Making the transition from crib to toddler bed is a big milestone for your child! It is one that some parents may rush, or some may wait for as long as possible to make.
There is no specific recommendation from the American Academy of Pediatrics on when to make this switch. It is based on your child’s abilities and manufacturer recommendations of your crib!
For the record, I am team “wait as long as possible” because the transition can be a difficult one with younger children who may not have the impulse control needed for staying in a bed. They have a difficult time understanding the imaginary boundaries of a bed.
If it is time for the transition, then continue reading for all the details to ease the transition into a toddler bed! Other things we will cover:
- How do you keep an escape artist in the crib?
- Preparing for the transition
- How to convert crib to a toddler bed
- When to convert crib to toddler bed
- At what age should I convert crib to toddler bed
- Can a crib mattress fit a toddler bed?
- Can a 1 year old sleep in a toddler bed?
- How will you handle them getting out of bed?
- Alternatives to making the switch from crib to toddler bed cold turkey?
How do you keep an escape artist in the crib?
First, what if your little one is not ready/mature enough for the crib to bed transition? You can try some things first to buy you some time!
If they have not met the height requirements of the crib (this is usually about 35” for most cribs), be sure to lower the mattress as much as you can. You will want the top crib rail to be at their collarbones or higher.
It is a good rule of thumb that once your child is able to get into a sitting position on their own, that you go ahead and lower the mattress as much as possible.
You can utilize a sleep bag or sleep bag walker to keep them from getting their leg over the side of the crib.
Since most kids will try to climb in over the front of the crib, you can potentially flip the crib around if the back of it is higher than the front. This is because they are trying to get to the door! Blocking that part can buy you some time.
Although the risk of SIDS is no longer a concern beyond 12 months of age, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends keeping crib bumpers, stuffed animals, and toys out of the crib.
While they were a suffocation hazard for your newborn, they can now be used as a means to climb out of the crib by your little escape artist. A small lovey is okay once your baby is 12 months, and a wearable blanket like the Kyte BABY sleep bag is all they need!
You can check out this blog for helping babies sleep safely.
Preparing for the crib to bed transition
There are some things you can do before you make the transition from crib to bed to make it easier for everyone!
If your child is currently in a sleep bag, you can wean them into a sleep bag walker and have a Kyte BABY toddler blanket on hand for their big kid bed.
These are all made of the same material so it is familiar to them. This will provide a great comfort to them when things are changing!
Make the switch at night, then for their nap if they are still napping. Then take it away when you move to the bed and swap it for the blanket.
Be sure to set their room up as close to their room now. If you are just converting their crib to a toddler bed, then keep it in the same spot!
If you are moving them to a new room entirely, try to keep their set up as close to their old room as possible.
Keep the decorations as simple as possible if you are redesigning their room, and baby proof everything. You will actually want it to be as bare as possible. Toddlers are going to explore their room with their newfound freedom!
Here are some tips for childproofing the room.
According to Patty Davis, Consumer Product Safety Commission, "Well one child is killed about every 10 days from furniture or televisions tipping over, another child is sent to the emergency room about 30 minutes with a tip over related injury.”
Don’t forget about your window cords, either. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission lists corded blinds as one of the top five hazards in your home.
A minimalist approach is best, because toys are much more fun than sleep! Keep their room super boring. Sleep should be the only option.
You will probably want to use some sort of side rail for their big kid bed or use a floor bed as they learn their new boundaries! Falling out of the bed can make the transition more difficult.
Make them a part of the transition! Have them help you change the bed if you are converting it, have them pick out fun, new bedding and, if you are moving rooms, make sure that you are going in and out of their new room often throughout the day before making the official move.If they have an emotional attachment to their crib, then it is okay to swap the bed out while they are not around!
A chart of sleep “rules” is helpful. This would include things in your bedtime routine and ends in them going to sleep in their new bed. Something that is tangible is easier for them to relate to and takes the power struggle out.
You can also start to utilize a toddler clock (or okay to wake clock) at this time to encourage them to stay in bed for naps and during the night.
Above all, hype up this transition! Make it a big deal, talk to them about it, and incorporate them in the process. Do not freak out if they decide to sleep on the floor. This is all part of them figuring out their new freedom.
