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Parents often assume that the first attempt at a crib escape is a sure sign that it’s time to make the switch from a crib to a bed.
However, it’s slightly more complicated than that. We are talking about toddlers after all! And we all know that they don’t tend to make things easy on us parents.
In general, parents should consider transitioning sleeping arrangements between the ages of one and a half and three and a half years old.
However, there are other factors to consider, including:
- Upcoming and current milestones (moving, a new baby, preschool, potty training, weaning, etc.).
- Whether they’ve expressed the desire to sleep in a “big kid bed.”
- If they are mentally developed and mature enough to ditch the crib.
- If you urgently need the crib for a new baby.
- Your child has outgrown their crib.
While there’s no set rule about when the time is right, we’ll walk you through how to recognize the signs and provide steps to make this transition more seamless than you may have imagined.
Tips for Easier Crib to Bed Transition
Assess for Readiness
There are distinct signs your child is ready to move on from their crib other than a Houdini-like crib escape. Here are some telltale things to look for:
- Your toddler specifically asks.
- Your child’s friends have all graduated from their crib and your little one is aware of this difference.
- There are older siblings in the house that your child tries to emulate.
- Your child is 35 inches (89 cm) tall, or the side rail height is at or below chest level (according to the the American Academy of Pediatrics, these are signs your child has outgrown their crib).
The key is to look for signs of readiness rather than force this transition onto your child. At this age, it’s important to remember that every day presents an element of newness in your child’s life, and too much change in too short a time can be stressful.
You already know that toddlers are stubborn creatures. That’s why we suggest bringing them along with you during the shopping process. Let them pick out what they want. They might choose something that suits their personality and is specifically designed for toddlers (a bed that’s shaped like a car or castle). Allow them to also select the bedding, and ask them for their opinion every step of the way.
If your child can pick out everything, including the sheets and blankets, they’re more likely to be excited about the move.
Ideally, the new mattress should be placed exactly where the crib was. However, there should be open spaces on both sides to prevent your little one from being stuck between the bed and the wall if he or she rolls over or tosses and turns during the night.
If your toddler is a bit anxious about the switch, make sure to include comfort items in the new sleeping arrangement. These include familiar sheets, stuffed animals, or a lovey (security blanket) that helped them feel safe and secure.
If the item you purchase doesn’t include side rails, make sure you buy some. This precaution helps prevent your toddler from rolling out of bed. We also suggest pillows or soft rugs on either side in the event of a fall.
If you’re buying the mattress and bed separately, ensure that the mattress adequately fits the frame. If it’s too small, there could be a dangerous gap that your child could get stuck in.
Here's our mattress sizing chart, which might be helpful in this case.
Remember, don’t change too many things at once. The only thing that should be different about bedtime is the bed itself. Stories, routines, and the hour you put your toddler down should all remain constant.
We might think that our children are eager to “grow up” and do everything that adults do, but this isn’t always the case. Instead of making your little kid feel pressure to sleep in a “real” bed, express empathy instead. Share with them stories about how you felt when you switched to a different sleeping arrangement. Tell them you know it’s going to be a difficult transition, but they’ll be much happier with their newfound freedom.
Kids learn from example, and sometimes all they need is some context to prepare them for the next step. You can read stories to your child about other toddlers who’ve made the transition from crib to bed so that it helps them understand the situation and allows them to observe examples of others who’ve paved the way before them. Some we recommended are Your Own Big Bed, I Love to Sleep in My Own Bed, and A Bed of Your Own.
Consider a Convertible Type
Parents who want to make this transition as smooth and seamless as possible may want to consider a convertible crib. This product has a removable front panel (the wide side that faces outward), so your little one gets the effect of sleeping in a more grown up bed, but still gets the comfort of a crib.
Choosing a Toddler Bed
Despite your stern warnings and scolding, you know that your little one is bound to do some jumping and bouncing. Make sure the product you choose is sturdy enough to stand up to a couple of years (at least) of wiggling.
