Moving to a big kid bed from a crib is an exciting milestone for your toddler. It symbolizes that they are no longer a baby and are ready for some new responsibility! The key word there is responsibility because moving to a big kid bed means they now have the choice and responsibility to stay in bed and sleep when they are supposed to be sleeping. Making sure you are transitioning your child at the right time and setting them up for success from day one is critical. Let’s talk through the when and the how for this exciting milestone.
When should you help your child make the transition?
The first question you want to address when contemplating if your kiddo is ready for this transition is “When is the right time?” You may hear others talking about the theory that the longer a child is in a crib, the more attached they grow to it. Then it will be tougher for them to make the transition when they finally do. However, this is a theory that, for lack of a better word, is wrong.
The answer to this question really depends on your child, their impulse control, and maturity level. Moving to a big kid bed is a big responsibility for them! As adults, we often view getting new responsibilities as exciting and freeing. But for our toddlers, it can be a bit scary. They are still learning about the world and their place in it. Ensuring your child is cognitively ready to handle these new challenges is an important component for their success.
In general, I recommend keeping children in their cribs until 3 years old. This may be a surprise to some parents reading this, but experts and studies agree, parents AND toddlers sleep better when they sleep in cribs for the first three years. Some kids have the cognitive development necessary to help them remember the rules at bedtime and throughout the night around two-and-a-half years old, but I don’t recommend moving to a big kid bed earlier than this.
(If you have safety concerns with a crib climber or jumper, there are certain steps I recommend trying before making the transition. Feel free to reach out to me to get more information on these steps if you have a young crib climber.)
Now that we have answered the when part of this equation, let’s dig into the how.
How to help your child move to a big kid bed successfully
Step number one is preparation.
You’re going to want to fill your little one in on what’s happening. Explain to them that they’re going to be moving to a big kid bed. Then set a date, and let them know when the switch is going to happen.
When you explain what’s happening to your toddler, you want to make sure it sounds positive and exciting for them (even if you are a bit nervous!) At the same time, do not make it a HUGE deal. Turning the whole thing into a monumental occasion puts a lot of pressure on your child and is likely to stress them out a bit. It’s definitely a very thin line you have to walk to get the excitement balance just right.
Bedtime charts or bedtime routine books that explain what is happening can help them understand what is happening in a fun way. Most often, I use personalized bedtime routine coloring books to help toddlers prepare for the transition. B
The Big Kid Bed
Part of preparation is getting your child’s new bed and bedding ready. Giving your child some input into which comforter she wants. Choosing what sheets she likes, what pillows feel the most comfortable, will obviously help her feel excited about getting to sleep in her new bed. Most importantly, it will also help her feel a sense of ownership over her new bed. This can work wonders in easing the transition.
Now that the bed has been put together and the sheets are on, you’ll want to keep the bed in the same place the crib used to be. In fact, you’ll want to keep just about everything exactly as it was in your toddler’s room except for the new bed. This is a big change, so try not to make any unnecessary additional changes.
Keeping things predictable and ‘business as usual’ leading up to bedtime on the first night of the transition is crucial. This is a big change for your little one – don’t try to make any other changes at the same time or you may have a big mess on your hands. This includes even little changes like offering new foods at dinner on the first day of moving to a big kid bed. Toddlers can be very sensitive to change. Adding too much can throw things off track quickly. When you’re getting your toddler ready for bed on that first night, don’t alter your bedtime routine, and don’t switch up bedtime. Keep everything as predictable and mundane as possible.
Keep things low key and say goodnight to your toddler. Give her hugs and kisses as you normally would when she was in her crib and leave the room.
You child is in their big kid bed. Now what?
Now that your toddler has been put to bed and the light has been turned out, there are a few different scenarios that can play out.
They adapt immediately to their new bed, and they don’t test the rules whatsoever. In this case, celebrate heartily. You are among the very lucky minority. (Making sure you waited until your child is cognitively ready to understand the new rules at bedtime and preparing them appropriately can really pay off here!)
Your little one seems to adapt immediately but, after a week or two, starts leaving their room, playing with their toys, or calling for mom and dad to come back in several times a night.
Your toddler starts doing all of those things (leaving their room, playing with their toys or calling out for mom and dad) the very first night.
Solutions and Consequences
The solution to the latter two of these situations is the same: Offer a warning when your toddler demonstrates the unwanted behavior and tell them what the consequence is going to be if they do it again. Then, this is the MOST important part, if they do not cooperate and follow the rules, follow through on the consequence you told them about in the warning. This is vital. If you do not follow through on the warning with the actual consequence, they will see you aren’t serious about your warning and will continue to not listen and show uncooperative behavior.
Chances are that you’ve already discovered a consequence that works on your toddler, and I strongly suggest you keep that in place. Again, we don’t want anything to change except for the bed. Keep doing whatever you’ve been doing up until now in regards to managing behavior.
In case you haven’t discovered an effective consequence yet, I find that closing the door all the way for a short period of time is a pretty productive consequence. It shows your toddler you mean business but without causing a meltdown of epic proportions that can be difficult to recover from. If uncooperative behavior or rule breaking continues after the first consequence, continue to enforce the consequence again, for a slightly increased length of time. Your toddler is testing the rules to see if they remain the same. They truly feel comfort in things staying the same so they know what to expect, so stay strong and consistent.
A few extra tips to help you through the transition
Moving your child to a big kid bed will be easier if your little one is falling asleep independently and sleeping through the night.
Once you decide it is time to make the transition, remember the steps. Explain what’s happening, keep things fun but lowkey, set the expectations and enforce the rules. The most important being that last step, enforce the rules! Don’t add new sleep props or give in to all the demands your toddler makes. This will lead to increased sleep struggles and bedtime battles down the road. Save your sanity, help your child through the transition successfully the first time.
As much as we’re trying to keep this transition as stress-free and smooth as we can, remember this: You are the boss. It’s almost a mathematical certainty that your little one is going to test the boundaries about this change. This is normal. These toddlers are just trying to figure out how the world around them works.
Enforce the rules!
It’s crucial that you hold your ground every step of the way here, especially during the first few weeks. If you start bending them, this process is going to go on for months. Maintain an air of calm authority and enforce the rules firmly and consistently. Consistency and knowing what to expect will help your toddler feel calm and secure in her new bed, and it will get your little one sleeping peacefully in her new bed a whole lot sooner.
If your toddler isn’t falling asleep independently, or you are nervous about the move from crib to big kid bed is going to throw off sleep in your house, please reach out. I can help you make a gentle plan to get your kids sleeping well, independently and peacefully in their new bed. I offer free evaluation calls to chat through the struggles you are having or your concerns and what it would look like working together to make quality sleep a reality in your house in the long term!
Cheers to healthy, happy sleep!