When to Transition to a Toddler Bed

The decision to swap out your little one’s crib for a big kid bed is not to be taken lightly. It’s a major upgrade; it means your kiddo is growing up and that they’re ready for a new level of independence. But if you’re questioning when to transition to a toddler bed, know that there’s no universal answer. The timing is crucial—make the upgrade too early and it can backfire; Wait too long and your child may resist. Fortunately, it’s not a total guessing game, and your kiddo may show signs that they’re ready for the change. Interested in making the transition to a toddler bed? Here’s what you need to know.

When to Transition to a Toddler Bed

Every child is different, and deciding that it’s time to transition to a toddler bed will be contingent on a few factors, not least of which is age. The typical age of readiness for transitioning to a toddler bed is between 18 months and 3 years, says Douglas A. Henning, MD, a pediatrician at Northwestern Medicine Huntley Hospital in Illinois. Still, that doesn’t mean you can boot your toddler from their crib the moment they hit the minimum toddler bed age. Children shouldn’t transition to a toddler bed until they meet certain criteria, Henning says. These include:

  • Sleeping on their own with the ability to self-soothe
  • Sleeping through the night without any interventions from you or your partner
  • Being able to put them down in their crib drowsy but awake; They should get themselves to sleep—and stay asleep
  • Having a solid bedtime routine established in the crib

Signs your child is ready for a toddler bed

Think your kiddo might be ready to make the leap? If they’re in the recommended toddler bed age range, there are some additional reading signs to look for. Their size is the most obvious indicator. “If they’ve gotten taller so that their chest is above the rail of the crib or they’re climbing out of it, it’s time to move them to a bed,” says Daniel Ganjian, MD, a pediatrician at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, California.

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“Typically, but not always, children who can climb out of a crib do land on their feet, so they may suddenly show up outside the crib,” Henning says. “You should ask your child to show you how they got out of the crib. If they do it on command, they’re ready for a bed.” What’s more, if your older toddler says they want a big bed or shows strong interest in other family members’ sleeping spaces, they may be ready for their own big kid bed.

Signs your toddler is not ready for a bed

If your child is under 18 months of age, they’re most likely not yet ready to transition to a toddler bed, plain and simple. That said, if they’re an early climber and are proving to be a deft escape artist, an exception may need to be made. Ganjian says that if they don’t yet have a lot of self-control or if they’re genuinely disinterested, it’s probably not yet time.

You’ll also want to evaluate your child’s sleep quality. “They shouldn’t be weaned from the crib if they aren’t sleeping through the night on their own,” Henning says. “Otherwise, they’ll wake up in the middle of the night and [won’t] be confined.”

It’s tempting to want to transition your child to a toddler bed if there’s a new sibling on the way, but Ganjian advises against doing this rashly right before or immediately after a new baby is born. Rather, you’d want to make this move a few months before the new baby arrives. “Otherwise, the other sibling will feel like they got displaced,” Ganjian says.

You’ll also want to put off moving your child to a toddler bed if they’re going through another major transition, like moving to a new house or starting daycare, Henning says.

Types of Toddler Beds to Choose From

Ready to consider the toddler bed options? There are a few different types of beds to choose from:

  • A toddler bed. This is a bed that is specially designed for a toddler. According to safety standards from the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), it can hold children up to 50 pounds and accommodate a full-size crib mattress (so you won’t need to buy a new mattress yet). Additionally, toddler beds must be graded for children ages 15 months and up, per the CPSC. Basically, this ensures that it meets strict safety standards for toddlers.
  • A convertible crib. Many cribs convert into toddler beds. There are a few key advantages to this option. For starters, you’ll save money, as you won’t have to buy a separate toddler bed. What’s more, your child may feel more comfortable in a familiar set-up. It’s important to note that convertible cribs must meet the same CPSC standards as toddler beds.
  • A bed with guard rails. Guard rails, which attach to your child’s bed, let you create a barrier so your child can’t roll out of bed at night. You may also choose to get a twin-size bed and add guard rails so your kiddo can use this sleeping space for longer (saving you money). However, twin-size beds are typically higher than toddler beds, so they’re not always suitable for young children.
  • A mattress on the floor. One of the bigger concerns with the transition to a bed for your toddler is the possibility that they may fall out of it, Ganjian says. Simply placing a mattress on the floor saves money in the long run and minimizes the risk of injury if your child happens to fall out.

