When to transition from a crib to a toddler bed

Updated Jun 15, 2022
Toddler sleeping

There are plenty of reasons parents give for transitioning their child to a toddler bed: a new sibling on the way, having a compulsive climber, or just feeling like it’s “the right time.” But all moves to the toddler bed are not created equal! If you have questions about the when, why, and hows of this major milestone, we’ll have the answers here. 

IN THIS ARTICLE

Best age for this transition

Toddler bed vs. “big kid” twin bed

Safety

Strategies/tips to make this transition easier for your child

Bottom line

Toddler bed transition FAQ

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends transitioning your child to a bed once they’re 35 inches tall, which typically happens between 18 - 24 months. Most falls from the crib happen when children try to climb out, and that usually happens only after the rail is about chest level. 

That said, there are many toddlers who never attempt an escape. For those kids who are content in their crib, and aren’t known climbers, we find that the transition goes much more smoothly when parents wait until three years of age to make the move. 

Before that point, most toddlers don’t have the impulse control required to stay alone in an unenclosed sleep space. That means that if you’re making the move before 3 years of age, you can expect your toddler to frequently pop out of bed at bedtime and during the night. 

It might be time to make the move to a bed if your child has: 

  • Climbed out (or attempted to climb out) of their crib

  • Grown 35 inches tall

  • Started to outgrow the crib, and a bed would be more comfortable

  • Shown they’re able to understand the meaning of external visual cues, such as a toddler clock that turns on when it’s okay to get up for the day

  • Been responsive to the limits you set surrounding bedtime 

  • Asked to make the transition

Whether you opt for a toddler bed, or a “big kid” twin bed, really comes down to personal preference. For families who have a convertible crib, it can be an easy choice to simply convert the crib into a toddler bed. It’s cost-effective and may seem like a smaller transition for a child than a new bed. 

For families that need to purchase new furniture, many will want to balance the cost along with the size of their child. If you’re transitioning from a crib, you can generally use the same mattress in a toddler bed. Smaller children may still have plenty of room to grow, and find it easier to get in and out of since it’s low to the ground. 

On the other hand, a twin bed may be better for families with taller children who may soon outgrow the toddler bed. Some parents understandably want to avoid getting two different beds and sets of bedding within a short amount of time.

Whether you’re transitioning from a crib or moving away from bed-sharing, your childproofing will need an upgrade. Here are some of the things you’ll need to consider:

To contain, or not to contain. You’ll need to figure out if you want to keep your child safely in their room by using a gate, locking the door, or holding the door ajar in a fixed position using a device like a Door Monkey. These strategies can help cut down on nighttime sleep struggles, but can also be a potential fire safety risk. 

It’s pretty much a given that your child will wander out of their room at some point during the night if given the opportunity. Parents opting to let their child freely leave their room will need to think about safety concerns in the rest of the house too. Be sure to gate off access to stairs to prevent falls. 

For those who decide not to contain their child in their room, bells and door alarms can help alert caregivers when their child has left the safety of their room.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission’s (CPSC) safety standards for toddler beds were revised in 2014. For parents who choose to transition their child to a toddler bed, it should be noted that the beds are designed for children not less than 15 months of age and weighing no more than 50 pounds. 

While most toddler beds come with a guard rail, they also tend to be low to the ground, creating less of a safety issue for children who may roll out of bed.

For parents selecting a twin “big kid” bed, removable rails can be attached to the bed to help prevent a child from falling to the ground. Note that many removable bed rails are not recommended for use with children under 2 years of age. Be sure to follow the manufacturer’s recommendations.

Secure furniture to walls and use safety latches on drawers as necessary. Objects like dressers and bookcases have the potential to tip over and cause significant harm, especially if the drawers can be pulled open and used to climb on. 

Be mindful of cords. You’ll want to keep them out of reach on blinds and drapes to avoid a strangulation hazard.

Include your child in the decision-making process. Choosing the sheets, blankets, pillows, or other bedtime accessories can help make your child more comfortable, and excited, about the new bed.

Since big milestones (e.g. moving, potty training, starting school) commonly impact sleep, we recommend making the transition into a big kid bed during a less eventful period if possible. 

Sometimes these things are outside our control, and many families feel pressured once a new sibling is on the way. In cases where the new baby will take over the crib, we recommend making the transition a few months ahead of the siblings' arrival. This will help prevent the older sibling from feeling displaced. 

Give your child the opportunity to spend some time in their new bed during the day. This will help them feel more secure when they return at night time. While we want them to look forward to being in their bed, we also don’t want them so stimulated by the novelty that they have a hard time falling asleep.

Continue to use the same consistent pre-bedtime routine that you used before transitioning to the toddler or big kid bed. This provides security and predictability and helps cue that it is time to fall asleep - all of which help cut down on bedtime struggles. 

Some children make a smooth transition to sleeping in a big kid bed, while others turn into little jack-in-the-boxes who continually pop out of bed. How it goes will largely depend on the age of your child and their temperament.

Keep in mind that impulse control is underdeveloped before 3 years of age, and younger children are more likely to get out of bed. Again, and again and again. 

Remember to praise the little wins, no matter how small. If your child manages to stay in bed and fall asleep without calling for you, let them know how proud you are the following morning. Some parents find it helpful to use sticker charts to reinforce desired behavior too.

If your child is getting out of bed repeatedly, they likely aren’t doing it to be difficult. They often can’t help it! The best course of action is to calmly and quietly return them to their bed to try again. Although it can be frustrating, your consistency will be key in helping your child accept the new changes. 

Don’t rush to make the transition. If your child is safe in their crib, and content to sleep there, we recommend waiting until three years of age to make the transition. Using a sleep sack, moving the mattress to the lowest position, and removing toys (which can be used to provide leverage to climb over the railing) can all help delay climbing attempts.

If it’s not practical for you to wait until age three, and you make the transition earlier, try not to be discouraged if your child has trouble following the new “rules” for sleep. This transition isn’t always easy. It will take time, consistency, and patience, but they’ll get there! 

Toddler bed transition FAQ

Q: How do I keep my child in the bed when making this transition?

A:

Children under 3 years of age don’t always have the impulse control to stay alone in an unenclosed sleep space (like a toddler or big kid bed), so it often takes consistency and time. Some families like to use a gate at the door and treat the room like one big crib. Positive reinforcement and visual cues (such as toddler clocks and sticker charts) can give your toddler more incentive to stay in bed.

Q: What are some signs that my toddler is NOT ready for a bed?

A:

The transition can be especially challenging for children under 3 years of age. Consider waiting until your toddler is about 35 inches tall and/or showing signs of climbing before making the move if you can.

Q: The transition isn’t going well. What can I do?

A:

If there aren’t safety concerns and the crib is still available, consider going back to the crib for a while longer. Otherwise, consider using a toddler clock. The external visual cue can help provide an incentive for little ones to stay in bed during sleep times.

Q: How can I discourage my child from getting up and coming back to my room in the middle of the night?

A:

Some families choose to use gates or locked doors to ensure their little ones stay contained in their rooms. Keep fire safety in mind when considering your options. If you opt to let them come and go freely, you’ll want to consistently return them to their bed each time. The more boring and quiet you are, the less incentive they’ll have to continue coming to your room.

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Note: The content on this site is for informational purposes only and should not replace medical advice from your doctor, pediatrician, or medical professional. If you have questions or concerns, you should contact a medical professional.