Moving your child from crib to a bed is a big milestone—and an even bigger transition. There’s no perfect time for making this move, though typically it happens between the first and third birthday. The key to successfully creating a “big-kid” sleeping space is to be patient, and allow your little one time to adjust to the change.
Why Make the Move?
If your toddler’s content catching z’s in his crib, don’t rush him out. Switching to a bed gives your little one freedom—and brings new issues for you, such as the yo-yo syndrome (hopping in and out of bed) and wandering around in the wee hours of the morning. If you’re itching to make the switch, keep an eye out for signs your child is ready:
- Tiny climber. Scaling the sides of a crib becomes more likely when your child’s tall enough that his nipples are at the level of his crib rail. Prevent injuries by moving your towering toddler into a bed more suited for his size.
- Bed request. If he’s old enough to ask for a bed, he’s old enough to snooze in one, Take the leap and then monitor how he adjusts to his new sleeping situation.
- Potty practice. Even if your child’s good about using the toilet during the day, staying dry throughout the night is another story. Give him time to master potty training before adding another big transition to the list.
- Baby on the way. If your little one loves his crib, then ousting him to make room for the newcomer may create additional stress or tension. Once he’s ready to make the move, buy him a bed at least two months before your newborn arrives, to give your toddler time to adjust to his big-kid bed before learning how to be a big brother.
The Right Bed for Baby
There are a number of options for your child’s first bed, and choosing the right one will depend on his temperament and size.
- Toddler bed. These pint-sized sleepers are small, low and have guardrails on all sides, ensuring he won’t roll out mid-dream. Plus, toddler beds come in playful designs and bright colors, making them attractive to this age group.
- Mattress on the floor. Putting a mattress or futon on the floor is a popular choice for a first bed, since it gives your toddler a sense of big-kid accomplishment while preventing any painful falls.
- Bunk bed. If you have multiple children, a bunk bed may sound like a tempting sleeping solution—however, they pose the risk of nasty falls from the top. Hold off on a buying a bunk bed until your child is at least 6 years old, when it‘s considered safe.
- Regular bed. If you’d like a bed big enough to snuggle in during story time, consider purchasing a double mattress, box spring and bed frame—complete with rails on all sides.
Your personal reasons, your child’s personality and the size of his room will all help determine the best approach for you to take. Here are some ways to make the transition as smooth as possible:
- A cause for celebration. Kids love parties, so turn your child’s bed transition into an official “Big Kid Day” blowout. Set up the bed, decorate the room with balloons or streamers and add a few sleep-related gifts, like books and stuffed animals.
- Step by step. If you sense your toddler’s hesitant, make the transition to a bed in steps. Remove the mattress from the crib and place it on the floor where the crib normally stands, and then place guard rails around the mattress, and keep the same bedding and toys. This crib-like enclosure gives your child the same sleeping surface and view of the room that he’s accustomed to.
- The gradual introduction. Instead of turning the crib into a makeshift bed, you can combine the two. Set up the new bed in the same room with the crib, and allow your child to play on the bed and nap there. Doing familiar routines, such as bedtime reading, in the new bed will help him get used to the bed gradually.
No matter which path you choose—be patient. Big steps toward growth often happen in spurts, and your child may be excited to welcome the change one day, but wary of it the next. Maintain your nightly bedtime routine and help him develop a positive association with his new bed, since he’ll be sleeping there for many years to come.
Parenting educator Elizabeth Pantley is the president of Better Beginnings, Inc., a family resource and education company. She is also the author of twelve parenting books, including the popular "No-Cry" series.