Moving to a big kid bed from a crib is an exciting milestone for your toddler. It can also be a challenging one for parents. 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 move your toddler to a big kid bed?
I recommend waiting until ideally 3 years old or older, but at least 2.5 years old before moving your toddler to a big kid bed. A toddler bed also qualifies as a big kid bed because it allows your toddler to get in and out on their own.
(If your child is climbing out of their crib, it is a safety concern and they need to be moved to a big kid bed. If you have a potential climber and want to try to avoid the climbing out, here are some tips on how to keep your child from climbing out.)
Experts and studies agree, parents AND toddlers sleep better when they sleep in cribs for the first three years.
Waiting until age 3 is because before this your toddler’s impulse control is still developing and is immature. This is important because it requires impulse control to stay in bed when your toddler hears something or thinks about their parents.
You hear about many parents saying that they moved their toddler to a big kid bed at a much earlier age and it was just fine. Keep in mind every child is different and you may also have different definitions of what is “fine” and what is not.
7 tips for moving your toddler to a big kid bed successfully
1. Keep things consistent
Keeping things predictable and ‘business as usual’ leading up to bedtime on the first night of the transition is important. This is a big change for your toddler – don’t try to make any other changes at the same time or it may make things much harder. When you’re getting your toddler ready for bed, don’t alter the activities in your bedtime routine. Keep everything as predictable and consistent as possible.
Additionally, you’ll want to keep the bed in the same place the crib used to be. And I recommend keeping 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.
2. Help your child feel ownership and control of the change
This is a big change that is happening in your toddler’s life. Talk to them about what is going to happen, how it is going to happen and what they can expect. We don’t want them to have any doubt in their minds about how things are going to go.
Additionally, have your toddler pick out a new pillow or blanket to sleep with or have them help you convert their crib into a toddler bed. This helps them feel a sense of ownership and control within this change.
3. Bedtime charts or bedtime routine books
You can personalize a bedtime routine book to help toddlers prepare for the transition. These are a great visual for your toddler to see the change as it will happen. They should go through each step of the bedtime routine and up through sleeping peacefully in their bed all night long. Put pictures of them doing each activity of their bedtime routine and put it together in a book or wall chart. Being able to see themselves in their own book is another way to give them a sense of control and ownership of the situation.
4. Help your child feel safe, secure and connected
Transitioning to a toddler bed can lead to a feeling of insecurity because a boundary your child is used to is not there anymore. It can be helpful to do some extra 1-on-1 time in the evening and have renewed intention of being fully focused and really connecting with your toddler during their bedtime routine so that they feel safe, secure and connected going to bed.
5. Reiterate boundaries and enforce them
It is important that as parents we recognize that moving to a toddler bed is a big responsibility. As adults we tend to see new freedoms as exciting and wanted but it can feel overwhelming for a young child so firm boundaries help your child feel more secure.
You want to talk about expectations with your child, so they are aware of the expectations in their new bed, but in reality these expectations have not changed. When reiterating expectations, focus on the behavior you want your child to do, not on what you don’t want them to do. It can feel easy, and even helpful, to tell your toddler they shouldn’t get out of bed. Instead focus on ‘things will be exactly the same’ as normal. Such as “we will sing our song, do goodnight hugs and kisses and I will tuck you in and you are in bed to fall asleep”
Focusing on the positives and assuming the best will set them up for success. Of course, if they get out of bed, calmly restate the limit and return them to their bed. Enforce this limit as many times as it is challenged so that your child can fully understand what the limit is and that it is firm no matter what they do.
6. Be proactive to reinforce the behavior you want to see
As opposed to waiting until your child gets out of bed, watch on your monitor or listen and intervene early by checking in on your child if you see the movements of starting to get out of bed so that you can reinforce that staying in bed results in positive feelings and reactions.
Additionally, this helps toddlers develop trust and confidence that you are there when they need you in the context of their new bed.
You do want to be careful to strike the balance between too much and too little help, reassurance and check ins so that they don’t become something disrupting your child’s falling asleep process.
7. What to do if your toddler is getting out of bed
Reinforcing those boundaries and expectations you have set is important, even if it happens many, many times. Knowing those boundaries are firmly in place helps your toddler feel security within those boundaries. While returning your child to bed or proactively checking on them as needed, make sure you are staying calm and collected. Your child will assess how you are feeling and act accordingly. Staying calm and collected, while challenging in these situations, pays off with less push back and limit testing.
A few extra tips to help you through the transition
Staying in bed can become a challenging thing for your child when cognitively they lack the ability to control the impulse to get out of bed to do XY&Z when that thought pops into their head. Children who are natural rule followers will likely transition more seamlessly, while others need more practice, help and firm but loving boundaries that are thoroughly tested before they feel confident and more easily able to stay in bed.
Combining the tips above plus making sure your toddler is as developmentally ready for the change as possible will set you up for success.
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 discovery calls to chat through the struggles you are having, your sleep goals and how I can help you reach those sleep goals!
To healthy, happy sleep!