Toddler Bed Transition

I have worked with so many families over the years, helping them through this, sometimes, tough transition. However, I must say that every child I have worked with has handled the transition differently. The age range in which parents choose to move their children to a “big kid bed” is somewhat large. Some toddler’s move to a toddler or floor bed as early as 12 months and others wait until after 3 years old. Where children sleep before making the shift to this style bed also varies widely. Some families are co-sleeping but are ready to transition the child to their own bed or own room. Other times, toddlers are climbing out of their crib, and despite the parents’ best efforts, they cannot keep them in their crib. This forces many parents to move to the toddler bed before they may be developmentally ready for the child’s safety. The room they are sleeping in, or will be sleeping in, is another factor and whether they share a room with a sibling or other family member also plays a roll.

Due to the wide varieties of factors to consider, I have not found a set of generalized guidelines to help parents make this adjustment. Just like my personalized sleep plans are not a one size fit all program, neither is this transition. It would not be developmentally appropriate to give advice for 3-year-old working through this transition, the same advice as an 18-month-old. However, I do think there are things that we can discuss to help you create a smoother transition to a big kid bed.

Current Crib Sleeper

For my crib sleepers looking to make this transition, consider why you are thinking about making the change. If you’re thinking about doing it because someone on social media says it’s a good idea or because your sister, aunt, mother, grandmother told you it’s time, I recommend you wait until you are 100% confident. It’s the best thing for you and your family. No one, but you, will have to handle the consequences, if it isn’t the right decision for you and your family, at this time.

I usually recommend, if your toddler is in a crib, you should try to keep them in their cribs for as long as possible – 3 years and older would be ideal. The older they are, the easier they can understand the adjustment and you can work together to make the transition as smooth as possible. If they are in a crib, then you must understand that they see their crib as a safe place. Toddler’s developmental desire to test all boundaries will usually lead them to try and climb out or protest going in (or staying in) throughout the different stages of toddlerhood.

If your toddler is trying to climb out, you can consider adding a sleep sack/bag or wearable blanket to make climbing out by lifting their leg more difficult. Depending on the design of your crib, you can also consider removing the bottom/base of your crib and dropping the mattress straight to the floor. This requires that the top of the mattress and the bottom of the crib are at about the same level, so the child’s hands or feet does not get stuck in any gaps. Also, depending on the design of the crib you could turn the crib around and put it in the corner of the room to minimize the access to climb out.

Ready to go?

If it’s time to make the change, then consider some things you can do help them navigate the conversion more easily.

First, if you’re planning to make the transition, pick a date where there will be no new events coming up for them in the first months or two of these initial changes – no vacations, change in schools, visiting relatives etc.

Once you have a date in mind, let them know the change is coming by using a calendar. I recommend getting a calendar just for your child that they can keep in their room. I love using a calendar daily for children this age, so they know what is expected for tomorrow and upcoming events. This allows them to feel included in the process and handle the various changes more easily. I would put the bed transition on the calendar and discuss it everyday as you cross of each day and count down to that day.

As you discuss this upcoming change, you can add some additional inclusion for them. Discuss and allow them to help you to decorate their new bed with pillows or new sheets. If you purchased a new bedframe or are converting the crib, then let them help you build it by handing you tools.

Consider making time to set up the new bed earlier in the day to allow them time to play and explore it before bedtime. You can even have them pretend to put their favorite toy (or even you) to sleep in the bed as a game earlier in the day.

Consider adding a bedtime routine chart with pictures of your child completing each step in the bedtime routine, setting up the last picture of them in their new bed as reference.

You can also add a toddler clock to your bedtime and morning routines. If you are not already using one, it adds a layer of consistency. These clocks change color when it is time to wake up for the day, helping your child know when to go back to sleep and when they can come out to you. Setting this up before making the conversion would be best, but it can be added later. You can review some of favorite toddler clock options here – Sleep Products

Now What?

You’ve done all the prep work and you’re ready to make the change – now what? Well now it’s time to keep your daily routines and rituals strict! They may try testing the boundaries around this change. It is important you do not give in to any random requests or allow any modification during this boundary-testing transition! No extra lovely at bedtime, no extra books, no extra blankets, more water, etc.… just don’t do it! I know it seem harmless in the moment but if you change or allow even a small adjustment, the flood gates will open. Set the boundaries with books, plushies/lovies, water, blankets, etc. now and be strict during the first month or two of this transition. This will help them understand that despite this big change you are keeping things the same and are going to continue setting healthy boundaries so there is no need to worry, push back and get overwhelmed.

It is worth noting that child will need time to adjust to the new space and layout of the new bed. This often leads to them playing and exploring their sleep space during bedtime, overnight or in the early morning. It’s best to allow some time for them to go through this exploration process. Once their brain has mapped out the new space allowing them to feel familiar and safe, then they will settle into their usual bed timing.

Overnight Concerns

I know there are those out there that will suggest baby gates or reversing the locks. I do not however recommend reversing the lock/handle on their door, as you may create a fear of locked or closed door by accident. If you’re taking them out of the crib because they are climbing out, then adding the baby gate is simply another climbing obstacle and I don’t want to risk them trying to climb it and hurting themselves. For overnight, when they cannot be supervised, I usually recommend a “Monkey Lock” that locks the door into a partially opened position so they can’t get out, but the door isn’t complete shut. Everyone has different thoughts on this idea, though.

Last thoughts

There are so many factors and variables to how kids navigate these transitions. Some go through it without a hitch and others have full blown regressions and we must establish new rules and boundaries. It’s a big change and it takes time to settle into these new sleeping arrangements. Take it slow and prepare them when possible!

Got stuck moving them to a toddler or new kid bed without much warning and things got messy? Let’s chat about setting up a new plan for you and your new big kid!