While there's no hard-and-fast age when a toddler is ready to move on from the crib, little ones generally make the switch any time between 18 months and 3 1/2 years old, ideally as close to age three as possible.
The timing is different for every child, but if he's hit 3 feet in height, makes a jailbreak daily or repeatedly asks for a big-kid bed, it's probably time to ditch the crib.
For toddlers, transitioning to sleeping in a bed is just one of many exciting milestones they will experience during childhood. While this may seem like an exciting leap from baby to a big kid for you, your toddler may feel differently. A new bed means new rules, freedoms, bedtime and naptime routines, and potentially new fears.
Baby Nursery FAQs
Once your child can get herself to sleep, transitioning to her big kid bed will go more smoothly and quickly, and she will be better at getting back to sleep when she awakens during the night (as all children do).
Typically, a child should switch to a bed when they are about 3 feet tall. They may also start expressing that they want a big bed like you or an older sibling. On the other hand, if your toddler has trouble learning self-control, they may not be ready to switch to a bed.
Experts say: it's not OK to lock kids in their rooms.
To many parents, locking a toddler's bedroom so that they can go to sleep and not wander around the house is the best solution. However, although you may succeed at getting your child to fall asleep, there's a major safety concern.
A toddler bed is a transitional-sized bed perfect for the little bodies of 2-year-olds. They are low to the ground and fit standard crib mattresses. Toddler beds are convenient options if the crib mattress is available, but many times the addition of a new baby warrants that the mattress stays in the crib.
Let Your Toddler Be Involved
Many cribs transition from a crib to a toddler bed and full-size bed, which can make your toddler's transition to the larger bed much easier. If you are going to purchase a new bed, take your child with you to shop for the new bed and to pick out the new sheets and comforter.
Choosing a toddler bed
You have two toddler bed options: a toddler bed, which looks like a mini version of a twin bed (and can come disguised as a race car, fire truck or princess castle), or an actual twin bed with safety rails. Both are safe options, so let your wallet, space constraints, child's temperament and design sensibility guide your decision.
(Of course, if you purchased a crib that converts to a toddler bed, there is no need to shop.) Whatever model you choose, if you're in the market for a new bed for your toddler, make sure it is:
- Sturdy. There'll be plenty of rolling, wiggling, jumping and bouncing on that bed, so make sure it can stand up to tough toddler treatment.
- Low to the ground. Keeping the bed on the down-low limits falls and makes it easier for your child to get in and out all by himself.
- Equipped with rails. The bed should come with side rails (some toddlers are wild sleepers) or allow you to add them.
- Designed. Choose a headboard and footboard without ornamentation, cutouts or protrusions to prevent rambunctious or curious toddlers from bumping heads or jamming fingers. Check that the finish is smooth (no splinters!) and has rounded edges.
- Matched with a mattress. Your best bet is to buy the bed and mattress together to be certain of a snug fit (or buy a toddler bed that's designed to be used with a standard-sized crib mattress).
- Certified. Check for a sticker from the Juvenile Products Manufacturers Association (JPMA) on the bed and any portable rails you purchase. (Note: The JPMA doesn't certify twin-sized beds — just toddler sizes.)
Done shopping? Time to set up his sleeping space with safety in mind.
- Find the right spot in the room, away from windows, blind cords, draperies, radiators, heat registers, and wall or floor lamps.
- Place the headboard flush against the wall and leave ample space on both sides of the bed (or install rails on both sides) to limit the risk that your child could get trapped between the bed and the wall.
- Put a soft rug, sleeping bag or pillows on the floor around the bed to cushion falls.
- Check joints, screws or other hardware regularly to ensure they're not loose.
When children move from a cot into a bed, they can also get out of bed more easily. This means they can do whatever they want in their bedrooms.
A safety check of the bedroom will help to prevent accidents. For example:
- Install safety locks on windows so that the window can be opened only a little. Make sure the gap isn’t big enough for your child to climb through.
- Wrap curtain and blind cords around cleats attached to the wall at least 1.6 m above the floor. Keep hanging mobiles out of your child’s reach. These things could strangle your child.
- Use PowerPoint covers. Ensure electrical appliances like heaters meet Australian safety standards. If your child isn’t safe around electrical appliances like heaters or vaporisers during the day, keep these things out of the bedroom at night. This will help prevent your child from tripping or getting burned or electrocuted if they get up at night.
