Saying Goodbye to the Crib? 10 Tips for a Smoother Crib to Toddler Bed Transition

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Toddler sleeping in bed

Moving your little one from a crib to a toddler bed (or even a big bed) is a huge milestone! It is the end of the baby and crib era.

As mama, you may be worried about your little one falling out of bed, or keeping them safely in their room while also keeping them from destroying their room.

Your toddler will have perhaps the most freedom they have ever had in their short lives. This can lead to limit testing, feeling scared without their crib, and disrupted sleep.

Oh me, oh my! The toddler bed transition can be exciting but it can also feel daunting. These tips can help ease the transition for both of you.

When To Transition To A Toddler Bed?

Wait as long as possible, ideally until 3-3.5 years old. Older toddlers are better able to understand limits and rules than younger toddlers. However, there are times a younger toddler will need to be transitioned out of their crib.

If possible, don't transition from a crib to a toddler bed in the midst of other transitions such as potty training or moving to a new house. It is ideal to make the toddler bed transition its own event.

If you are moving your toddler because a new baby is on the way, transition your toddler at least 8-12 weeks before your new baby arrives. Or, wait at least 8-12 weeks after Baby arrives. This helps prevent jealousy and your toddler feeling like the new baby took his crib.

Preparing To Transition To A Toddler Bed

As always, safety first. Before you say goodbye to the crib, it is essential to fully toddler-proof your child's room. It is a given that at some point your toddler will be out of bed at 3:00 AM while you are blissfully sleeping. Here is a starting point:

  • Strap all furniture to the wall (dressers, bookshelves, chests, etc).
  • Secure all cords for blinds out of reach or better yet, install cordless blinds.
  • Remove long drapes (risk of entanglement or pulling the drapes down)
  • Remove anything breakable
  • Remove anything you will be upset to find out of a drawer and strewn across the room (the dresser drawers WILL be emptied at some point!)
  • Remove diaper creams and lotions (or put in a toddler-proof container). No one wants to clean smeared vaseline.
  • Childproof any electrical outlets and cords

In addition to making your child's room safe, it is important to make their bed safe too. If you are using your crib as a toddler bed, this is usually pretty straight forward. Three sides of the crib usually stay put and the 4th side comes off. You may or may not add a bedrail. 

Consider putting a firm foam mat on the floor beside your child's bed to cushion any falls.

If you are using bed rails, be sure they are attached properly to prevent your child from becoming stuck between the bed and the rail. Toddlers are notoriously wiggly in their sleep! Also, note that most bed rails are not intended for use before 18 - 24 months of age.

Pull your child's bed a few feet away from the wall, or position it so the headboard is the only portion near the wall. Children have sadly become trapped in the narrow gap between the mattress and wall and died from their airway being compromised.

If the bed is against the wall, be sure to pack any gaps with firm foam to prevent rolling into the gap.

Another consideration is your child's newfound ability to get out of bed and leave the room. Locking the door is generally not advised as it is a fire risk. A locked door also complicates potty training later on. But, having a toddler wandering the house during the night is also ill advised. Some families find success with jingle bells on the door handle so parents can hear the door open, using a DIY security system type door alarm, or using a baby gate. Do your research and choose the safest solution for your family.

How To Transition To A Toddler Bed

First, set realistic expectations. This one of the biggest changes in your child's life thus far, and it is normal for there to be some bumps in the road. If it all goes smoothly, give yourself a high five and celebrate! If it is a tough transition, don't feel bad - it is quite normal to feel a bit frazzled in the beginning.

Expect your toddler to test the boundaries surrounding bedtime, particularly when it comes to staying in bed. Expect some anxiety or unease as they adjust to the security of the 4 sides of their crib being gone. Expect some late nights and early mornings the first couple of weeks. But also, expect everyone to adjust and for all the wrinkles to get worked out - because they will!

  • Give your child a heads up. Don't make a big deal out of it, but also don't spring it on your child the moment you disassemble the crib.
  • If your child is old enough, let them help pick out their new bedding
  • Create your action plan: what will you do if your child gets out of bed? Leaves the room at bedtime? In the middle of the night?
  • Review your family's sleep rules with your child (works best age 2.5 and up). 
  • Consider a toddler clock. Toddler clocks give toddlers a visual cue for if it is night/time to stay in bed or morning/time to play.
  • Give grace. The transition is a big one and some children feel unsettled at first without the security of their crib.
  • Stick to your usual bedtime routine. That familiarity will be helpful. 
  • Move bedtime 30 minute earlier the first few days. This gives your child time to adjust and allows time to deal with any limit testing without pushing sleepytime too terribly late.
  • Limit setting is key. Be gracious, but also be firm. 99.9% of toddlers will decide to see what happens if they leave their room....again...and again....and again.
  • Choose your battles. Staying in the room is a must. Staying in bed doesn't have to be. Many a toddler has fallen asleep on their floor as part of exploring his newfound freedom and been just fine; he will move to his bed when he is ready. But, staying in bed is certainly a reasonable sleep rule if you so choose.

Have Fun!

As with all things baby and toddler, the sleep disruptions and behavior challenges that come with the toddler bed transition are thankfully temporary.

The key to a low-stress transition is to do your homework and prep the room in advance, and also have realistic expectations. Then, you can help your toddler adjust to their new environment, remembering any bumps in the road are only temporary.

Are you ready to make sleep a thing at your house, but feel stuck or unsure how? Working with parents 1-1 to take the stress out of baby and toddler sleep is my joy.

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