Moving from crib to bed is yet another milestone in your toddler’s life. There’s no set time for when it’s best to switch your child from a crib to a toddler bed. However, little ones generally make the switch from crib to toddler bed any time between 18 months and 3 1/2 years old, ideally as close to age 3 as possible, according to guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).
There are a few factors to consider before you make the transition – most important, making sure your child is developmentally ready for the move. If you notice your toddler doing any of the following, it’s likely time to make the switch.
Signs your child is ready to transition to a toddler bed
- The AAP recommends transitioning a child out of a crib and into a toddler bed once the crib railing is lower than their chest. At that height, children are more easily able to climb out of the crib, which can lead to injury.
- After they’re fully potty-trained at night. For many kids, potty training overnight comes after daytime potty training. But once they’re no longer wearing diapers or training paints to sleep, they’ll need easy access to a bathroom.
- Once they’ve expressed interest in a big kid bed, that’s a good sign they’re cognitively and emotionally ready for the transition.
- Make sure the transition to the toddler bed doesn’t coincide with any other big lifestyle changes, such as moving or bringing home a new baby.
In short, you will follow your toddler’s lead to determine when it’s time. For example, if your child hasn’t mastered the art of self-control and doesn’t understand the importance of staying in their bed or room at night, they may not be ready. When they are ready, here’s some advice to make the transition as smooth and positive as possible.
Tips for easing the transition to a toddler bed
- Put the new bed in the same place your toddler’s crib used to be. Make sure your toddler’s bed is positioned away from any potential hazards that could lead to injury. Place the bed at least 2 feet from any windows, heating vents, radiators, wall lamps or window blind cords. It’s best to either avoid having blind cords in your child’s bedroom if possible or tack them high up and out of reach.
- Get the right size bed and mattress. If you’re moving from a nonconvertible crib to a bed, you might be tempted to buy a twin bed that will last your child for years to come, but a toddler-specific bed is a better choice. It’s lower to the ground and the mattress is smaller, both of which make it easier for very young children ages 15 months and up to climb in and hop out without getting hurt. Toddler beds are also designed to be used with a full-sized crib mattress (so feel free to use the full-sized mattress from your child’s crib, if it’s still in good condition). The crib mattress should fit snugly — if you’re not sure whether it’s right, use the two-finger test. The mattress isn’t a good fit if you’re able to fit more than two fingers in between it and the bed. You can explore the Colgate Mattress® new CuddleSnooze® Crib Mattress Collection designed to gently lull baby into a cozy, sound and restful sleep throughout the infant and toddler years.
- Make sure the toddler bed comes equipped with safety rails. Safety rails serve the purpose of stopping your child from rolling out of bed. Convertible cribs and toddler beds are required to have side rails at least 5 inches taller than the top of the mattress. If you’re using a bed without a built-in rail, be sure to install separate guardrails that are at least that tall.
- Check that the hardware is firmly secured. Whether you’re converting your crib or buying something new, a thorough safety inspection is always a good idea. Confirm that hardware like bolts and screws are firmly secured and that the sides and slats have tight, sturdy joints.
- Set physical boundaries. Late-night visits from your child might be inevitable at the beginning, but tell them that they need to stay in bed once the lights go out. If they try to escape a few times and call for you in the middle of the night, simply tell them everything’s okay, give them a kiss, and walk them back to bed. It might take a few tries, but they’ll catch on eventually.
- Maintain your routine. The bed may change, but the bedtime routine doesn’t have to. Keep your nighttime routine consistent with how it was in the crib – bath, teeth brushing, books – so your child has a sense of familiarity and knows when they’re expected to settle in for the night.
- Reward good behavior. If your child stays in their bed all night, tell them how proud you are of them so they’re inclined to do it again. It’s up to you whether you want to use prizes or other incentives to encourage good listening.
Now that your child has free reign of the house – don’t panic! But, you will need to review important home childproofing. Here are some more tips:
- Make sure your child is comfortable. This might mean buying a new nightlight or leaving a light on in the hallway if they’re newly afraid of the dark or letting them sleep with a comfort object such a lovey or stuffed animal during the night.
- Steer clear of electrical outlets. If you have to put the bed near an outlet, make sure nothing is plugged in and that the outlets have child-protected plugs in them to protect curious little fingers.
- Install safety gates at the top and bottom of the stairs, lock all doors and windows, and anchor furniture that could topple over.
- Keep unsafe items out of reach. This includes latching all drawers with cleaning products, medicine, and electrical items.
As with many aspects of parenting, there’s no way to predict how this transition to the bed will go. Once in a while it’s okay to bend the rules and let your child cuddle up in your bed. But it’s best to develop a plan and stick with it as often as possible. Your child will thrive on the consistency of a routine just as much as you will.
If your child is upset and doesn’t want to sleep in the new bed, don’t give up right away. Encourage your child to try out the bed. If they’re still distraught after a few days, bring the crib back without treating it like it’s a punishment, and try again in a few months.