- Attach furniture or other heavy objects to the wall with brackets so they can’t fall on your child.
- Keep choking hazards and anything poisonous out of the bedroom – for example, massage or aromatherapy oils, medicines, cleaning fluids or small objects like small toys, batteries and coins.
- Take away anything your child could climb on, like chairs and ladders.
- Think about installing a safety gate in the doorway of your child’s room. Or you could shut the door at night, as long as you can still hear your child. Otherwise, you’ll need to make sure the rest of the house is safe for your child in case your child gets up during the night.
Tips For Moving Your Toddler To A Big Kid Bed Successfully
Keep things consistent
Keeping things predictable and ‘business as usual leading up to bedtime on the first night of the transition.
This is a big change for your toddler – don’t try to make any other changes simultaneously, or it may make things much harder. When you’re getting your toddler ready for bed, don’t alter the activities in your bedtime routine. Keep everything as predictable and consistent as possible.
Additionally, you’ll want to keep the bed in the same place the crib used to be. And we recommend keeping just about everything exactly as it was in your toddler’s room except for the new bed. This is a big change, so try not to make any unnecessary additional changes.
Help your child feel ownership and control of the change.
This is a big change that is happening in your toddler’s life. Talk to them about what will happen, how it will happen, and what they can expect. We don’t want them to have any doubt in their minds about how things are going to go.
Additionally, have your toddler pick out a new pillow or blanket to sleep with or have them help you convert their crib into a toddler bed. This helps them feel a sense of ownership and control within this change.
Bedtime charts or bedtime routine books
You can personalise a bedtime routine book to help toddlers prepare for the transition. These are a great visual for your toddler to see the change as it happens. They should go through each step of the bedtime routine and up through sleeping peacefully in their bed all night long.
Put pictures of them doing each activity of their bedtime routine and put them together in a book or wall chart. Seeing themselves in their book is another way to give them a sense of control and ownership of the situation.
Help your child feel safe, secure and connected.
Transitioning to a toddler bed can lead to insecurity because a boundary your child is used to is not there anymore. It can be helpful to do some extra 1-on-1 time in the evening and have renewed intention of being fully focused and connecting with your toddler during their bedtime routine to feel safe, secure and connected going to bed.
Reiterate boundaries and enforce them
It is important that, as parents, we recognise that moving to a toddler bed is a big responsibility. As adults, we tend to see new freedoms as exciting and wanted, but it can feel overwhelming for a young child, so firm boundaries help your child feel more secure.
You want to talk about expectations with your child so they know the expectations in their new bed, but in reality, these expectations have not changed. When reiterating expectations, please focus on the behaviour you want your child to do, not on what you don’t want them to do. It can feel easy and even helpful to tell your toddler they shouldn’t get out of bed.
Instead, focus on ‘things will be the same as normal. Such as “we will sing our song, do goodnight hugs and kisses, and we will tuck you in, and you are in bed to fall asleep.”
Focusing on the positives and assuming the best will set them up for success.
Of course, if they get out of bed, calmly restate the limit and return them to their bed. Enforce this limit as many times as it is challenged so that your child can fully understand what the limit is and that it is firm no matter what they do.
Be proactive to reinforce the behaviour you want to see
As opposed to waiting until your child gets out of bed, watch on your monitor or listen and intervene early by checking in on your child if you see the movements of starting to get out of bed so that you can reinforce that staying in bed results in positive feelings and reactions.
Additionally, this helps toddlers develop trust and confidence that you are there when they need you in the context of their new bed.
You do want to be careful to strike a balance between too much and too little help, reassurance and check-ins so that they don’t become something disrupting your child’s falling asleep process.
What to do if your toddler is getting out of bed
Reinforcing those boundaries and expectations you have set is important, even if it happens many times. Knowing those boundaries are firmly in place helps your toddler feel security within those boundaries.
While returning your child to bed or proactively checking on them as needed, stay calm and collected. Your child will assess how you are feeling and act accordingly. Staying calm and collected while challenging in these situations pays off with less pushback and limited testing.
Tips for Transitioning to a Toddler Bed
If a child is comfortable in a crib, there's no reason to move to a bed—just because your child turns two or even three doesn’t mean it’s time to make the switch. It’s best to wait until your toddler is at least two to transition to a toddler bed (or a twin), but the closer your child is to three, the better.
