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10 Steps to Smoothly Transition to A Toddler Bed

Learn how to transition your baby to a toddler bed when the time is right. When you’re prepared with these tips and tricks, making the transition from a crib to a toddler bed can be easier than you think!

toddler girl transitioning to toddler bed

Once your little toddler starts climbing out of the crib, it’s time to transition to a toddler bed!

I was determined to keep my daughter in her crib for as long as possible. She started climbing out at 27 months. I pulled out all the stops to try and keep her in that crib for a little bit longer (toddler sleep sacks, turn the crib around backward, lower the crib mattress to the floor, etc.)

Each trick bought me a little bit of time but at 28 months I knew we needed to transition to a toddler bed. She started climbing out multiple times in the middle of the night and the crib was no longer a safe option, so I knew it was time to transition. It went so much easier than expected!

toddler boy sleeping in big bed

When to Transition to A Toddler Bed?

Wondering when is the right time to move your toddler from a crib to a bed?

Wait to make the transition for as long as you possibly can. Most sleep consultants agree to wait until three years old or as close to three as you can before transitioning out of the crib. Here are the signs your toddler is not ready for a bed quite yet.

At age 3, children understand boundaries better (even though they don’t always follow them!). It’s easier to tell a 3-year old she needs to stay in bed than a squirrely 18-month-old.

So, wait as long as you can and make the transition as close to age 3 as possible.

If your child starts climbing out of the crib before 3, they may be going through the two year sleep regression. Use our tips to help keep your toddler from climbing out of the crib. and hold them off a little longer!

It isn’t always possible to wait that long though.

Sometimes toddlers start climbing out of their cribs at an earlier age, or parents need the crib before a new baby arrives. If you need the crib for a new sibling, and your toddler is under 3 years old, I recommend buying a second crib if possible.

toddler playing on new bed after moving from crib

How Do I Know If My Toddler Is Ready for A Toddler Bed?

There are two main ways to know that your toddler is ready for their own bed:

  1. Your toddler has turned three years of age. 
  2. If they’ve started climbing out of their crib and the crib is no longer a safe place for them to sleep. 

Is 18 Months too Early for A Toddler Bed?

Many parents wonder if 18 months is too early for a toddler bed. Really, the answer is it depends

Generally speaking, yes, 18 months is too early to make the transition. Children this young just aren’t developmentally ready to understand the boundaries that are very helpful when a child has the freedom of mobility a toddler bed gives them. 

However, some young toddlers are determined climbers. There are things you can do to discourage climbing, like using a toddler sleep sack or turning the high side of the crib so it faces out instead of facing the wall. 

But, if you have a determined climber who climbs out of the crib despite your best efforts, the crib can become a safety hazard as climbing attempts can lead to falls. 

If that describes your toddler, the safer option is to move to a toddler bed and be sure you fully childproof the room. 

toddler girl transitioned from crib to bed

Should A 2 Year Old Sleep in A Crib?

A 2 year old who sleeps in a crib and doesn’t climb out is every sleep consultant’s dream! Don’t listen to anyone who tells you that you need to move your child to a toddler bed just because they are 2 years old.

Its simply not true. 

Many 2 year olds do well in toddler beds, but if they are happy and safe in their crib there is no need to make the switch any earlier than you need to. Sleep issues can often pop up when making the crib to bed transition, so don’t be in a rush to tackle it.

Keep in mind what I said in the beginning: the older your toddler is, the better they will understand boundaries like staying in their bed or in their room and following an okay to wake clock

mom laying in bed with toddler

How To Transition to A Toddler Bed

Before you make the transition from crib to toddler bed, you will need a few supplies! Buying these in advance will help you successfully transition your toddler to a big bed:

Follow these tips to help make the transition go smoothly. These can also be helpful if you’re looking to sleep train your toddler.

toddler girl hugging stuffie on new toddler bed

Step 1—Get Your Toddler Involved

Before you even start the big move, start talking to your toddler about her new big-kid bed get her involved.

Tell her what’s going to happen. Take her to the store with you and let her pick out new bedding, bed sheets, a blanket, or a stuffed animal.

