Is the day of transition from crib to bed quickly approaching? Don’t worry — making this transition can be a breeze if you’re patient and persistent!
Every toddler reaches the point where a crib just doesn’t cut it anymore.
Are they starting to plan grand escape schemes out of their confined space? Yep, time to get them set up in a “big kid bed.”
When Should You Transition?
Your kid relies on routine and naturally resists change. Knowing the right time to introduce a new bed to your child is the key to this adventure. Bringing it up too soon could spook them, but waiting too long can be a hazard if they’re starting to escape their crib and potentially hurting themselves. If you have adjusted the crib mattress to the lowest possible setting and your toddler can climb out of the crib, it is time to transition to a toddler bed.
Around the ages 18-24 months, you’ll probably start seeing signs that your baby is ready for a bed (1). Once they’re tall and curious enough to start testing their crib’s safety, you’ll need to act fast. The rule of thumb is to transition as soon as they start climbing, but since not every kid is a natural escape artist, you might need a few more clues.
Rely On Instincts
Why Children Fight the Big Bed
Understanding where your toddler is coming from can be extremely trying, even at the best of times. Their attachment to the crib may seem irrational to our developed adult minds, but to a child, it’s a really big deal.
Growing up can be a scary process. We unintentionally put pressure on our kids to grow up fast, and some children cling to certain things as their way of grounding themselves and feeling secure.
You know that one little blanket or toy you aren’t allowed to wash? Think of their crib the same way — it’s their space to rest, be safe, find comfort, and it’s what they’ve known since forever. Suddenly taking that away can be a really confusing thing for toddlers.
How Fast Should You Transition?
It’s tempting to rush through the transition from crib to bed with your toddler, especially if they’re escaping the crib or you have another baby on the way. Unfortunately, rushing is one of the biggest mistakes you can make during this time.
Dial it back, take your time, and be extremely sensitive to your child’s struggle. Stress and exhaustion can make it harder for you to accept their resistance, which is understandable, but any time you lose your temper, you’re taking a step backward.
Children will sense when something is forced and resist it. Your frustration or need for a speedy transition won’t help them get their behavior settled quicker. Instead, keep it positive and relaxed.
The more your child sees this new adventure as something safe and entirely normal, the quicker they’ll adjust to it. That might mean you spending time in their room by the new bed for a week or two, but it’s just one of those “mom things” that we end up adjusting to as well.
3 Problems Kids Face When Transitioning
Not every mom will face a nightly melt-down whenever it’s time to sleep in the new bed, but they may experience some other issues.
Every child is different and will behave differently, so understanding which area you’re finding trouble in can help you find the best solutions.
1. Resisting the Bed
Each time you bring up the fun prospect of a new bed, you’re greeted with a firm no. What do you do if you can’t even get the ball rolling?
Toddlers who push back from the start need more time to get used to the idea. This is their way of rejecting change, and it could be because of fear or a misunderstanding of why they need to make the change at all.
You may experience resistance even through multiple methods. If you’ve exhausted all suggestions, just stick to whatever works best and take your time with it.
2. Leaving the Bed
Often times, if you get your child safely and happily into bed the evening before, you’ll get a surprise awakening the next morning. Or in the middle of the night. Or multiple surprises throughout the evening.
Some toddlers see their bed not as a scary change to fear, but as a new quest to conquer. They will take well to the bed, at least somewhat, but won’t stay in it for very long. This behavior could result from confusion or plain curiosity.
They think of their crib as a place to sleep, so they might not be associating that action with their bed yet. You’ll find yourself consistently walking them back to their bed or being woken up by your toddler in the middle of the night.
This is the most common scenario I hear from parents during the transitioning process. Whether the toddler is not yet used to the idea of a different bed or they have a fear of some sort, he or she ends up in the parents’ room and bed during the middle of the night. If the parent wakes, I recommend putting the child back into the toddler bed. Of course, this is only possible if the parent wakes and does not sleep through the intrusion.
Editor's Note:Dr. Leah Alexander, MD, FAAP
3. Waking Up in the Middle of the Night
The concern your toddler may feel about their new bed could affect their ability to sleep, stay asleep, or self-soothe if they wake up in the middle of the night (2). Strange new sleeping conditions could be startling to a half-awake child, so you may find them coming in and waking you at all hours during this transition.
