This article was expert reviewed by Kelsey Atkinson, RCC, MCP, who is a licensed therapist and pediatric sleep consultant
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.
Stephanie Hewitt, founder of Stephanie Hewitt Sleep Consulting, suggests that parents wait until their child is three years old to transition from a crib to a toddler bed. However, some children move to a toddler bed as early as 18 months old, according to the Cleveland Clinic1.
While there’s no set rule about when the time is right to make this transition with your child, we’ll walk you through signs that your child is ready, along with providing tips to make this transition as seamless as possible for your family.
Signs Your Child is Ready for a Toddler Bed
The key to successfully moving your toddler out of their crib is to look for signs of readiness, rather than force this transition onto your child.
During toddlerhood, it’s important for you as a parent to remember that every day presents an element of newness to your child, and too much change in a short amount of time can be stressful.
We’ll provide some signs to look out for so you can determine if your child is ready to move from a crib to a toddler bed.
Climbing Out of or Attempting to Climb Out of Their Crib
If your toddler climbs out of their crib, even if the mattress is on the lowest setting it can be on, it is safer to move the child to a toddler bed. Climbing out of a crib is dangerous because they can fall to the floor at a higher distance. Therefore, a bed is a safer option because it’s lower to the ground, even if they end up climbing out of the bed too1.
They are 35 Inches Tall
When your child is 35 inches (89 centimeters) tall, or the crib’s side rail height is at or below chest level, the American Academy of Pediatrics2 (AAP) recommends that you move your toddler from a crib to a bed. This recommendation is based on the safety of your child, as a taller toddler can more easily maneuver themself over the crib rail compared to a shorter child.
Your Child is Mature Enough
Sleeping in a bed requires a child to have a level of maturity, as they can easily crawl out of bed to play with toys or games, especially compared to being stuck in a crib. If you’re worried that your toddler will roam the house and get into trouble, you may want to hold off on the transition from crib to toddler bed1.
Hewitt explained to us that “a three-year-old generally has the communication skills required to adjust to a toddler bed”, which is why she typically recommends waiting until your child is older to move them from a crib. For instance, a three-year-old normally understands the difference between bedtime and playtime better than, say, an 18-month-old.
Further supporting the suggestion of Hewitt, Kelsey Atkinson, founder of Kelsey Atkinson Counselling & Sleep Consulting, told us that a key sign to look for in your child before switching them to a toddler bed is cognitive and emotional readiness. Atkinson explained this developmental readiness by saying that “transitioning to a bed requires a certain level of cognitive and emotional readiness from the child. Around three years old, children typically can better understand boundaries and instructions. They are usually also better equipped to handle the freedom and responsibility that comes with sleeping in a bed”.
Your Child Asked for a Big-Kid Bed
As simple as it may seem, if your toddler asks you for a big-kid bed, they are probably ready to make the switch. Maybe their friends no longer sleep in cribs, or they see their older siblings’ beds and feel they are ready for one too.
Although you shouldn’t make a rash decision solely based on your young child’s desires, their interest in a toddler bed likely demonstrates some cognitive and emotional readiness1. You may want to start having conversations with your toddler about expectations when they sleep in a big kid bed and create a transition timeline based on how those conversations go.
Here are some other factors you may want to consider when deciding if your child should move to a toddler bed:
- Upcoming and current milestones – A new experience — such as moving homes, a new baby in the family, starting preschool, beginning to potty train, or weaning off of breastfeeding — is a big moment for a toddler. Any of these milestones can be emotionally draining for your little one, as they are new experiences that require lots of adjusting. So, if you’re looking to transition your child from a crib to a toddler bed, we recommend that you try to have this transition not line up with other milestones.
- New baby on the way – While having a new sibling on the way might be an adjustment for your toddler, switching them to a big kid bed before the baby is born will help you save money. Your toddler’s crib can be passed down to their new little sibling. Just make sure you make the switch before introducing a new sibling, so your toddler isn’t too overwhelmed1.
- Your child has physically outgrown their crib – You also may want to consider if your child no longer physically fits in their crib comfortably. If they can’t move around without feeling squished, they will probably feel more comfortable in a toddler bed.
Tips for an Easier Crib-to-Bed Transition
Shop for Your Child’s First Bed Together
We suggest bringing your toddler along with you during the bed-shopping process. Giving your child autonomy when picking a bed will hopefully get them more excited and less nervous about this big change. They might choose something that suits their personality and is specifically designed for toddlers (like a bed that’s shaped like a car or castle).
Let them choose their own bedding, too. If your child can pick out everything, including the sheets and blankets, they’re more likely to be excited about the move. We recommend you ask them for their opinion every step of the way.
