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7 Tips for Deciding When to Move from a Crib to a Toddler Bed

when to move to toddler bed

I moved my toddler from her crib to a toddler bed about two weeks shy of her 2nd birthday. My dad and his wife both tried to talk me out of it. “She stays in her crib so nicely!” they argued. “You’re going to regret it when she can get out all on her own.”

But I knew it was time. For so many reasons, including the fact that she was over 30 pounds now. Lifting her in and out of that crib every day was a pain in my back!

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Plus, I wanted her to have a bed I could lie in with her for story time.

And perhaps highest on my list of reasons is that we were about to start potty training. While I knew it would likely be some time before she was able to discern her nighttime bladder signals and get up to use the potty on her own, I wanted to at least set the stage for that eventuality.

So, completely ignoring her grandparent’s advice, I disassembled my daughter’s crib and transitioned her to a toddler bed.

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And you know what? It took her almost two months before she even attempted to get out of that bed on her own! For weeks, she would simply call out to me to come get her, just as she had always done from her crib.

It was the easiest transition I could have possibly hoped for! And today, at 3 years old, my daughter mostly stays in that bed without argument during sleeping hours. Plus, she can always be counted on to get up and use the potty by herself at night!

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So, what are some tips for making the decision, and then making it work?

1. Know why you want to make the transition

Moving from a crib to a toddler bed isn’t one of those things that has to happen by a set date or age.

When I was trying to decide whether or not to go for it, I actually posted an informal poll on my Facebook page and found that the ages when people moved their own kids ranged from 1 to 4 years old.

That’s a big gap!

This isn’t one of those milestones that has a clear timeline that is consistent for every child. If your child is staying in their crib happily and you like it that way, don’t feel like you have to make the transition anytime soon. But if they’re starting to climb out of their crib (which can pose a safety issue), or you have a new sibling coming along you want the crib for, or any other number of reasons that seem like the “right” reason to you, go for it!

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One other thing to think about is your child’s size. It’s likely time to consider moving to a toddler bed when your child is around 3 feet tall, when they are more easily able to climb out of a crib. Or at least keep an eye out for escape attempts!

Just know why you’re doing it, and don’t feel pressured to make the switch before you feel like you and your kiddo are ready. 

2. Talk about it

The people most affected by this switch are going to be you, your child, and your partner. So talk about it!

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Talk to your partner about how you’ll handle a kiddo who doesn’t always stay in bed. Talk to your child about the exciting possibility of a big kid bed. Talk to your pediatrician about any concerns you might have.

And talk to people you trust about any tips or advice they can share.

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3. Make the transition a big deal

Help your kiddo to be excited about the switch by decking out their new bed!

Choose bedding they will love, perhaps with characters they know or animals they like. Add a new stuffed animal or two to keep them company at night. And celebrate that first sleep in a big kid bed like the exciting new milestone it is!

4. Stick to your routine

One of the big things that helped this transition for us was maintaining a consistent bedtime routine.

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Her bedtime stayed the same, we continued to read two books and rock in her chair for a few minutes before lights out, and I still tucked her in and sang her a few rounds of “You Are My Sunshine.”

Our routine stayed the same, so the change of sleeping space didn’t seem to faze her.

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5. Prepare for the fall-out

It was only as I was putting it together that I realized my daughter’s toddler bed didn’t come with a rail. I went back and forth on whether or not to run out and buy one, but I ultimately decided the bed itself was low enough to the ground that I wasn’t too worried.

Still, I put two pillows on the ground beside her bed just in case. And sure enough, she did fall out on that first night. Only, it didn’t even wake her up. I found her sleeping soundly on those pillows, none the wiser of her fall.

It only happened that once, though, and ultimately I was glad I hadn’t wasted money on the rail. That’s one of those parenting decisions only you can make, though. Plenty of toddler beds come with a rail ready to go, and purchasing one ahead of time isn’t that big of a hassle either.

However, if you don’t choose to use a rail, make sure you check the bedroom for any safety hazards in case your child decides to move around the room at night. And make sure to install safety gates at your child’s door and any stairs nearby.

6. Don’t reward sneak out attempts

It took my daughter several months to realize she now had the freedom to come and go as she pleased, but once she did? A bit of a battle ensued.

The hard thing for me was remaining consistent and not rewarding her attempts to sneak into my room. Every book and piece of advice I read said to calmly escort them back to bed, and to give them very little reinforcement — positive or negative — regarding the breakout.

The American Academy of Pediatrics says to praise them in the morning instead for whole nights spent in bed.

7. Find tools that help

It was last summer, about six months after my daughter had first transitioned to the big girl bed, that she really started to test the limits of room escapes.

I couldn’t seem to keep her in there at bedtime, and in the mornings, she was getting up earlier and earlier. That was when a friend suggested a nightlight that would switch colors from morning to night. We opted for the Good Nite Lite, because I liked the visual of it turning from a moon to a sun, but there are a lot of similar options on the market.

And let me tell you, this thing has been amazing!

If my daughter comes out of her room when she shouldn’t, the first thing I ask is if her moon has turned into a sun yet. She knows what that means, and if it hasn’t, she’ll usually turn right back around and return to bed. Of course, when it does switch, she comes bounding out excitedly shouting, “Moon turn to sun! Moon turn to sun!”

Which is kind of the most adorable way to be woken up anyway!

The takeaway

For us, the transition was relatively easy. But all kids are different, and only you will know when your kiddo is truly ready. It’s OK to hold off on this move until you feel more comfortable, and to plan out the transition in a way that will help your child to be excited about the change.

Leah Campbell
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