Is the day of your toddler’s transition from crib to bed quickly approaching? Don’t worry — this graduation can be a breeze if you’re patient and persistent!
It’s always a little sad when our little ones reach a new milestone, as much as we love watching them grow and learn new things. This milestone can be especially frightening as you may wonder if you’ll ever be able to keep your child in their bed again.
We’ve been there with our own children many times, and we get it.
We’ll guide you through the transition, explaining how to recognize when to make the move, what challenges to expect, and how to help your little one through the process. We’ll even share our top tips for a painless transition and review three great books to read with your child.
When Should You Transition?
Your child relies on routine and naturally resists change. Knowing the right time to introduce a new bed is the key to succeeding in this adventure. Bringing it up too soon could spook your toddler, but waiting too long can be a hazard if they’re starting to escape their crib. If you have adjusted the crib mattress to the lowest possible setting and your toddler can still climb out or is getting close to escaping, it’s 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 security 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 forever. Suddenly taking that away can be really confusing for toddlers.
How Fast Should You Transition?
It’s tempting to rush through your toddler’s transition from crib to bed, 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.
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 settle their behavior 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 need to spend some time in their room by the new bed for a week or two. It’s just one of those “mom things” we end up adjusting to.
Three Problems Kids Face When Transitioning
Not every toddler will have a meltdown whenever it’s time to sleep in the new bed, but you may experience some other issues.
1. Resisting the Bed
You may be greeted with a firm NO every time you bring up the fun prospect of a new bed.
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.
You may even experience resistance through multiple methods. Continue to talk about the change, read some books to help your child understand the process, and take it slow.
2. Leaving the Bed
Often, if you get your child safely and happily into bed one night, you’ll get a surprise awakening the next morning. Or in the middle of the night. Or many times throughout the evening.
Some toddlers see their bed as a new quest to conquer rather than a scary change to fear. They 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.
Many children think of their crib as a place to sleep, so they might not initially associate sleeping with their new bed. You may find yourself consistently walking them back to their bed many times throughout the night.
This is the most common scenario I hear from parents during the transitioning process. Toddlers often aren’t used to the idea of a different bed or have fears of some sort, so they end up in their parents’ room or bed during 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
Your toddler’s concern about their new bed could affect their ability to fall asleep, stay asleep, or self-soothe if they wake in the night (2). A strange new environment could be startling to a half-awake child, so you may find them coming in and waking you at all hours during this transition.
This is the last thing a tired mom wants 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! But know that this stage won’t last forever.
4. New Home or Recent Change in Sleep Setting
Even if the initial transition to a toddler bed has been seamless, we often see a change in acceptance of the new bed in situations when a family moves to a new home. Being in a new environment can be unsettling to toddlers, causing them to feel insecure while in bed.
We also see regression after family vacations 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.
Five 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 tips and tricks worked wonders to help us, our friends, and our families coax countless toddlers into new beds.
1. Keep Things Familiar
Keep in mind how much your child relies on daily consistency. Toddlers 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 ensure the presence of stuffed animals to help ease your toddler into the transition.
2. Take it a Step at a Time
If you’re trying to transition to a bed, it might not be a good idea to start potty training at the same time. Overloading your little one with too many new changes will make everything 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 your toddler reasonable amounts of control, and navigate the 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 one who wakes up frequently during the night, cut back to having them only spend naptime in the bed. Using bargaining techniques like saying, “If you take your nap here today, you can sleep in the crib tonight,” will make this part easier, and your child will eventually grow used to the bed.
You can also start your child’s bedtime routine in their new bed with a story and a cuddle, then move them to the crib when it’s time to sleep. Any time your child spends laying in their big kid bed is crucial when they’re struggling to adjust.
5. Read Lots of Books!
Nearly every toddler loves books! All of our kids did, and this was the main way we got them to get in their bed and stay there. This is an excellent method to use because you can combine all these suggestions.
Let your child 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, “I’ll read one more book IF you lay here a little 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 children 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. This book helps children find peace with the confusion of a new bed and any lingering fear. This beautifully written story was a favorite of many of our toddlers.
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 experience and succeeding? Elmo makes the journey to a big kid bed — just like your child — in this quick, simple book that helps bring them closer to acceptance.
3. Big Bed For Giraffe by Michael Dahl
This short and upbeat board book takes you along on the adventure of a growing giraffe who needs a big bed. It helps your child see the reason behind this change and recognize that they’re not alone in the process.
Escaping the Bed
If you have a child who keeps escaping the bed, it’s important to remember that this will pass, and it could be worse. Do your best to keep your child comfortable in their bed.
Another option is to step back from the transition for a bit. If your child is 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.
We have a book recommendation for this specific situation, too! The Girl Who Got Out of Bed teaches kids the importance of not leaving their bed and motivates them to get to dreamland more quickly.