You also don’t want to transition to a big kid bed as a reaction. You want it to be planned out,” said Strong. Even if your child climbs out of the crib, you don’t have to move to a bed immediately.
If you need the crib for a new baby, make the switch several weeks before the baby arrives. Or go ahead and buy a second crib; it might be worth it if it helps your older child sleep better when you're caring for an up-all-night newborn.
Easing the Transition
There's no need to spend weeks preparing your toddler for their new sleeping arrangement, but you need to set expectations before making the switch. Removing the crib without warning might be traumatic for a child who is not anticipating that the place where they slept for the last two or more years will suddenly be gone.
Strong recommends giving it at least a few days to sink in. A few days before you transition from crib to bed, talk with your child. Say, ‘We’re going to put you in a bed now, and that’s a big deal, but there are some rules we need to follow by being in bed.'
It might seem as easy as moving a bed in and the crib out, but the entire room becomes the crib once the bars are gone. You’ll need to make sure the space is safe, so think through what needs to be toddler-proofed, such as whether there are items that need to be secured to the wall or removed from the room entirely.
Some toddlers like to switch back and forth from bed to crib for a short time (of course, this is not an option with a convertible crib). For others, the transition is smoother if the crib is out of sight.
Ground rules are a must, but so is letting your child feel empowered. Anything you can do to guide a toddler, but then give them a little bit of control over the situation so they don’t feel powerless in this transition, is helpful.
She suggests talking to your toddler about the bedtime routine. Ask your child, 'When we get in bed, we go through a routine every night. What do we do? We say goodnight, put the covers on, lay down, close our eyes, and stay in our bed until morning.' Going over those rules every night for a while will be helpful because you’re reinforcing it every time."
You can even make a chart together—something basic, no need to get overly Pinterest-happy on this one—that illustrates the bedtime routine with silly pictures that depict bath time, storytime, brushing teeth, laying down, and saying goodnight.
Keeping Your Toddler in Bed
Keep reinforcing the ground rules and the routine—it will get easier. In the meantime, create a physical barrier if your toddler won't stay in bed. Strongly recommends using a baby gate in front of the door, which will set a boundary and allow the child to be more easily accessible than a lock on the door.
Some children will wake up and immediately come to find you. As much as you may love your new wake-up call, 5 a.m. is early. Try using a special toddler clock that turns yellow when it's OK to get out of bed.
Or, if you don't want to buy a new clock, Strong suggests using a regular digital clock. "Teach your toddler the number seven or the number six, then cover up the last two digits to show the first digit. They'll see when it's six. We can get up."
For younger toddlers who aren't ready to start learning numbers, try returning them quietly to their bed until they get the picture that it's not time to be up yet.
That depends on how well you've set expectations for bedtime and how willing you are to reinforce those expectations. When a child is newly in a bed, it can be tempting to stay in their room until they are asleep, but once that expectation is set, it will be hard to change.
The best-case scenario is to set up the bedtime routine and expectation as soon as you make the switch. Don't go through a period when you’re like, 'I’ll stay in here for a while, then we’ll figure out how to change it later.'
Sometimes bedtime isn’t an issue, but naps become a struggle when you switch to a big kid bed. Between two and three, some kids are only taking one nap, and some are starting to drop that final nap. Even if that’s the case, parents can require their toddlers to take some time to rest during the day.
"You can’t force a child to nap at this age, but parents need to make sure their child has time to rest their body during the day. Say, 'Your body needs to rest. If you fall asleep, that’s great, we’re going to be able to do lots of things in the afternoon like go to the park and ride your bike, and if you don’t get that rest, our bodies aren’t going to be able to do those things,'" said Strong.
If you use a clock in your toddler's room, set it off after an hour, so the toddler knows rest time is limited. If you know your child isn’t going to sleep, provide a box of quiet activities to do in their room or on their bed. Stay away from toys that make a lot of noise, electronics, and screens. Those activities will be stimulating even if it looks like your toddler is relaxing.
Successful nap times come down to consistency, like all aspects of the big kid bed transition. If you are continuously offering nap time at the same time every day, your toddler is going to expect it, and in most cases, they will continue to take it.