When is the best time to switch to a toddler bed and how do you actually do it?
In my experience as both a mom and a sleep consultant, I advise waiting until after your child’s third birthday if possible. Honestly, the older they are, the better.
Unless there is a safety hazard (we’ll talk about that next), there really isn’t any reason you need to ditch the crib until around 3-4 years old.
We as a society tend to look at things like getting a “big kid bed” as an achievement or rite of passage, but trust me on this one. Don’t rock the boat unless you absolutely have to.
The reason for waiting is that kids don’t have the impulse control and ability to understand the concept of staying in their bed until closer to 3-years-old. Switching to a bed before they are developmentally ready can result in delayed bedtime and increased night wakings.
I know there are some kids that have been in a floor bed or something from infancy and maaaaybe those kids do? I’m not sure. But if you’re reading this then that’s probably not applicable anyway.
There are height and weight limits for cribs, so definitely check those and consider finding a new crib that fits your child’s needs. But outside of that, the big reason that a crib could become unsafe would be if your child is climbing out or trying to climb out.
Is the mattress lowered as far as it goes? Many cribs can be safely lowered even further by removing the mattress platform.
If your crib has a solid side, turn it around so that side is facing out. You can even take it a step further and move the crib into a corner if possible so that one of the sides is facing a wall as well.
If none of these things are doable with your crib, you can always try a pack-n-play to buy yourself some time.
If you’re not already using a sleep sack, you should be. Even if you’ve tried it before and your kid hated it, consider trying it again. Borrow one from a mom friend or check out a local buy-nothing group if you don’t want to commit.
For some toddlers, that will solve the issue by inhibiting their ability to climb.
But for some toddler escape artists, you’ll need to be a bit more creative. Start by turning the sleep sack around, so that the zipper is on the back.
If they are still somehow able to unzip themselves, you can try turning the sleep sack inside out AND backward. If they still get out, then you’re SOL but also… congrats on birthing a genius.
So let’s say that your child is either over the age of three and verbally asking for a big kid bed OR can no longer safely sleep in a crib. The next question is, are you actually prepared to make this transition successfully?
You don’t need to have a “toddler bed” in order to make this switch. In fact, if your child is 3 or older then I recommend skipping it and going for a regular twin bed. They’ll probably grow out of a toddler bed pretty quickly, so you may as keep the number of times you’re schlepping mattresses and constructing bedframes to a minimum.
You don’t NEED this, but it’s definitely helpful. Basically, we want to have a way for your child to know when it’s time to sleep/stay in their room/stay in their bed and when it’s time to be awake. The Hatch clock is my personal favorite and doubles as a sound machine.
Before you make this transition, there are some steps you can take to help things go as smoothly as possible.
From now on, you’re going to think of your child’s room as one big crib. Make sure that all furniture is secured to the wall, cords are not accessible, outlets are covered ..you get the idea.
The other thing I strongly suggest is a doorknob cover. The reason for this is threefold. The first is to prevent your child from wandering around the house or worst-case scenario, going outside while you’re sleeping. The second is for fire safety. Closed doors are really important in preventing fires from spreading. Third, is so that you don’t get caught in a game of walking your child back to their room in the middle of the night every time they try to get in your bed.
The day (or two) before you plan to make the switch, talk to your child about what’s going to happen. Explain to them that they’re “ready for a big kid bed,” and make it fun! Take them to pick out some new bedding or a new stuffy. This will help them buy into the process.
Also, take this time to explain the concept of the okay to wake clock if they haven’t had it until now. You can say something like “when the light is red, it’s time for sleep. When it turns green, mommy will come and get you.”
What this means will vary for every family but essentially, make sure you’re mentally ready and that you don’t have any major events the day of or after making this transition.
Above all, the most important thing you need in order for this to go smoothly is a child who has independent sleep skills. If you’re not there yet, don’t worry!
Click here to find out how we can get your toddler sleeping better in 10 days or less!