For a tired mommy, this is the last thing you want to experience, especially at 2 a.m. when your patience is non-existent. You dealt with this months ago when the little one was a newborn, and you’re not eager to start again!
4. New Home or Recent Change in Sleep Setting
Even if the initial transition to a toddler bed has been seamless, I often see a change in acceptance of the new bed in situations where the family moves to a new home. Being in a new environment can be unsettling to the toddler, causing him or her to feel insecure while in bed.
I also see regression after a family vacation with a hotel stay or a shared-room sleeping arrangement in the home of a friend or family member. It may take several weeks of encouragement for this regression to resolve.
5 Expert Transitioning Tips
You’ve learned all about the when, the why, and the what. Are you ready for the how?
Finding the best ways to transition will differ from family to family, but these little tricks are things that helped me, my friends, and my family coax countless toddlers into new beds. The AAP offers the following tips.
1. Keep Things Familiar
Keep in mind just how much your child relies on things staying the same from day to day. Toddlers at this age are routine-oriented, so when you’re transitioning from a crib, leave everything else the same.
Keeping the bed in the same spot as the crib, leaving the rest of the room the same, and always ensuring the presence of stuffed animals will help ease your toddler into the transition.
2. Take it a Step at a Time
If you’re trying to transition to a bed, maybe potty training isn’t a great thing to start at the same time. Overloading your little one with too many new things and changes to what they’re used to will make everything you’re trying to do ten times harder.
Keep things calm and familiar during the change, and introduce new elements one step at a time. Patience is a virtue here, so if you need a break, have someone else take over for a night.
3. Let Them Make the Choice
Give reasonable amounts of control to your toddler while you navigate this situation together. If they aren’t routinely flinging themselves out of the crib, let them dictate how fast you move with introducing the bed.
Letting your child pick out the bed, or at least the sheets and pillowcases can go a long way. Making it theirs will encourage them to find the desire to sleep there, especially if you keep talking about it as something they have control over.
4. Start with Naptime
If you have a particularly resistant toddler, or maybe one who wakes up during the night frequently, cut back and only spend naptime in the bed. Bargaining with ideas like “if you take your nap here today, you can sleep in the crib tonight” will make this part easier, and they’ll grow used to the bed.
You can also start bedtime in the bed and move to the crib for the actual sleeping. Laying in the big kid bed and getting used to it is crucial for a child who is taking time to adjust.
5. Read Lots of Books!
I’m almost positive that every toddler loves books! All of my kids did, and this was the main way I got them to get in their bed and stay there. This is a great method to use because you can combine a bit of all these suggestions together.
Let them choose their books and read to them while they relax in their new bed. You can take it slow and keep things familiar with their favorite books, and even start using it as a motivator, telling them “One more book IF you lay here longer.”
3 Books About Big Kid Beds
Reading has plenty of benefits, but one of the biggest is that you can find books to explain the transition better than you can!
These three kid-friendly stories help teach the importance of a big kid bed while normalizing it and encouraging them to make the leap.
1. Your Own Big Bed by Rita Bergstein
The soothing text and cool-toned illustrations present the transition in a natural, relaxed way that helps a child find peace with the confusion and lingering fear. The book is beautifully written and a personal favorite of mine.
2. Big Enough For A Bed by Sesame Street
What can make something seem less scary than seeing a familiar, beloved character going through the same thing and succeeding? Elmo takes the same journey as your child in this quick, simple book to bring them closer to acceptance.
3. Big Bed For Giraffe by Michael Dahl
This upbeat, quick board book takes you on a brisk adventure of a growing giraffe who needs a big bed. It helps your child see the reason behind this change, and it’s a fun way to compare them to a favorite animal of theirs.
Escaping the Bed
Like I mentioned earlier, escapee toddlers are one of the biggest problems when it comes to the transition from crib to bed. It can happen at any time of night or morning, and it can happen just once or multiple times. You may get extremely frustrated, too, which can complicate things.
If you have a child who keeps escaping the bed, it’s important to remember that this will pass, and it could be worse. You just have to stay diligent in keeping your child comfortable in their bed.
Another option is stepping back from the transition for a bit. If they’re throwing horrible fits and absolutely refuse to stay in bed, it could be because they simply aren’t ready for this kind of change yet. Give it a break for a week, and try again later.
There is also a book for this situation, too! The Girl Who Got Out Of Bed teaches kids the importance of not leaving the bed, and motivates them to get to dreamland more quickly.