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Successfully Transitioning from a Crib to a Bed

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As a child sleep consultant, I coach parents through successfully transitioning their children from a crib to a bed all the time.  As I am in the process of transitioning my own twins, now seems like a perfect opportunity to share some tips on how you can set your toddlers and preschoolers up for success!  Let’s answer some of the most pressing questions that I get from parents on transitioning from a crib to a bed:

When should I start thinking about making the transition from a crib to a bed?

  • Recommended Age: 3+
  • Don’t transition just because a sibling is arriving
  • All of the above AND your child is meeting their current sleep needs of 11-13 hours of nighttime sleep and 0-2 hours of daytime sleep for a total of 12-14 hours.

Transitioning from a crib to a bed too early can wreak havoc on sleep.  This is why I recommend waiting until your child is at least three years old.  Before 2.5 – 3 years of age, children do not understand invisible boundaries so if they can get out, they will!

Why?  Because young children lack the impulse control to tell their bodies to stay in bed.  As they get closer to the three-year mark, they begin to develop more impulse control.  They can also understand the concept of sleep rules.  We’ll talk a little more about this in the “how” section.

For younger children that are transitioned to a bed too soon, there is often a honeymoon period where they will stay in their bed for some time.  Then POOF!  The newness wears off and all of a sudden, your child figures out that they can get out of bed.

Next thing you know you are battling keeping your child in bed at bedtime. That can be coupled with putting them back in their bed all night long. We like to call this Jack-in-the-Box Syndrome. This will eat into your Netflix and chill time and your sleep – no good!

Ensure that when you are making the change, it is a calm time in your child’s life and they aren’t undergoing a lot of other change at the same time.  Too much change all at the same time can overwhelm your toddler/preschooler, cause anxiety and make the change unnecessarily more difficult for your child.

If you are expecting a new baby, I don’t recommend making any major changes within a 2-3 month timeframe before or after the baby arrives.  This includes not moving your child to a big kid bed just because you want the new baby to use the crib.

If at all possible, invest in a second crib or a safe, used crib until your child is truly ready for the transition.  Making this investment can help prevent you from getting up all night with a newborn AND a toddler!  Just thinking about that makes me exhausted.

Lastly, only move your child to a big kid bed if he or she meets all of the criteria listed above AND they are meeting their current sleep needs and are well rested.  If your child is having sleep challenges already, the cure-all isn’t a big kid bed.  Instead focus on creating healthy sleep habits.  I can help with that if you need it!

Why should I move my child to a big kid bed?

  • Your child begins asking for a big kid bed
  • Not due to peer pressure from family and friends
  • You have exhausted ALL resources for a child climbing out of their crib

I recommend taking a child-led approach in moving your child to a big kid bed.  When your child begins to consistently ask for the big kid bed, you will know that they are ready.

Parents, grandparents, friends, and family may all try to sway you towards putting your child in a bed.  Remember this is a decision for the PARENTS to make when you think your child is ready.  Just because Aunt Betty thinks its time, doesn’t mean it is the right choice for your child or your family.  There really is no rush, unless it becomes a safety issue.

Many children feel very safe in their cribs and truly enjoy sleeping there.  If it isn’t broken, don’t feel the need to fix it!  This is a big milestone for your child.  Don’t feel like you need to rush the change – wait until they are ready and it is the right time for you.

If you have a child that is climbing out of their crib, exhaust all resources before transitioning them to a big kid bed.  More to come on this in a separate post.

How do I successfully transition my child from a crib to a bed?

  • Prepare them for the change by talking/reading about it – pick up a book that talks about the change that is coming
  • Choose a new bed for them that works with your space
  • Have your child help you pick out new bedding – this will get them REALLY excited about that new bed
  • Optimize the room for sleep – cool, dark, quiet/white noise
  • Ensure the environment is safe
  • Pick a transition day
  • Have a family meeting and develop sleep rules, discuss expectations and consequences for not following sleep rules
  • Have a parenting plan if things don’t go as planned. How will you and your partner handle it if your child gets out of bed?
  • Silently and emotionlessly put your child back to bed if they get out
  • Remain consistent- it is their job to test boundaries and it is your job to have a consistent response and to remain calm and patient while they adjust to the change

 What do I do if the transition from the crib to a bed isn’t going well?

  • Ensure you’ve given it a couple of weeks of patience and consistency to allow your child to transition to the change
  • Re-evaluate if you have transitioned them too soon. If time, patience and consistency aren’t improving your child’s bedtime battles or jack-in-the-box behaviors, it may make sense to bring the crib back and to try again when your child is a little older.
  • Reach out to me to schedule an evaluation of your sleep situation and we can determine the right course of action.

“We thought it was time to transition our 3-year-old to a big kid bed because she turned 3.  Next thing you know, bedtime was a constant battle and she was up all night.  After talking with Christine, we realized that she wasn’t ready and we put her back in the crib.  Like magic, her healthy sleep habits returned and we are all a lot better rested.  She wasn’t ready, even though we thought she was.”

– Caryn, mom to 3-year-old Alex

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