As professional sleep consultants, we work with many families who have never experienced sleep challenges with their child until they move them from the crib to a toddler bed. There are a few questions you should ask yourself before embarking on this transition.
When is the best time to transition from crib to bed?
If your child is happily sleeping in a crib and you have no reason to change their sleeping arrangements, we recommend your toddler stay in the crib for as long as possible – and definitely until 3 yrs old. After that here are some guidelines to help you know when the time is right to make the switch.
Why is it a good idea to transition from crib to bed?
Safety: If your toddler is climbing out of their crib, or attempting to climb out, and safety is an issue, then it may be time to make the transition to a toddler bed. There are a couple of strategies you can try first, however, that may buy you some more time.
1. If you witness your little one begin to attempt this feat before they’re actually able, try patting the crib mattress and firmly saying “legs down” or place your child’s leg down every time they lift it to climb out of the crib. It is important that you stay in the room the entire time while implementing this approach. Repeat the instruction and follow through by putting your child’s leg back down into the crib every time they lift it. You are staying calm and neutral in demeanor while using this tactic, but are very clear in your message that climbing out is not OK. After a few days of doing this your child may stop attempting to climb out. You only leave the room when your toddler is asleep or almost asleep, laying down on the mattress.
2. Depending on the crib, simply changing the crib position can prevent a climb out. If your child’s crib has a low and high side, push the lower side against the wall and leave the higher side facing away from the wall. Also, some crib mattresses can be lowered down very close to the floor. Double check that your mattress is on the lowest setting.
3. Use a snug fitting sleep sack. Dressing your child in a wearable blanket or “sleep sack” that does not have extra leg room can prevent them from being able to raise their leg high enough to get it over the rail, and potentially climb or fall out. If you implement the above suggestions and your child is still determined to climb out of the crib, it is time to transition.
Potty training: If sleeping in a crib is hindering your child from successfully becoming potty trained, then transitioning must be considered.
A new sibling: This is a tricky one! Many families feel the need to transition their older child when a new sibling is coming. We would, however, first recommend that you either borrow or buy an additional crib if your older child is under age three. If, financially and logistically, this is not possible, plan to transition your older child at least 3 months before the new baby arrives.
This will give you some time to make any necessary adjustments if problems do arise. It will also help prevent an association between moving out of their crib and the arrival of their new sibling.
What can I do to best prepare for this transition?
Make the room safe. Your child’s bedroom should be as safe a sleep space as their crib was. The freedom of being able to get out of bed and leave the room may be overwhelming for some children. A gate placed in the doorway can offer assurance to both of you that they will be safe sleeping in their new bed. It is essential that the gate is presented as a positive tool; something that will be there to help him or her stay safe in their room at night and for naps.
Empower your toddler by letting them help pick out their new bedding and put the sheets on Allow time during the day for your child to explore their new sleep space, perhaps by sitting on the bed together reading books.
Stay consistent with your bedtime routine. The novelty of sleeping in the new “big kid” bed will be exciting for your child. There is no need to change your routine if it was working, and the familiarity of the routine will be comforting.
Bedtime is important. Keep track of when your child is actually initiating sleep for a few nights prior to the transition from crib to bed. The time that they have been falling asleep each night is the best time to put your child to bed for the first few nights. This will insure they are ready for sleep when they go to bed, cutting down on the likelihood they will pop up out of bed.
Talking to other parents who have recently made the transition can be very helpful. Hello Mamas is a “parent connecting” website where you can find other parents who are going through the same experience. Learning what has worked and what hasn’t for other families can
Remember, this may be an emotional transition for you, but it is an exciting time and a wonderful step toward independence and greater responsibility for your child!
Kristen relies on her many years of experience, as well as her education and background, to create individualized sleep or specified parenting support for every family she works with. She enjoys living in a small town north of Boston with her husband, son and daughter.
Joanna is an educator, holistic health counselor and mother of two young children. She has 15 years of teaching experience with children from infancy to 18 yrs of age, focusing the last 4 years consulting schools and young families.
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