Here’s the funny thing about milestones—although they’re an exciting and developmentally appropriate sign that your child is growing up, they often also come with a host of new obstacles (remember when your kid learned to walk and all the bumps and bruises that promptly followed?). And so, you may be a little nervous about moving your child from her crib to new big-kid digs. But how do you know when to transition to a toddler bed, anyway? We tapped the experts for their timeline suggestions plus some helpful tips on how to navigate this milestone smoothly.
First up, what exactly is a toddler bed?
When it’s time to say night night (for good) to your kid’s crib, you basically have two options: a toddler bed or a twin bed. A toddler bed typically uses the same size mattress as a crib (in fact, many cribs convert to a toddler bed), is low to the ground and has built-in rails. A toddler bed’s size means that there’s more floor space for play (a key factor if your child’s room is on the smaller side) and you can reuse your crib sheets. Toddler beds can also be found in fun child-friendly designs, like princesses or cars. A twin bed, on the other hand, is longer than a toddler bed (typically around 80 inches, compared to the 50- to 60-inch range of toddler beds). The pros of a twin bed are longevity (kids can basically use them until college) and comfort (parents can lie down in a twin bed for story time and many kids sleep better in bigger beds).
When to Transition to a Toddler Bed
“There's no exact answer here,” Dr. Roy Benaroch tells us. “Families typically make the change from about 18 months to 2 1/2 or 3 years.” In fact, research shows that by around 3 years of age, most toddlers sleep in a bed. But Dr. Benaroch argues that there’s no reason to rush this transition. “Typically, if your child is sleeping well and is happy and comfortable in a crib, it’s best to wait.”
A few signs that your kid is ready to move to an ordinary or toddler bed include:
They can climb over the rails of the crib. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends moving your child to another bed when he is 35 inches (89 cm) tall, or when the height of the side rail is less than three-quarters of his height (approximately nipple level). Note: Some particularly agile children may be able to escape the confines of their crib even before they have reached these heights.
They don’t want to get in the crib anymore. “Families may want to start thinking about the transition when their child no longer wants to get in the crib or prefers to have a cuddle or reading time in their [parents’] bed,” says Dr. Benaroch.
They are asking for a big-kid bed. Once your toddler is interested in new sleeping arrangements, it’s probably time to transition.
How to Transition to a Toddler Bed
Get the timing right. If your toddler is currently undergoing another transition (say, potty training or a new sibling) then you should wait before introducing new sleeping arrangements. “If you’re pregnant, it’s usually best to move your toddler out of the crib a few months before the new baby arrives (assuming your first child is old enough to be out of the crib),” says Dr. Harvey Karp. “If it is already after the birth, you might keep your tot in the crib a while longer. But beware: if you move your toddler to a bed and the next week move the baby into her old crib, your tot may feel jealous—like you gave her beloved possession to the new intruder!”
Go slowly. Let your toddler “practice” in her new digs with a couple of naps first before settling in for nighttime sleep.
Keep the routine. You already know that a regular bedtime routine helps set your kid up for a good night’s slumber. The same rules apply when you transition him to a big-kid bed. In addition to keeping the same order of events (like bath-story time-bed), consider putting the bed in the same space where the crib was, if possible.
Enlist their help. Make this milestone more fun for your kid by letting them choose their bed or bed sheets. Note: Toddlers aren’t exactly the best shoppers, so you’d be wise to do some research beforehand and give them two to three options that you’re OK with.
How to Get Your Toddler to Actually Stay in Bed
Your kid is totally on board with their new bed—hurrah! Except this newfound freedom means lots of trips out of the bed (hello, 3 a.m. wakeup call). Here are a few tips and tricks to help your child stay put.
Safety-proof your home. Now that your kid can basically roll out of bed anytime she wants, you’ll want to make sure that there are no hazards in her room. That means safety proofing any space that your kid can access in the middle of the night (like checking outlets, securing curtain cords and bolting bookshelves). You may also want to add a soft landing such as pillows and blankets around your child’s new bed (especially if it doesn’t have safety rails).
Keep your kid in their room. Karp advises parents to use a gate to keep children in their room. “If she climbs over it, you may need to spend a little time training her to stay in the room or even close the door. Say something like, ‘Honey, this is Mr. Gate! Mr. Gate will help you stay in the room…so at bedtime, after we sing and read and say night-night…then we’ll close Mr. Gate…and he will help you stay safe and happy in your room all night.’”
And there you have it—good night and good luck.