An important note: Bunk beds aren’t safe for toddlers. Children shouldn’t sleep on a top bunk until they’re at least 6 years old, according to CPSC standards. But even the bottom bunk presents potential risks to young children. For starters, if they have the ability to roam and explore, they could climb a bunk bed’s ladder and fall.

How to Transition to a Toddler Bed

Now that you know approximately when to transition to a toddler bed, you’re probably wondering how to make it happen. Henning recommends teaching your child healthy sleep routines, including soothing themselves to sleep, early on—way before you’re even contemplating the move. Doing this around this six-month mark will help set you up for success in the short and long term and, ultimately, make the transition to a toddler bed feel a lot smoother.

Once you’re nearing the time to make the switch, Ganjian suggests reading books about sleeping in your own bed, showing your child pictures of other children sleeping in their own beds and “making an exciting story about it.” It’s a graduation of sorts, so celebrate this milestone moment! You can also have your child pick out their bedding or decorate their bed with stickers. The more they’re excited about their new bed, the better the chances of them staying in bed and everyone getting a good night’s sleep.

It’s a big deal, and it might not be smooth sailing from the get-go. With that in mind, it’s a good idea to have the toddler bed be in the same room as the crib was to help ease the transition, Henning says. Better yet, if you have a crib that transitions into a toddler bed, your child may take comfort being in the same—albeit converted—sleeping space.

Once your child is in a toddler bed, there are some new safety concerns to heed. Ganjian recommends placing your toddler bed in an area away from windows, cords and wires. Remember, your child will no longer be contained, and you’ll want to make sure their surroundings are safe by childproofing any open areas. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) suggests clearing away furniture and large toys, like rocking horses, that could hurt your child if they fell against them. You also may want to consider putting a safety gate across your child’s bedroom door to keep them from wandering your home at night, and a gate across the top of the stairs so they don’t fall if they happen to get out of bed. It’s also a good idea to use childproof latches on the chests of drawers or taping drawers shut so they can’t be pulled out and used as steps, per the AAP. Finally, it’s best to make sure the bed is low to the ground.

How to Get Toddlers to Stay in Bed

Swapping out the crib is the easy part. The more challenging hurdle is figuring out how to get toddlers to stay in bed. The AAP recommends taking the following steps at bedtime to help your child to stay put for the night:

  • When you end your bedtime routine, tell your child to stay in bed until you come for them.
  • If they get out of bed, calmly and quietly take them back and tell them to stay in bed.
  • When they get back into bed, praise their good listening skills, and then leave the room.
  • Tell them you’ll come and check on them in a while (and make good on your promise).
  • In the morning, praise your child for staying in bed all night.

It’s not necessarily going to be easy. It’s more likely going to take time, effort and energy. Your child will test boundaries and you will get frustrated, but it’s important that you commit and stick to it. If your toddler won’t stay in bed, don’t give up. You don’t want to inadvertently reward them for getting up by letting them come into your bed or joining family members who are still up. (This can easily become a bad habit.) It’ll be a learning curve for you and your child. But rest assured—eventually, they’ll sleep soundly in their own big kid bed.

Daniel Ganjian, MD, is a pediatrician at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica. He received his medical degree from the University of California, Irvine.

Douglas A. Henning, MD, is a pediatrician at Northwestern Medicine Huntley Hospital in Illinois. He earned his medical degree from the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health.

Please note: The Bump and the materials and information it contains are not intended to, and do not constitute, medical or other health advice or diagnosis and should not be used as such. You should always consult with a qualified physician or health professional about your specific circumstances.

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