The crib to toddler bed transition often happens around 3-4 years old, on average, sometimes as early as 18 months or as old as 5 years old.
But, how do you transition to a toddler bed so your entire family isn’t awake all night? How do you avoid your toddler skipping their nap? Today, we share 5 essential tips for a smooth crib to toddler bed transition.
What age to transition from crib to toddler bed
The age to transition to a toddler bed ranges from 18 months old to 5 years old, if you didn’t use a Montessori floor bed in the first place. The age I recommend is 3-4 years old, on average, or older. The primary reason to wait is that even if your toddler understands he or she is supposed to stay in bed, they may lack impulse control to actually do so.
In the end, the age is a personal choice. I transitioned my eldest around two years old because I was pregnant with his baby brother and we needed the crib. This is a common reason to transition sooner rather than later. However, nowadays, you can use something like the Arms Reach Co-Sleeper for the new baby for several months, giving your older child a little more time for maturing.
What size bed to use
Typically, most toddler beds are cribs converted to a bed by removing one side of the crib. These are called convertible cribs. With this type of bed, your toddler can now get in and out freely. If your toddler is climbing out of the crib, this isn’t too much of a change and seems to be a natural next step.
If, however, you need the crib for a new baby or your toddler want a more “fun” type of toddler bed like a princess bed or a car bed, then you would still use a crib mattress for the bed. If you are having a new baby, you’d simply buy a second crib mattress. But, before you do that…
Unless you have a very petite child, you may want to consider skipping the toddler bed and going straight to a twin-sized mattress or to a full mattress even. Yes, it’s a bigger adjustment, but some toddlers outgrow their crib mattress around 3 years old and toddlers are very active sleepers who want to stretch and move around in their sleep.
How to make the toddler bed safe
If you are using a convertible crib (see above) or an actual toddler bed, they are already pretty safe and there’s not much else you need to do. However, consider if one of the crib sides is down, your toddler may inadvertently roll out of bed without having that boundary anymore. Consider adding some pillows or soft bedding on the floor beside the bed to catch his or her fall. You may surprisingly see your toddler sleeping on the floor one night!
If you choose to use a larger bed, especially one that’s off the ground however, you need to make sure your toddler won’t fall too far to the ground that he or she falls. Even if he doesn’t get hurt, we don’t want fear to disrupt your sleep routines. So, for those types of bed either consider putting the mattress directly on the floor for a while or buying a bed rail.
Your toddler now has free roam of the room, so now you also need to re-evaluate whether the room is properly toddler-proofed for safety.
How to make your toddler buy into the process
Your toddler may be excited about a new bed, but it’s also possible your toddler is a bit apprehensive changing the bed in which he’s slept “all his life.” That would be understandable. So, the first thing to do would be to let your toddler help choose the bed and/or sheets and any extra things you may be considering on changing about the room.
In addition, you will want to explain to your child all the rules that may be somewhat new such as when he or she can get out of bed and what happens if they don’t stay in bed (more on that below).
How to keep your toddler in bed
Now, for the biggest question of all: How do you keep your toddler in bed? As mentioned above, your toddler now has free roam of the room but she also has free roam of the house, too! While many toddlers simply run to their parents’ room at night, unfortunately, it’s also possible your toddler goes off to play or get into mischief, which can obviously be dangerous.
Here are a few things to consider:
- Consider adding a gate at the top of the stairs, if you have a two-story home.
- Consider using a safety gate at your toddler’s doorway. Now, the room is one big “crib.”
- Consider using door knob covers.
Of course, many parents don’t feel right about locking their children in their room and we understand that. We prefer to teach toddlers how to stay in bed by learning new, imaginary boundaries. This can take a lot of time and repetition. It may not go smoothly the first few times and most transitions take several weeks, but with your persistence, you can keep your toddler in bed. Here are the quick tips:
- Take your child back to bed (this can take many times the first few nights)
- Consider staying in the room, at first, and then gradually leave the room while your toddler is still awake.
- Consider using a toddler clock to help indicate the time to start the day.
- Use a sticker chart.
Typical bed transitions take 2-3 weeks, so give your toddler some time for adjustment and try to be patient. But, consistency is key! Try not to start new habits that you will need to change a few weeks/months down the line.