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How to Transition Your Toddler From the Crib to the Bed

By Kim West , LCSW-C, The Sleep Lady®
July 02, 2018
3 min read

For many parents, the question of whether to make the transition from a crib to a bed often comes after their little one has climbed out and miraculously made it into your bedroom. The crib has no longer become a place where you put your child down for sleep, but has now become a jungle gym. So when is it time for parents to ditch the crib and make the leap into a bed?

It is ideal to keep children in their crib until at least 2 ½ years, and, ideally, 3 years of age. While some children try to escape their crib at an earlier age, this does not mean they are ready to transition to a bed. They often lack the verbal skills to understand and impulse control to follow the new bed rules and many will miss the cozy containment of the crib.

Nonetheless, adventurous 1 ½ to 2 year olds will try to climb out of their crib. In this case, you can do a few things to dissuade them and keep them in a crib longer:

  • Lower the mattress in the crib to its lowest position.
  • Remove large toys being used as launchpads.
  • If he does escape, calmly put him back in with minimal interaction, firmly saying “No climbing.” Consider sitting by his crib until he is asleep.
  • Place pillows on the floor for safety.
  • Station yourself right outside the door to intervene as soon as he raises a leg, firmly but calmly repeating, “No climbing.”

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As your child nears the age of three you will observe a readiness to transition from crib to bed. He may talk about his desire to sleep in a bed at night like a sibling or cousin and show his readiness with his verbal skills. You may also notice that he has some impulse control when you say no to him about a house rule. He will need this in order to resist the impulse to get up from bed any time he wants. No need to rush a child through this transition. Some children prefer to wait much longer - even age 4 - and that is ok, as long as he has not outgrown the weight limit on his crib.

Choose a Good Time

Avoid making this transition in the middle of a life event like moving, beginning school, weaning the pacifier, sleep coaching, or welcoming a sibling. I would get a second crib and delay the transition instead of speeding it up.

Prepare the Room

Safety proof the room. Check to be sure dressers are bolted to the wall, outlets are covered, diaper cream and wipes are out of reach, lamps will not topple over, and blind cords cannot be reached at all. Consider buying a toddler clock to remind your child about their big bed rules and when it’s ok to get up and start the day.

Time to Transition

You can choose to make the transition in steps by having him nap in his new bed and sleep in his crib at night for a few days. Or you can make the switch all at once to the bed and remove the crib from the room entirely.

During this early transition placing a gate at the bedroom door may be a good idea. You can also put the bed in the corner of the room with a bed rail to add to the coziness and safety.

Let your 3 year old have fun with this momentous event in his life! Go to the store and choose something new for his bed together such as new sheets, a blanket, or a special pillow.

Importantly, you will want to set clear rules. Explain that you will still be putting him to bed each night with the same routine, but once he is in bed you expect him to stay there. Be consistent from the very beginning. If and when he gets up, take him right back to bed each time without a fuss. Remind him that his toddler clock has not gone off and he must stay quietly in bed.

Consider using what I call a “sleep manner chart” to review the behavior you want to see more of. Each morning review how well he did (affirming his self-control or saying you know he can do it tonight). You can also plan a tangible reward such as calling grandmother to brag each morning or work towards a small toy after several days of staying in bed.

Resist creating any sleep crutches such as lying down with him until he is asleep. If your child has always needed you to put them to sleep and back to sleep this may be the time to start sleep coaching.

By Kim West , LCSW-C, The Sleep Lady®
Kim West Kim West , LCSW-C, The Sleep Lady®

Kim West is a mother of two wonderful daughters and a Licensed Clinical Social Worker who has been a practicing child and family therapist for 25 years. Known as The Sleep Lady® by her clients, over the past twenty years she has helped tens of thousands of tired parents all over the world get a good night’s sleep without letting their children cry it out alone.

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