The process of transitioning to a big-kid bed is unique for every child. While some kids switch as early as 18 months, you’ll need to factor in your child’s physical and emotional development, as well as how attached he is to his crib. The most important sign that your toddler is ready to graduate from his crib: He tries to climb out. But if the mattress is on the lowest setting and his chest already reaches the top of the rail when he’s standing, don’t wait for an actual attempt. He can probably hurdle over the side, and it’s wise to get him out before he takes a tumble.
Your child may ask for a big-kid bed to be like a cousin or a friend. However, there’s no reason to rush it. Don’t nudge her out to free up the crib for a new sibling; she’ll already have to deal with lots of emotions when the baby arrives. If you decide to transition her while you’re pregnant, do it at least two months before your due date so she has plenty of time to adjust. Also avoid making the switch while there are other major changes going on in her life, such as weaning, starting day care or preschool, or potty training.
Do a safety sweep of every room your toddler can access. Secure the stairs with gates at the top and bottom, bolt bookshelves and televisions to the wall, and put safety latches on dresser drawers so he can’t pull them out and use them to climb. Some experts suggest putting a gate on your child’s door or locking it, but you have to think about fire safety. As an alternative, you can use a monitor or attach bells to the door to alert you when he’s leaving the room.
If you have a convertible crib, that’s probably the easiest next step. Otherwise, you could place your crib mattress on the floor and add bolster-style rails to help your child feel secure. You can also buy a toddler bed or move straight to a regular bed—ideally, one that’s less than 3 feet off the ground—and install guardrails. Involving your child in the process will help get her excited about the change. Let her pick out the bedding, and read reassuring books like A Bed of Your Own! and Big Enough for a Bed.
Your child might cry and insist he wants his crib back. Stay positive and expect it to take a month or two for him to fully adjust to his new digs. His newfound freedom may also lead him to take lots of excursions. (You put your child to bed and he comes out. You put him back in bed and he comes back out.) Just calmly return him to bed and leave the room as quickly as you can. Since there’s a chance he can’t quite handle a big bed yet, it’s a good idea to hang on to the crib. A temporary return to it, if necessary, is NBD: Toddlers mature quickly, and your child might be ready in another month or two. Be patient, and don’t rush this important transition.
Sources: David L. Hill, M.D., Parents advisor and author of Dad to Dad: Parenting Like a Pro; Elizabeth Pantley, author of The No-Cry Sleep Solution for Toddlers and Preschoolers.