Placement of The Bed
Ideally, the new mattress should be placed exactly where the crib was, so there is a level of continuity and familiarity for your child. However, make sure there are open spaces on both sides of the bed (don’t put the side of the bed against a wall) to prevent your toddler from being stuck between the bed and the wall if they roll over or toss and turn during the night.
Include Comfort Items
If your toddler is a bit anxious about the switch to a big kid bed, make sure to include comfort items in their new sleeping arrangement. These items may include familiar sheets, stuffed animals, or a security blanket that helps them feel safe and secure.
Buy Necessary Safety Items
If the bed you purchase doesn’t include bed rails3, you may want to purchase them to prevent your toddler from rolling out of bed. However, make sure they are installed properly, so they are securely attached to the bed3. We also suggest using pillows or soft rugs on both sides of the bed in the event that your child falls or rolls off the bed.
If you’re buying the mattress and bed separately, ensure that the mattress adequately fits the bed frame. If the mattress is too small for the bed frame, there could be a dangerous gap that your child could get stuck in.
Later in this article, we’ll cover more safety tips when it comes to a toddler bed and bedroom.
Keep Your Child’s Bedtime Routine Consistent
Remember, don’t change too many things at once; change is overwhelming for young children. After switching your child out of their crib, the only thing that should be different about bedtime is the bed itself. Stories, routines, and the hour you put your toddler to sleep should all remain constant. Furthermore, as an added benefit, a consistent bedtime routine for children has been linked to the promotion of positive early childhood development4.
Show Empathy and Be Patient
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 child feel pressure to sleep in a “real” bed, express empathy5 instead.
Share stories with them about how you felt when you switched to a different sleeping arrangement as a young child. Explain to your toddler that you know it’s going to be a difficult transition, but that they’ll likely be much happier with their newfound freedom.
Not only is empathy important when moving your little one out of their crib, but as a parent, you should also strive to exhibit patience. This change will likely not happen over the span of one night; your toddler may need you to sleep in their room with them for a few nights, or they might crawl into your bed at first.
While this isn’t ideal for a tired parent trying to get some rest, try to be patient. Sooner rather than later, your child will be sleeping through the night in their own bed, and you may miss their cuddles. Not only that but if you show your toddler that you’re frustrated or discouraged, they may adopt these feelings, which could further delay their progress towards successfully sleeping in their big kid bed.
Read Books About Crib-to-Bed Transitions
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. Some books about this transition that we recommended are Your Own Big Bed, I Love to Sleep in My Own Bed, and A Bed of Your Own.
Consider a Convertible Crib
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 you could remove this panel to create a “transition bed” for your child to sleep in for a little while before fully moving to a real bed.
Use a Sleep Training Clock
Hewitt recommends using an “ok to wake” or sleep training clock once your child is in a bed and not a crib. This type of clock signals your child, typically with a colored light or an image, when it is morning time and they are allowed to come out of their room for the day.
Hewitt explains that this type of clock is “a great tool to help toddlers quantify time [since] they have no idea what time it is, and using the light will help them understand when it’s time to get out of bed for the day”. This type of clock may save you the headache of being woken up throughout the night because your toddler thinks it’s the morning.
Learn More: How to Introduce a Toddler Sleep Training Clock
Choosing a Toddler Bed
Despite your stern warnings and scolding, you know that your little one is bound to jump around on their new bed. Make sure the product you choose is sturdy enough to stand up to a couple of years (at least) of this. Maybe you’ll want to choose a heavy-duty bed frame, or you might select a firmer mattress that is naturally bouncy like an innerspring model.
Your child’s toddler bed should be low to the ground, so if a fall 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. This autonomy will also give you some more free time, as your child can independently get out of their bed, unlike when they slept in a crib.
Some beds already come with built-in side rails, but if yours doesn’t, make sure it has the option to add them. Side rails add extra protection and safety so your child doesn’t roll or fall off of their bed.
View Our Guide: Best Toddler Bed Rails
Simple is best when it comes to a bed frame design for a young child. You don’t want any sharp corners or ornate designs that can lead to cuts, bruises, or stuck fingers. However, if your toddler wants a fun-shaped bed frame (like a race car), we say, why not? They’re only little once.
When 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 ensure that yours fits adequately, so your child is as safe as possible.
Get More Info: The Ultimate Mattress Size Chart
When searching for a mattress, check for certifications for environmental and allergy standards. GOTS (Global Organic Textile Standard) and CertiPUR-US® are just two of many environmentally-friendly certifications to look out for.
For the structure of the mattress itself, we recommend only buying products that have a certification sticker from the Juvenile Products Manufacturers Association6 (JPMA). The JPMA only certifies toddler beds, so if you’re buying a bigger bed for your child, this isn’t relevant.
Learn More About Mattress Certifications: Mattress Certifications Explained
Find the Right Placement
As mentioned, avoid putting one side of the bed 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. If you’re worried about your child rolling off of the bed, try bed rails instead.
