When and How to Transition to a Toddler or Big Kid Bed

One of the most common questions I get asked as a baby sleep consultant is, “When should we move him into a big kid/toddler bed?”


My favorite answer to this is, “Later!” More specifically, I urge you to not make the transition any earlier than 2.5 and hold out til 3 if you can!! There are a couple of reasons why I implore you to wait to make this transition…


Reasons to wait as long as you can:


Number one: there are so many other priorities when it comes to your baby’s sleep. Establishing a bedtime routine, teaching independent sleep skills, getting your baby accustomed to a schedule. These are all things that should take place before you worry about moving him out of his crib.


It’s going to be a lot easier to make the transition once you’ve got a good, skilled sleeper on your hands.


Number 2: Cognitively, children are not able to handle the rules and responsibility of being in a big kid/toddler bed. Yes, there are rules to being in a bid kid bed! All kids CRAVE boundaries, it makes them feel safe, and they will get overwhelmed when they can not handle the responsibility that they have been given. I see this all the time with young toddlers. They just can’t handle this type of responsibility yet! Nor should they be tasked with it. Plus, the crib gives them those PHYSICAL boundaries which is the type of concrete messaging they need at these young ages.


Number 3: Your child will eventually show interest in moving to a big kid bed, especially if they have older siblings who are also in big beds. Waiting until your child is intrinsically motivated can certainly be helpful for the transition.



The bottom line is that I don’t see this as a developmental stage that your child should reach at a predetermined age. And there is certainly no harm in waiting until they are older to make the switch.


Personally, Evelyn, my eldest, did not transition out of her crib until she was 3.5 years old – and the only reason we did so was because we had a pregnancy loss at this time and thought someone should have something fun and exciting. She was more than ready at this point and was able to understand our rules. Even now at 6.5 years old, she still follows the rules of the big kid bed!! In fact, she does so well that we are now trying to let her know it is ok to get out of her bed to get her own water lol!


When is it ok to transition earlier than 2.5/3 years old?

But, there are actually two situations where you might need to transition your little one before 2.5/3 years old.


Number 1: You have an escape artist. These are the kids who are not just climbing out of their crib but launching themselves out in a very dangerous, harmful way. Safety is paramount so if you have one of these kids who has the drive to climb out but maybe not the coordination yet is making this attempt, you will need to find a solution to this (one solution being transition to the toddler bed).


However, if they’ve got the skills to get out of the crib safely, (and some kids I know are exceptional at climbing out of their cribs) then, again, I once again recommend sticking with the crib. And put on those doorknob child safety locks on the door. Check out my Instagram post on how to keep your child in the crib if they are climbing out.


Number 2: Another reason you might need to transition your kiddo early is if you need to crib for a new baby that is coming soon! Those evictions can certainly be a reason to make the transition. Yet, if you are able to have 2 cribs (even in the same room), I recommend doing so. I find that people are giving away perfectly good cribs on Buy Nothing groups ALL THE TIME. Get yourself one and then pay it forward when your little ones are around 3 ;-)


Will transitioning my toddler to a big bed fix their sleeping troubles?

Parents often confide in me that the reason they want to transition their child is not because the child is ready or interested. Or that a new baby is on the way and they need the room.


One of the biggest reasons I see for parents moving their kids to a big kid bed, is because they’re hoping it will solve some existing sleep issues. Maybe baby’s gotten into a habit of wanting to climb into bed with Mom and Dad, or they’re suddenly waking up and demanding a glass of milk in the middle of the night.


So maybe a big kid bed would help them feel more grown up. Maybe it would give them a feeling of security and comfort.


I hate to say it, but it won’t. In fact, it will probably make it worse.


I, nor any of the other consultants I network with, have ever seen bad sleep behavior solved by moving baby to a new bed.


The bottom line is: I would say 2½ is probably the earliest you want to implement this change. This is just a guideline and later is better.


Ready to make the switch? Here is your checklist on how to do it and what to expect:
  • Wait until they are 2.5 or older (ideally 3+)

  • Talk with them about what is going to happen. Notice whether or not they are interested/excited or not (if not, consider waiting if possible)

  • Let them pick out the sheets!! They LOVE this.

  • Let them help take apart the crib – they can hold the dowels and instructions and hand you the Allen wrench.

  • Get an OK to Wake clock and talk to them about when it is ok to get out of bed. This will be the ONLY acceptable time to get out of bed.

  • Lay down the rules of the bed: No getting out of bed for any reason – if you need something, you call for mommy or daddy. Follow through on consequences if they disobey.


The Honeymoon Phase

There’s typically a honeymoon period with the big kid bed. Kids initially think they’re great, but then, after a couple of weeks, they start to wake up and leave their room in the middle of the night, asking to get into bed with mom and dad.


You may be tempted to comply with this request, but DO NOT. If your child starts leaving their room in the night, walk them back, tell them it’s not allowed, and let them know what the consequence will be if they do it again.


And the consequence is that you will close the bedroom door all the way, and keep it closed for a full minute on the first time. If baby leaves the room again, make it two minutes. Then five, and so on. They wont like this, and neither will you, but they will learn to stay in their bed and follow your bed rules.


So regardless of how sweet the request is, or how easy it might be to just flip back your comforter and let your little one climb aboard, don’t give in. You really need to make it clear that it’s not allowed, or you’ll be dealing with nighttime roaming for months. Setting clear firm boundaries is really important and your child craves this. So give them them boundaries and stand firm.


Conclusion

Transitioning to a toddler bed doesn’t have to be difficult. It can be really easy if everyone is prepared and ready. Your child will be cognitively ready around 2.5/3 years old when you can explain to them the rules of the big bed. Let them be a part of the transition and hold firm to your boundaries and do not let them get out of that bed for any reason.


Let me know how it goes! And if you need help, you can always book a call with me :-)

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