Other factors to consider before making the switch:
- Is anything new happening, like becoming a big sibling? You will want to avoid making any changes within 3 months of a big life change!
- If you can, wait for them to ask! Kids can definitely let you know they’re ready for a “big kid” bed. You don’t have to rush it and you don’t have to move them just because. Their crib is like a safe place for them and they can be attached to/find security in it. You don’t want to take that away unnecessarily.
- Prep them for the change with some helpful books. Some favorites are:A Big Kid Bed is Coming by Liz Fletcher
- Set your expectations and make the boundaries clear. If they do not know what the rules are, they cannot follow them. Communication is key!If your child waits for you to get them up in the morning while in a crib, then communicate that it does not change now that they are in a toddler bed.
- Also, it is important to note that transitioning to a toddler bed will not typically fix poor sleep (this is a generalization). If your child is sleeping poorly, removing the boundaries of a crib will tend to exacerbate the problem.
- Make it fun! Create a countdown calendar and celebrate this big milestone with your child. Talk about it all day, every day.
- Make sure you are framing this as a positive experience! Talking about how this is for big kids and they can be just like mom and dad with a big kid bed. (Do not say you need the crib for the new baby-- they may initiate that and want to give their crib to the baby, that is okay!)
How to convert crib to toddler bed?
Not all cribs will convert to a toddler bed, and you will have to make sure you have any extra pieces needed to make this switch!
For the most part, you will drop the mattress as low as it will go, remove the front part of the crib, and either install a small rail that comes with your bed specifically, or add an approved rail to your bed.
You will want to follow your manufacturer’s rules for making it as safe as possible!
When to convert crib to toddler bed and at what age should I convert crib to toddler bed?
This will depend on your child’s abilities (can they climb out?) and height requirements from your crib’s manufacturer.
I will say that not moving them before you absolutely has to typically works best! I notice that the older they are, the more smooth the transition.
For instance, a 3 year old will have more impulse control than a 2 year old.
Every child develops differently, but most children under 3 don't understand that when you remove the crib bars the boundary is still there. They also lack the impulse control to stay in the bed.
They either lack the ability to understand they are supposed to stay in bed or they do understand they are supposed to stay in bed but lack self control. It can wreak havoc on sleep.
You also want to consider the safety aspect. If you would not leave your child to play unsupervised for hours during the day, then you probably do not want them to have the freedom or ability to roam the house unsupervised at night while everyone is sleeping.
Can a crib mattress fit a toddler bed?
It can, if you are simply converting the crib to a toddler bed. Most crib mattresses will have an infant side and a toddler side.
Once you convert the crib to toddler bed, you can flip the mattress over!
If you are moving them to an entirely new bed, you will likely need a different mattress.
Another option though, is to just do a floor bed with their crib mattress! This is a montessori approach.
You can read more about the montessori approach to sleep in this article.
Can a 1 year old sleep in a toddler bed?
Physically, yes, they can sleep in a toddler bed with a crib mattress when they are 15+ months. They cannot safely use an adult mattress until they are over 2 years old.
So how will you handle them getting out of bed?
Before you make this switch, come up with a concrete plan with your partner for how you will respond to them getting out of their toddler bed.
Because they most definitely will, at some point! It is too tempting not to. ;)
I would consider a simple phrase, “It is bedtime, please go back to bed.” If they return to bed, great! If not, then we would silently return them to bed and leave. I would avoid any new interventions.
You will want to be 100% consistent in your response! You do not want to have a conversation about their bed now, this is why talking about it during the day is so important!
You may have to do that several times until they figure out that nothing fun happens after bedtime!
Ensure that absolutely nothing else has changed about your bedtime routine in the midst of this. The only change should be the crib to toddler bed.
If you find that your child is really struggling with this transition, then check out baby sleep training methods and find one that will help you get through it!
If they are emotional about the transition, then make sure to acknowledge their feelings and support them without sending the message that there is something to worry about.
For instance, they may miss their crib. I would suggest keeping it simple and saying something like, “I know you miss your old bed, but this is your new bed! Let’s think of fun things about your new bed.” This will acknowledge, redirect, and focus on something positive.
Of course, this may work better when they are still in a crib, so I would fix any sleep troubles you are having before making the switch to a toddler bed.