Place the Headboard Against the Wall
The headboard should be flush against the wall with no gaps. Again, this limits the potential danger of your child getting stuck between their bed and the wall.
Cushion the Floor
You may want to place pillows, plush rugs, or even a sleeping bag on both sides of your toddler’s bed, especially when they first transition over from a crib. In the event that your toddler rolls out and onto the floor, you want something soft to break their fall. Once your little one adjusts to sleeping in a big kid bed, this extra cushion might not be necessary anymore.
Check the Joints of the Bed
After assembling your child’s new bed, make sure everything is tightened and nothing is starting to come loose, ensuring that your child’s bed is sturdy and safe for their sleep. It’s also important to regularly check and re-tighten the screws in the bed if they feel loose.
Cover Electric Outlets
To further protect your toddler’s safety, we recommend purchasing covers for all of the outlets in the bedroom. This way, if your child gets out of bed at night, they are not at risk of sticking their finger into an outlet and becoming electrocuted.
Pad Any Sharp Corners
Along with covering outlets, we suggest that you pad any sharp corners (like side tables, dressers, or even corners of the wall) in your child’s bedroom. If they get out of bed and wander around at night, your toddler will be protected from hitting their head or otherwise hurting themself on something sharp. You can pad these corners with pillows, bubble wrap, pool noodles, or special padding devices that you can purchase online.
Secure Furniture to Walls
Another tip is to fasten furniture, like a dresser, to the walls. This way, the dresser is less likely to fall over, which can help prevent injuries from happening.
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 years old. Consider a variety of factors to assess readiness, such as your child’s maturity, if they’ve expressed interest in a big kid bed, their height, if they’ve started climbing out of their crib, if they have a little sibling on the way, or other milestones.
Do toddler beds have age limits?
The minimum recommended age for a toddler bed is 15 months old. From there, the Consumer Products Safety Commission7 (CPSC) says your child can use a toddler bed until they weigh around 50 pounds.
As your child grows, you’ll probably notice that they don’t have as much room to move around in their toddler bed, especially when they’re stretched out. At that time, it’ll be appropriate to move to a twin or full-size mattress.
How long does it take to make the transition from a crib to a bed?
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 likely 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 your child seems extra restless or insecure about their new situation.
Is it better to wait until my toddler is older to get rid of their crib?
As long as your toddler hasn’t outgrown their crib, it may be better to wait. A child will have outgrown their crib once they are 35 inches tall or when the side rail height is at or below chest level.
According to a study conducted in 20188, 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 durations8.
Hopefully, you can use our suggestions to decide when your toddler will be ready to switch from a crib to a toddler bed, and you’ll be able to execute this transition safely and as smoothly as possible.
Remember, the transition from a crib to a bed is a big adjustment for a little human, so show your child empathy and patience while they experience this newfound independence. Don’t forget to get your little one excited about this experience. Let them buy the princess bedding and the lime green pillowcases; whatever helps them (and you) sleep at night.
- How (and When) to Introduce a Toddler Sleep Training Clock
- What’s The Best Mattress For Your Kid? – 2023 Review Guide
- Are Loft (Bunk) Beds Safe For Kids & Toddlers? – Read Before Buying
- 10 Highest Rated Toddler Travel Beds – 2023 Reviews and Ratings
- How to Get Toddler to Sleep in Own Bed – Helpful Tips And Advice
- Best Toddler Bed Rails – Top Products Reviews and Ratings for 2023
- Best Night Light for Toddlers – Our 9 Top Rated Picks (2023)
- What’s The Best Mattress For Your Kid? – 2023 Review Guide
Emma is an Editorial Intern for Sleep Advisor. She collaborates with the editor and staff writers to come up with article ideas, create article outlines, and write for the website.
- “When to Transition to a Toddler Bed and Tips for a Smooth Move”. Cleveland Clinic. 2023.
- “Make Baby’s Room Safe: Parent Checklist”. American Academy of Pediatrics Healthy Children.Org. Last modified August 14, 2020.
- “CPSC Adopts New Federal Standard for Portable Bed Rails”. United States Consumer Product Safety Commission. 2012.
- Mindell, Jodi A., Williamson, Ariel A. “Benefits of a bedtime routine in young children: Sleep, development, and beyond”. National Library of Medicine. 2017.
- “5 Tips for Cultivating Empathy”. Harvard Graduate School of Education. Last updated March 2021.
- “Certification Directory: Product by Category”. Juvenile Products Manufacturers Association. Webpage accessed July 25, 2023.
- “Toddler Beds Business Guidance & Small Entity Compliance Guide”. United States Consumer Product Safety Commission. Webpage accessed July 25, 2023.
- Williamson, Ariel A., et al. “Caregiver-perceived sleep outcomes in toddlers sleeping in cribs versus beds”. Science Direct. 2018.