We want to get her involved and make it a big deal! Making her part of the transition will help it go smoother for everyone.

Many parents stop using a sleep sack and introduce a pillow and blanket for the first time when they transition to a toddler bed to help keep their toddler warm at night. These can be fun items for your toddler to pick out at the store so they are part of the process.

Step 2—Make the Room Safe

The next step is to make sure their room is safe. With all their newfound freedom, your toddler may not sleep at sleep time.

Just like we wanted to make sure the crib was a safe space, now we want to make sure the room is safe too. Here are some ways to make the room safe:

You can have a little basket of toys or books in the corner of the room if you feel like your toddler will do well with them. But ultimately, you want to turn the bedroom into one big crib for the protection of your toddler.

toddler sitting at baby gate when transitioning to toddler bed

Step 3—Keep your Toddler Involved

Let your toddler be involved as you transition the crib out and the new big kid bed in. Let her see the transition so she can process what is happening.

If you are taking the sides off a convertible crib and turning it into a bed that way, let her watch you do that too.

Make sure you don’t surprise her and set it all up while she is at the park one day. Kids need to walk the steps with us and see things in order to process it. They’ll adapt better when they do the motions with you!

Step 4—Put a Toddler Gate or Lock on the Door

Now that the room is one big crib, it’s a good idea to make sure our little toddlers stay in their rooms.

Put a baby gate or monkey lock on the door to keep your child in their room in the middle of the night. Some parents also turn the door knob around so they can lock the door from the outside.

It is not safe for some kids to have so much new freedom. We don’t want them to roam the house in the middle of the night so this is for their safety.

I have heard crazy stories about children getting into all kinds of things in the middle of the night when they were able to be up and about freely!

mom watching baby sleep on video monitor

Step 5—Have a Monitor Ready

Make sure you have a good video monitor so you can check on your toddler to make sure she isn’t getting into anything dangerous. Some monitors allow you to talk through them, so you can remind your child that it’s time for bed, without having to go into her room.

Hatch light on with crib in the background

Step 6—Use an Okay to Wake Clock

Use an Okay to wake clock such as the Hatch Rest or Rest Plus and explain to your child that the clock will let her know when it’s time to come out of bed.

Depending on your child’s development, they may be able to understand this concept between 2 and 3 years old.

We love the Hatch Rest because it has a nightlight, sound machine, and okay to wake clock all in one. My daughter knows when the light is red it’s bedtime and when it turns purple (her color choice) she can get out of bed.

Step 7—Consider Using A Bedtime Pass

If your toddler is older (ages 3 and up) you can give them a bedtime pass. This bedtime pass is good for them to either call you back to their room or for them to get out of bed one time for a sip of water, one last cuddle, a trip to the potty, or one final kiss.

Giving them a tangible pass helps give them some control over the situation but helps them know they can only use it one time. if your toddler is having a hard time making last-minute requests, this can be a great tip.

Create a bedtime pass with them during the day and let them help color it and decorate it. Then explain what the bedtime pass is for and role play with them using the bedtime pass during the day.

toddler girl holding alarm clock in bed

Step 8—The First Night

Now that you’re all set up, it’s time to make the transition.

Expect your child’s first night in a toddler bed to be a little bit more unpredictable than usual. Some toddlers adjust right away and do great! Other children have an adjustment period and really explore their newfound ability to get in and out of bed. 

Step 9—Do Your Regular Bedtime Routine

Do your bedtime routine as you normally would. Read a bedtime story, tuck your child in with a few last cuddles, and tell her goodnight. Leave the room like you normally would and then wait to see how your child responds.

Step 10—Have a Plan in Place

Make sure you have a plan and decide what your response will be if and when your child tests the boundaries.

Hint: if it doesn’t happen the first night, it will happen eventually! 

Then, have a consistent response each time your child gets out of bed.

There is no one right response.

For some children, you may need to sit in the room and prompt them each time they get out of bed.

For other toddlers, you may be able to speak to them over your monitor and remind them to stay in bed.