Try to avoid making the switch during a sleep regression! You can read more about baby sleep regression.
This will be the time that they start to test boundaries and limits, for sure, regardless of the transition. They may suddenly request the door to stay open while they are sleeping.
Keep in mind that a closed door is the safest during a fire. According to the Close Before You Doze campaign, closing the door decreases how fast a fire can spread while minimizing smoke exposure.
They have a great safety checklist for kids to reference so that you can explain why it is safest for their door to stay closed while sleeping.
Alternatives to making the switch from crib to toddler bed cold turkey?
Absolutely! You could move a different bed into their room while keeping them in their crib.
You can use this bed to snuggle on while reading books during their sleep routines. It makes them familiar with the space before making a big move.
Also, expect it to be a little rocky in the beginning! They may have a hard time settling at night, some night time wakings, or waking early in the morning.
This is a great time to utilize that toddler clock. It is not a magical tool, it takes some enforcing. For instance, if you set their clock to turn green (or whatever setting is specific to your clock) at 7:00am and they get out of bed at 6:00am, then you would return them to bed until the clock is green.
That is when your morning will start! Eventually, they will get the hang of it. If you need to, you can set it for earlier (maybe 5:45am) so they sleep past it and get the immediate reward of being able to get out of bed when it is green.
Then you can work your way back every few days. Set it 15 minutes later every 2-3 days so they can form that connection on when they can get out of bed.
You can also use a nightlight at this age if they are asking for it.
You may have to install a baby gate in their doorway to provide that physical boundary, something they can see and understand. They were in the confines of their crib and now they are in the confines of their room!
Figure out how you will handle fears-- this will happen because of age, not because there is something to fear.
If they are suddenly afraid of their room, I would still encourage you to help them sleep in their bed. Otherwise, we send the message that there is something to fear in their room which is not the case.
Make sure to acknowledge the fear then reassure that all is well. Let them feel their feelings. Saying things like “there is nothing to be fearful of” invalidates their feelings. To them, there is actually something to be afraid of!
If we say, “I know that you are afraid, but your room is safe, you have a light, and an extra stuffed animal to cuddle” then we let them know that we hear them, and have given them tools to get through it.
This is a great resource on how to acknowledge fear without dismissing it!
You can find a middle ground of sitting beside them while they fall asleep without having to pull them into your bed or sleeping in their bed with them (unless that is how you would prefer to handle the situation).
I am happy to share our personal experience with the crib to toddler bed transition, however, I have only transitioned one of my three kids and my oldest has always been the easiest kid!
Some of our strategies included:
- Talking to him about the transition and letting him pick out his own bedding (he chose dinosaurs and no one was surprised)
- Kept our bedtime routine the exact same
- Waited until his little sister was 4.5 months old and he asked to give up his crib
- Gave him a bedtime pass (you can read about that here)
- Implemented a toddler clock for when he could get out of bed in the morning and after naps
We did not have any real bedtime or middle of the night problems. Our struggle was with naps. When that happened, we started implementing quiet time and gave him the choice of sleeping or not. More often than not, he would choose quiet time and then after 15 minutes, climb into bed on his own to sleep.
We did not make it a big deal and tried to not draw too much attention to it. It just was and we let it be!
I anticipate transitioning our middle child will be more difficult. She has slept with us a handful of times, most recently when the power went out and she got too cold.
She slept okay, but as soon as she woke up, she was out of that bed like a rocket! Just proves that she has zero impulse control and once she was ready to go, there was nothing keeping her in bed.
For that reason alone, I am keeping her in the crib as long as she will let me!
Some takeaways about the crib to toddler bed transition
Do not make the crib to toddler bed transition too early if you can help it. Formulate a consistent response to any shenanigans. Make their space safe for them to roam around in. And lastly, give them the grace to get through this big milestone!
Author Bio: Ashley Olson is a certified pediatric sleep consultant, owner of Heaven Sent Sleep, and passionate about helping new parents, experienced parents, desperate and sleep-deprived parents form healthy sleep habits for their children.
She has over 3 years of experience in working with families and has completed over 150 hours of coursework plus continuing education related to infant and toddler sleep. The focus of her work is on fostering a routine that grows your bond with your child while improving their sleep habits. She specializes in custom sleep plans and one on one support in changing sleep practices!