Updated: Nov 22, 2021
Some parents are excited to transition their child to a #toddlerbed because it's a symbol that their baby is growing up. Others are a little apprehensive, either because they are worried it might not go so well, or...because it's a symbol that their baby is growing up. Wherever you fall on the spectrum, you may be wondering, "Is my toddler ready for a big bed?"
There is no magical age that is right for this transition. Every child is as unique as snowflakes are. In short, as a sleep consultant, my answer will always be to wait as long as possible. Preferably, after age 3 is best. Most children lack the ability to understand imaginary boundaries before age 3. The transition to a toddler bed is a big one, and it gives your child a new freedom.
If you have a really chill and laid back child, you may have no problems getting him to stay and sleep in the new bed. On the other hand, if you have a very curious or feisty child, he may just see this as an opportunity to explore the new freedom. Imagine that you were dropped off in your dream vacation spot but told you had to stay in the hotel room, would you listen? Ask yourself this: Given some toys and the direction to stay and play, how long can you leave your child in that room unattended before he leaves to explore or gets into something you don't want him into? If your answer is only about a minute or two...wait to make the toddler bed transition!
The above scenario is essentially what you are doing when putting your child in a toddler bed, except you're leaving him unattended all night long. Unless you need the crib for another baby on the way, there really is no reason to rush it. Even if there is a new baby on the way, consider using a bassinet or Pack n' Play for a few months and wait to evict your toddler from the crib until the baby actually needs to use it. You want to make sure that your toddler is old enough to understand how to follow a direction even when you are not there to reinforce it.
Baby Climbing Out of Crib
Now let's talk about climbers. Many parents who have babies that climb out of the crib think that they should just go ahead and make the transition since the baby isn't staying in the crib anyway. When babies climb out of the crib, they at least have to make an effort to get out because there is a barrier. Do you think this type of child will stay in a toddler bed when there is nothing holding him back? He will most likely just be out even quicker! If this is the problem you are facing, don't fret. Here are some #momhacks you can try to keep him in the crib longer:
Take all of the metal parts off of the crib and lay the mattress on the floor, still inside the crib. This will make it harder for him to reach the top to climb out. *However, you must make sure that the mattress cannot slide out from under the crib. If it can, this is not a safe option to try.
If your crib has a back that is higher than the front, you can try turning it around so the shorter side is against the wall.
Use a sleep sack or sew a thin strip of fabric between the legs of your child's pajamas. This will allow him to still move around, but he won't be able to get one leg up and over the top of the crib as easily. They also make pajamas with this already sewn on. Try searching for "anti climb pajamas" if you'd rather just buy them.
Some kids will climb out once, get hurt or scared, and never do it again. This was Gideon. He climbed out once around 18 months and fell on the floor. He was perfectly fine, but it scared him. He never even attempted again, and I was able to safely keep him in his crib until he was 3 years old! So, don't assume defeat the very first time it happens.
When you are ready to transition to a toddler bed, here are some tips to make the transition easier:
Start by trying it out for naps first. Once your child gets used to the bed, and consistently stays in it for naps, then you can try bedtime too.
Make it fun! Get bedding that has a favorite character or fun colors so your child will be excited to sleep in it. Do a special reveal and let him explore it.
If needed, stay in the room with your child for a night or two as he falls asleep in the new bed. By "in the room", I don't mean in bed with him, or right next to him holding his hand. Sit in a chair or on the floor, but not right next to him. You want him to know you're there without creating a dependency on you being there. This will assure him that he is safe and you are there if needed. You will also be there to gently remind him to stay in bed if he tries to get out.
The most important thing is to make sure the room is safe in case he does get out of bed to explore unattended. Cover all outlets, make sure cords are out of reach (including ones on window blinds), make sure windows are locked, and pick up any clutter off the floor so there isn't a tripping hazard. Don't forget surrounding rooms in case your child leaves his room (or put up a gate so he can't).
For more tips, check out our experience with moving Gideon to his big boy bed!
The transition to a toddler bed is a big one, but it doesn't have to be challenging if you wait until your child is really ready and follow these simple tips to help make it easier on him.
~Ashley Bell, pediatric sleep consultant