How to Choose a Toddler Bed

Toddler sleeping in bed

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If your little one has been making attempts to escape their crib (successfully or not), it may signify that they're ready for a toddler bed. Sometimes, the transition from crib to big-kid bed isn't an easy one, especially when it comes to choosing the right bed for your child. With so many different styles, materials, and features out there, it can be challenging to pick one that best suits your toddler.

You may have a hunch your child is ready to ditch the crib, but it's important to understand what constitutes this change and make sure your child is truly ready for this transition. We break down the factors to consider as you prepare to make the switch from crib to bed for your growing child.

When Should You Start Shopping for a Toddler Bed?

The first step in shopping for a toddler bed is knowing when your child is ready for one. The American Academy of Pediatrics advises parents to transition their toddlers to a bed when they reach a height of 35 inches or when the height of the side rail is less than three-quarters of the child's height.

According to Kelly Murray, Certified Pediatric Sleep Consultant and owner of Kelly Murray Sleep Consulting, you should wait to transition your child to a toddler bed until they are 3 years old, if possible. "I always advise my clients to keep their child in the crib as close to 3 years old as possible, but of course, if your kiddo is constantly trying to climb out and can swing their leg over, then it's time to move them for their safety."

Children under 3 years old may not be developmentally ready to move out of the crib. "The reason I recommend my clients wait to make the transition to a toddler bed is because they lack the impulse control and understanding necessary to refrain from getting out of bed at bedtime and overnight" she shares. "By moving them earlier, you are expecting them to exhibit behaviors they aren't developmentally capable of carrying out."

If your child is younger than 3 years old and is starting to climb out of their crib, you might be wondering what you can do to keep them safe. For those who deem their child is ready, they can, of course, move them to a big-kid bed. Otherwise, you might need to get a little creative.

"You can lower the bottom of the crib so that it delays your toddler from climbing out, or use a sleep sack where their mobility is a little more restricted," suggests Florenica Segura, MD, of Einstein Pediatrics in Virginia.

What to Consider When Choosing a Toddler Bed

Safety Features

The most important thing to consider when choosing a toddler bed is safety. A toddler bed should have guardrails on the sides to keep your child from rolling out of bed. "Toddlers are active sleepers!" says Nicole Johnson, lead sleep consultant of The Baby Sleep Site. Choose rails that resemble a crib as opposed to solid plane guardrails. Pillows and bedding can become easily trapped in these and can pose a risk to your child by enclosing them too much, explains Murray.

In addition to guardrails, a bed that sits low to the ground is easier for your child to get in and out of and will help minimize injury in the case of falls, explains Dr. Segura. "If you know you have a toddler who loves to climb, consider a Montessori-style toddler bed where the mattress is at floor level. Your child only has to travel the distance of the height of the mattress plus the bed platform in order to reach the floor in this case," adds Murray.

"Other safety features are rounded edges instead of sharp ones to reduce injuries and a snug-fitting mattress that fits the frame, avoiding gaps," says Dr. Segura.

Design & Style

Murray recommends opting for a bed with rails that closely resemble those of a crib. "When it comes to design, it's important to remember that our toddlers are transitioning from a completely enclosed bed to a semi-enclosed one, so it's important to maintain as much consistency as possible in the look, feel, and experience of the new bed compared with the crib your toddler is transitioning from," she says. If your child is excited about a particular style of design or bed, however, you should encourage them and allow them to express themselves, adds Murray.

Challenges in Transitioning to a Toddler Bed

Transitioning from crib to bed can be challenging, even for toddlers who sparked the transition themselves. "We find that some toddlers will lose a sense of security once they don’t have the 'protection' of the crib slats," explains Johnson. "This often results in toddlers crying for you to stay in the room (or bed) with them even if they never did that before leading up to the bed transition." For this reason, it is recommended to wait until age 3, so your child is truly ready for the change in terms of maturity.

It's also important to ensure there is enough stability in your child's life before moving them out of the crib. "It can be very difficult for a child to maintain a sense of security when there are major life changes going on, such as a new baby sibling, a move to a new home, or changing schools," Murray notes. "Insecurity can sometimes lead to behaviors that are often misinterpreted as bad behavior, when in actuality a child is just really trying to determine where the boundaries lie and/or seeking attention."

Despite the challenges, there are ways to make the transition as smooth as possible. "Start with a consistent bedtime routine while your child is still in the crib to ensure that she can fall asleep without your presence," says Dr. Segura.

Once your child learns to fall asleep on their own, moving to a big-kid bed will be much easier. "She will be better at getting back to sleep when she awakens during the night because she has learned the skill of falling asleep independently!" adds Dr. Segura.

A Word from Verywell

Choosing a toddler bed can be difficult. The first step is to determine whether your child is ready to transition to a toddler bed. As long as your child is physically being safe in their crib, it is best to keep them there until the age of 3. If your child is climbing out of their crib, however, you will have to make the transition to a toddler bed sooner. Though switching over from crib to big-kid bed can be challenging, there are ways to ease the transition and ensure it goes smoothly.

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  1. American Academy of Pediatrics. Make Baby's Room Safe: Parent Checklist. Reviewed August 2020.