It should be low to the ground, so if an accident does occur, the risk of injury is substantially lower. A low-profile structure also makes it easier for toddlers to get in and out of bed on their own without hurting themselves or falling.
Some products in this category already come with built-in side rails. If yours doesn’t, make sure it has the option to add them.
Simple is best when it comes to design. You don’t want any sharp corners or ornate designs that can cause cuts or stuck fingers.
Whenever possible, we recommend buying the bed and mattress as a single unit to ensure a snug fit. Toddler limbs have a tendency to get stuck in the most unimaginable places, including a half-inch gap between the frame and mattress. If you do buy these pieces separately, make sure the frame accommodates standard-sized mattresses and triple check that yours fits adequately.
For mattresses, check for certifications for environmental and allergy standards. GOTS (Global Organic Textile Standard) is one to seek out, as well as CertiPUR-US. For the structure itself, we recommend only buying products that have a certification sticker from the Juvenile Products Manufacturers Association. Keep in mind that the JPMA only certifies toddler beds, not twin varieties.
Find the Right Placement
Avoid putting one side against the wall. While it may seem the most space-efficient placement, it increases the risk of having arms and legs caught between the mattress and the wall.
Place the Headboard Against the Wall
The headboard should be flush against the wall with no gaps. Again, this limits the potential danger of having your child get stuck.
Cushion the Floor
Pillows, plush rugs, or even a sleeping bag should be placed on both sides of the bed. In the event that your toddler rolls out and onto the floor, you want something soft to break their fall.
Check Joints of the Bed
Make sure everything is tightened and nothing is starting to come loose. It’s also a careful precautionary to regularly check and retighten anything that needs it.
Frequently Asked Questions
When is the best time to switch from crib to bed?
Every child is different, but the short answer is a range between 18 months and three-and-a-half years old. A single escape attempt is rarely a surefire sign because toddlers are often just seeking attention. If your little one has tried an escape or two, stay calm and don’t react strongly one way or the other. Children tend to seek attention and reinforcement, even when it's negative, and escape attempts are dangerous.
Instead, look at a variety of factors to assess readiness, including whether they’re asking to switch sleeping arrangements or they’re showing other signs of independence.
Do toddler beds have age limits?
The minimum recommended age is 15 months. From there, the Consumer Products Safety Commission (CPSC) says your child can use that bed until they reach about 50 pounds. You don’t have to weigh your little one obsessively to know if they’re too big.
You’ll probably notice that they don’t have as much room to move around, especially when they’re stretched out. At that time, it’ll be appropriate to move to a twin or full-sized mattress.
How long does it take to make the transition?
Some kids will take to their new sleeping arrangements instantly, while others need an adjustment period. On average, plan for about two weeks of resistance, bargaining, fear, and the occasional tantrum.
By following our tips to ease the transition, you’ll be able to minimize the time it takes for your toddler to get used to sleeping in a bed. Consider adding an extra nightlight or two or a white noise machine if they seem extra restless or insecure about their new situation.
Is it better to wait until my toddler is older?
As long as your toddler hasn’t outgrown their crib (when your tiny tot reaches 35 inches (89 cm), or when the side rail height is at or below chest level), it may be better to wait.
According to a study published in the journal Sleep Medicine, parents who wait until their child is three years old may find the transition goes more smoothly than if they start earlier. The study looked at 1,983 toddlers from 5 different countries and found that parents who waited to transition their toddlers until they were 3 years old reported less resistance at bedtime, fewer night awakenings, and longer sleep durations.
Remember, even though we want our little ones to be happy and sleep as snug as a bug in a rug, at the end of the day, we’re the parents. Set firm ground rules if you encounter resistance, and try tactics like positive reinforcement when your toddler does follow your rules.
Daily rewards like stickers combined with an extra toy or trip to the park for successful consecutive nights will do wonders to make them embrace this next stage in their development.
Sources and References:
- The Transition from Crib to Bed – parents.com
- 10 Tricks to Ease the Transition From Crib to Toddler Bed – whattoexpect.com