How and When to Transition to a Toddler Bed

5 Tips for a Tear-Free Transition

For some kids, a crib provides a comfortable sense of security. For others, those bothersome bars are all that’s standing between them and freedom. Whether you have an escape artist on your hands or just a soon-to-be too-big kid, these five tear-free tips will have your little dreamer sleeping in their very own bed in no time flat!

  • 01 of 05

    Get the Timing Right

    Happy Boy Laughing on Bed
    Carolyn Brandt/Moment Open/Getty Images

    Like most things, a successful transition to a big-kid bed is all about the timing. While most kids will make the big move between the ages of one and three, there’s no need to rush the process. Taking the time to properly sleep train your little one and establish a comfortable bedtime routine before moving him will make the transition much easier for everyone involved. That being said, if your child reaches 35 inches in height and has not yet transitioned to a bed, or if you catch your mini-monkey mid jailbreak, it’s probably time to make a change.

    Sometimes circumstances dictate an early eviction. If you have a new little tenant on the way, be sure to bump your toddler up to big-kid status well before baby arrives, allowing at least eight weeks to pass before reassigning ownership. If your child is not really ready for a new bed, or if they have trouble adjusting to the situation, consider borrowing a bassinet or a second crib until they are ready to move on.

  • 02 of 05

    Get Your Little One Involved

    Making the transition to a toddler bed is a big deal, so treat it like one! Celebrate your baby’s new status by allowing them to pick out their very own bed. If you already have a bed on hand, let them choose their own bedding. Then host an informal set-up party! Have your little one help set up and make their bed. After all, they’re a big kid now, and big kids can help! Be sure to layer on the praise, but stick to positive reinforcement, and be careful not to deride the crib as silly or babyish, especially if your child seems a little sorry to see it go. (The crib may need to make a second appearance, and you don’t want your child to feel like they have failed or disappointed you if it turns out that they weren’t as ready as you thought.)

  • 03 of 05

    Add a Dose of Familiarity

    Routine helps toddlers to make sense of their very big and busy world. Even a small change in procedure can leave your baby feeling anxious and frustrated. To help your little one cope, try to keep the routine and setting as familiar as possible. Don’t take the opportunity to update the décor or rethink the entire nursery design. Try to keep the bed in the same place, and let your toddler use their old crib blanket, even if it is too small. You’ll also want to avoid initiating any other major changes, such as toilet training or weaning them off the paci or bottle, until they have grown comfortable with their new sleeping arrangements.

  • 04 of 05

    Beef up Security

    Now that your toddler has run of the nursery, it’s a good time to bolster your baby-proofing efforts. Begin by ensuring your little one is safe in their bed. If your child’s bed does not already have one, be sure to install a guardrail to prevent falls. If you are switching to a twin-sized bed, place the bed directly on the floor. You can always add the bed frame later. Next, prevent late-night escape attempts by installing a safety gate or doorknob protector on the nursery door. Finally, if you haven’t already, take the time to thoroughly baby-proof your child’s room. Remember, a nursery accident can happen in a flash, and now that your toddler is free to roam around the nursery largely unsupervised, you may not always be there to prevent disaster.

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  • 05 of 05

    Don’t Get Discouraged

    If your toddler is struggling with the change—or if you’re struggling to keep them in bed—you’re not alone. Be consistent and patient, and give it a little time. If your child gets out of bed, pick them up and put them right back in. Be calm, gentle, and silent! What may at first seem like a fun game will lose its charm before too long, especially if you refuse to interact with your toddler.

    If you believe your little one is genuinely frightened or anxious about the change, consider sitting with them for a while before they fall asleep. If you are there with them, there is no need for them to get out of bed and find you, and a child that is already in bed is a lot more likely to go to sleep. Explain that there will be no talking, and resist any attempts at conversation with a single phrase, such as, “it’s bedtime.” Each night, move your chair a few feet closer to the door. Be sure to reward your child with lots of praise for their progress.