that one of the main reasons they moved their child out of their crib early was because they were climbing out. Many toddlers become impressive climbers at an early age so I’m not surprised when a parent tells me that their toddler is constantly escaping the crib. If your toddler is jumping out of the crib, try these methods first:

-Move all dangerous objects away from the crib so if your baby does make it over the edge, they are less likely to be injured

-Put a second mattress or pad on the ground in front of the crib. Many toddlers do not attempt jumping out more than once because the first time startled them so much

-A last resort may be using a “crib tent.” Always verify any item you are using in your child’s crib, is approved by the US CPSC baby product safety standards.

Your child should be well aware of your expectations (not climbing out of the crib). If you’re having trouble with this, I can help!

Another common reason I hear for the early transition is that another baby is on the way and the new baby needs the crib. There’s no easy way to say this…buy a second crib. Chances are that the new baby will use a bassinet for the first months of their life, which buys you more time. Ultimately, if your older child isn’t three-years old yet, you’re going to have to purchase or borrow a second crib. There are many second hand and even free options out there.

The transition to the “big kid bed”

moving to big bed

When your child reaches three-years old, you can start the transition into their new bed. Many parents make this a special day for their child and pick out new bedding together. Here’s some steps to get your child into their new bed from you toddler sleep consultant:

The first step is preparation. You’re going to want to fill your little one in on what’s happening. Explain to them that they’re going to be making the move into the new bed, set a date, and let them know when the switch is going to happen. When you explain what’s happening to your toddler, make sure you do it with a positive spin. On the one hand, you want to prepare your toddler for the switch, but at the same time, you don’t want to make a huge production out of it. Turning the whole thing into a monumental occasion puts a lot of pressure on your child and is likely to stress them out a bit.

Now that it’s time to actually make the trip to IKEA and pick out the hardware, be sure to bring your toddler along. (Prepare yourself for the onslaught of requests for items that have nothing to do with your intended purchase, possibly from your child, but more likely from your own brain. “Oh hey! What a neat colander! Only six bucks? How can I NOT get it?”)

Giving your child some input into which bed she wants, what sheets she likes, what pillows feel the most comfortable, will ensure that she gets something she likes, but will also help her feel a sense of ownership over her new bed, which can work wonders in easing the transition.

So now that it’s put together and the sheets are on, you’ll want to keep the bed in the same place the crib used to be. In fact, you’ll want to keep just about everything exactly as it was in your toddler’s room except for the new bed. This is a big change, so try not to make any unnecessary additional changes.

This goes double for the schedule on the night of the big event. When you’re getting your toddler ready for bed on that first night, don’t alter the routine, don’t switch up bedtime, don’t try to give her a new food at dinner. Keep everything as predictable and mundane as possible.

Again, you don’t need to make a production out of it. Tell her you’re proud of her, but try to avoid statements like, “What a big girl you are now!” Toddlers are typically in a perpetual state of uncertainty about whether or not they want to do this whole “growing up” thing, and we want to keep things as low-key as we can.

So now that your toddler’s been put to bed, there are a few different scenarios that can play out.

Scenario 1 – They adapt immediately to their new bed and they don’t test the rules whatsoever. In this case, celebrate heartily. You are among the very lucky minority

Scenario 2 – Your little one seems to adapt immediately but, after a week or two, starts leaving their room, playing with their toys, or calling for mom to come back in several times a night

Scenario 3 – Your toddler starts doing all of those things the very first night.

The solution to the latter two of these situations is the same. Offer a warning when your toddler demonstrates the unwanted behavior, tell them what the consequence is going to be if they do it again, and then follow up on that consequence if and when they repeat it.

Chances are that you’ve already discovered a consequence that works on your toddler, and I strongly suggest you keep that it place. Again, we don’t want anything to change except for the bed, so keep doing whatever you’ve been doing up until now in regards to managing behavior.

In case you haven’t discovered an effective consequence yet, I find that taking their “lovie” or favorite stuffed animal away for a short period of time and closing the door all the way, are both pretty functional without putting your toddler into hysterics. For each repeat offense, increase the length of time that the door stays closed or the “lovie” stays out of the bed.

moving baby out of crib

One final thought to keep in mind from your toddler sleep consultant… As much as we’re trying to keep this transition as stress-free and smooth as we can, remember this: You are the boss. It’s almost a certainty that your little one is going to act out after this change. She’ll probably leave her room a lot, she’ll call for you to come in, ask for a glass of water, and more than anything, say that she wants to go back to sleeping in her crib.

It’s crucial that you hold your ground every step of the way here, especially during the first few weeks. If you start bending the rules and allowing her to climb into bed with you, or letting her get back into the crib, this process is going to go on for months. Trust me, as a toddler sleep consultant, I have seen the worst of it and it’s better to avoid it if you can. 

So harden your will, maintain an air of calm authority, and enforce the rules firmly and consistently. It may make you feel like a bit of a tyrant at times, but it will get your little one sleeping peacefully in her new bed a whole lot sooner.

As a toddler sleep consultant, I’ve seen parents help their kids make the transition successfully. I can help your family too.

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