When to Transition to a Toddler Bed and How to Do It Smoothly

Wondering when to call it quits on the crib? Here's what parents need to know about making a seamless transition to a toddler bed.

Whether your toddler loves their crib or is itching to get out of it, they'll eventually graduate to big-kid sleeping arrangements. But when should you transition to a toddler bed, and how can you do it smoothly and safely? Here are some suggestions from the experts.

When to Switch to a Toddler Bed

Unlike some developmental milestones of early childhood—such as potty training or starting solids—the move from crib to bed doesn't always come naturally. As a general rule, though, parents should make the change before their child can climb out of their crib and potentially hurt themselves, says Mark Widome, M.D., a professor of pediatrics at Penn State College of Medicine in Hershey, Pennsylvania.

Most toddlers have the ability to hop over the crib rail when they're about 35 inches tall and between 18 and 24 months of age. Of course, some babies are very agile and will attempt to climb out sooner (at which point they should be moved to a bed). Less adventurous types will not try to climb out at all.

If your toddler likes their crib and is not a climber, it's fine to let them sleep there past age 2—as long as you're mindful of safety, says Jack Walsh, the former executive director of The Danny Foundation, an organization dedicated to crib and child-product safety. But the longer a baby stays in their crib, Walsh adds, the more attached to it they become, and the harder the transition to a toddler bed will be.

yawning toddler boy in crib
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What If You Need the Crib for Another Baby?

Another factor that might influence when you transition your toddler out of their crib is the arrival of a new sibling. Take extra care if this is the reason for the transition; getting a new sibling is a major change, and you don't want to make your child feel as if they're being displaced, says Pamela High, M.D., director of developmental behavioral pediatrics at Hasbro Children's Hospital in Providence, Rhode Island.

Begin the transition one to two months before the new baby's due date, assuming that your toddler is at least 18 months old, says Dr. Widome. If you can get your older child comfortably situated in their new bed, they'll think of the crib as neutral territory—and not their sleeping spot—when the baby arrives. If possible, dismantle the crib or store it in another room out of their sight, suggests Dr. Widome. Or aim to make the crib "unsleepable" by filling it with stuffed animals, toys, and blankets.

Regardless of the reason for the switch, you'll want to do it at a time when there are no other major changes going on in your child's life, says Dr. Widome. Avoid making the move if your child is in the throes of toilet training, giving up a pacifier, or getting used to a new child care arrangement, for example.

Easing the Transition to a Toddler Bed

Before making the switch to a big-kid bed, you'll have to plan out the logistics. Follow these tips and tricks to keep your child happy.

Choose the best toddler bed

Some parents simply put their children's crib mattresses on the floor to ease the transition, says Dr. High. Others spring for a toddler bed, which is generally low to the ground and can accommodate an existing crib mattress. These can come in the form of cars, castles, and other appealing shapes. Using a toddler bed is fine, says Dr. Widome, but it's not essential to keep kids safe. You can always install a removable guardrail on a twin bed to keep your toddler from falling out of it.

Have your child pick their sleeping accessories

Whichever bed you choose, let your child help pick out kid-friendly sheets, pillowcases, comforters, and stuffed animals. This can make the move to a "big kid" bed seem more appealing.

Establish a bedtime routine

As with any time of transition, it helps to establish a predictable routine, says Dr. High. If you already have an established bedtime routine, stick to it as best you can. If you don't have one, start one—ideally, a few weeks before the big transition to have something comforting and consistent to fall back on when you make the switch.

A consistent bedtime ritual can help a young child feel grounded. Toddlers are often ambivalent about growing up and leaving their babyhood behind, and for this reason, change can be hard for them, says Dr. Widome. But once they master a new skill, whether it's giving up diapers or a bottle or moving from a crib to a bed, they have a real sense of pride and accomplishment.

Child-proof your house

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 they can't pull them out and use them to climb.

Some experts even 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 they're leaving the room.

Don't expect an easy transition to a toddler bed

Your child might cry and insist they want their crib back. Stay positive and expect it to take a month or two for them to fully adjust to their new digs. Their newfound freedom may also lead them to take lots of excursions. (You put your child to bed and they come out. You put them back in bed and they come back out.) Just calmly return them to bed and leave the room as quickly as you can.

Since there's a chance they 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 no big deal: Toddlers mature quickly, and your child might be ready in another month or two. Be patient, and don't rush this important transition.

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