You know your toddler best, so figure out what is a realistic action plan for your particular family. 

toddler wiping eyes, crying in own bed

What to Do When Your Toddler Starts Crying

If your toddler cries as you leave the room, you can implement one of the sleep training methods. The Sleep Lady Shuffle also known as the Chair Method is a great place to start.

You can sit in the chair by the new toddler bed until your child falls asleep and repeat this, moving the chair every three days.

For some kids, you don’t even have to go through the whole process of slowly moving the chair out of the room, because they transition so well to the new bed. Some kids don’t even attempt leaving the room! (Lucky parents!)

Some children are more stimulated by having mom or dad in their room with them and the Sleep Lady Shuffle doesn’t go well. If that is your child, you can close the door with the lock or baby gate on it and do interval checks with your child.

Some kids are more stimulated by their parent’s presence and need to be alone in the room to fall asleep.

Try not to start new sleep props or bad habits by falling asleep in bed with your toddler or rocking her to sleep as she transitions to a toddler bed. It can be way too easy to start a new bad habit that you’ll want to break down the road.

Many toddlers will try to climb into mom and dad’s bed if they are able to, so decide now if this is something you are going to allow or not.

Whatever you decide, be consistent!

toddler boy sleeping in toddler bed with stuffed animal

How Do I Keep My Toddler in Their Toddler bed?

Wondering how to keep your toddler in bed after you’ve made the big change?

Keep your child in her new big kid bed by setting clear and consistent boundaries. Explain to her that she has to stay in the bed until her okay to wake clock comes on in the morning. You can use the baby gate or door lock to keep her in her room as well.

If you don’t want to do the Sleep Lady Shuffle or crying intervals, you can do the Supernanny method. With this method, you calmly walk you toddler back to bed after she wakes up and give her a kiss and cuddle.

If she gets out of bed more than twice, on the third time, you simply walk her back and put her back in her bed. This can go on for a while depending on your child. Some parents have reported having to put their toddler back to bed 100 times in one night!

Another favorite is the Reverse Sleep Wave. With this method, you’ll proactively check on your toddler in intervals so they can fall asleep, knowing you’ll be back to check on them.

If they do well, make sure to use positive reinforcement the next morning.

If you’re dealing with toddler bedtime tantrums, learn how you can combat those here.

Solve your Toddler Sleep Troubles

Grab my Toddler Sleep Training Guide to help you with your toddler’s sleep! Get your toddler out of your bed and into their own using the most effective sleep training techniques for toddlers and big kids. This guide also includes tons of tips and tricks for tackling toddler’s sleep! Get it here.

toddler sleeping in bed

How Long Does It Take to Transition To A Toddler Bed?

How long it takes your child to transition to her new toddler bed depends on your child’s temperament and personality. Some children will adjust quickly without any resistance. Others may take a night or two with a quick cry it out. With the Sleep Lady Shuffle method, the transition can take about two weeks.

Remember to praise your child when she wakes up in the morning for sleeping in her bed all night! Show her how proud you are that she is a big girl and how exciting that is!

Make sure that you also have your toddler on an appropriate 2-year old schedule or 3 year old schedule so they aren’t going to bed overtired or under-tired.

What About the Potty?

If your child is potty trained throughout the night, then you have a couple different options on how to let them use the potty and still go back to their bed:

  • Make sure they go to the bathroom before bedtime. Have them go 30 minutes before bedtime and then again right before bedtime.
  • Limit liquids up to two hours before bedtime.
  • Keep a small potty in their room. Some parents like to keep a portable potty in their toddler’s room so the child can go freely whenever they need to.
  • Give them a bedtime pass. This is a piece of paper that they can use to get out of their bed one time to use the restroom.

You should be able to tell within a week or so if your child truly has to use the restroom, or if they are just using it as a tactic to get out of bed.

If your child hasn’t started potty training yet, make one change or the other. Don’t try to tackle both the toddler bed transition and potty training at the same time.

If you are consistent with your child and set clear boundaries, they will get used to sleeping in their new bed and you will have a child who stays in bed throughout the night. Good luck!

Amy Motroni

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