Just when you feel time can’t fly fast enough, you start thinking about a big kid bed for your child—no more playpen or crib, which represents that sweet but short time of being your baby. You are now thinking about making the jump into officially having a toddler!
There are many reasons that you may be thinking about doing this. Maybe a friend mentioned that it was time. Or you see other kids their age in beds. Or a new baby is on the way and you need to free up space. The main factor we want to determine is whether your toddler is ready?
Is My Toddler Ready for a Big Kid Bed?
First and foremost, you always need to do what feels best for your family, but my recommendation is to wait as long as possible before making the switch to a big bed. Toddlers between the ages of 2.5 and 3.5 are usually close to being ready but do not be afraid to wait even longer if sleep is going well in the crib!
So, how do you know if your toddler is ready or not? Before going into ways to transition, we first want to establish if they are ready. This will determine how smoothly the transition goes. Some reasons to wait a little longer include:
Waiting for your toddler to be more developmentally mature where they have the verbal skills to understand the rules of having a big girl/boy bed. I call these “sleep manners,” and they include being able to communicate with you clearly. This can prevent many bedtime battles.
A crib is a safe place.
A crib provides four walls that keep your toddler in a safe zone. Once your toddler is in a bed, they are free to get out and walk around. This could lead to falling or getting injured when unsupervised. The only exception to this rule is if your baby is crawling out of the crib anyway!
Your toddler feels secure.
Understanding that younger toddlers thrive off the feeling of security. The close crib walls create a confined feeling of safety for your little one as it surrounds them and keeps them safe. Once your toddler transitions to a bed, the walls of the bedroom replace those of the crib. The space feels much bigger and sometimes can lead to a feeling of not being safe.
If it is within three months before or three months after a significant change in the home, you might want to wait. A perfect example of this is a new baby coming home. Making the transition before may be smooth, but once the baby arrives and your toddler sees them in “their” crib, things may get tense in the household, and your toddler may act out more. Making the transition within three months after the new baby has arrived can make your toddler feel replaced by the new baby. We don’t want this. Give them time to adjust to the new baby and then make the transition if you cannot do it earlier.
Signs Your Toddler May Be Ready
As I said above, you always know what is best for your family and if you feel the time is right, then trust those instincts! If you are unsure, follow these signs that your toddler may be ready to transition to a big bed.
- Your toddler is talking TO YOU about sleeping in a big boy/girl bed. I always take this as a good first indication that they are thinking about other options. They are developmentally ready to identify other sleeping arrangements, and now they are communicating this with you.
- Your toddler is getting out of the crib anyway! This is a big one because safety is always a concern.
- Your toddler is 3.5-4 years old. In most cases, toddlers are ready at this age.
Tips for Transitioning Smoothly to a Big Kid Bed
You and your toddler are now ready to make the big change! You are doing this together, so being extra excited about this change makes the whole experience positive. Here are some steps to help make it go as smoothly as possible.
Set up the bed.
Start with setting up the big bed in the same room as the crib, if you can. At first, you can keep your toddler in the crib, but they will get used to the bed being in there as an option.
Make a big deal about the change.
Their new bed is AWESOME! But you may have to prove it to your toddler. Go shopping for sheets, blankets, pillowcases, and other things for the new bed together. Let them have a choice in all of it!
Build in security.
Set up the bed in a corner that allows for two walls if you can. With the addition of a bed railing to the other long side of the bed, you can recreate that smaller feeling of security.
Start with naps.
Now that you have both beds in the room, you can encourage daytime sleep in the new bed. Encourage this: “Nap time is going to be so great, you get to sleep in your new big boy/girl bed!” Keep nights in the crib for a while longer as your toddler gets used to it. After a week or two of naps in the big bed, or sooner if your toddler is ready, you can start having nights in the new bed as well.
One of the major issues I see with making the shift to a big bed is flip-flopping back and forth between beds. This is frustrating and can make bedtimes drag on and on each night. This is not fun for parents and leads to an overtired toddler. The rule that I encourage families to use, and I used myself with my three toddlers, is if your toddler starts a sleep period in the bed and then gets out and asks to go in the crib, they now stay in the crib for that sleep period. They had their chance to try the new bed but now wanted the crib. It quickly turns into a game of back and forth between bed and crib for a specific sleep period, and this is not what we want. Every sleep period, your toddler gets one chance to sleep in their big bed.
It is an exciting time when your toddler is ready to ditch their crib for a big kid bed! It is a big moment for both them and you as parents. Use the signs above to decide if they are ready or not. If they are, then jump in! You will do great.