Tips for Moving Your Toddler From Crib to Bed

Making the Transition Easier

Moving from crib to bed is yet another milestone in your toddler's life. Keep in mind that there is no set age for this move so you will have to follow your toddler's lead (when she expresses interest, needs to get herself to the toilet or is climbing out of the crib) or leave it to circumstances (like a new baby who needs the crib) to determine when it's time. When you're ready, follow these tips to make the transition as smooth and positive as possible.

Don't Rush to Move From Crib to Bed

Baby boy (12-15 months) in cot, mother holding hand, close-up
Daly and Newton/Stone/Getty Images

If your toddler seems perfectly content with the crib and there have been no escape attempts, it's to everyone's advantage to maintain the status quo. Your toddler will be in a safe, comfortable sleep environment and there are no developmental issues that will arise from waiting to make this transition. You can safely wait until your child starts showing signs like trying to climb out of the crib or you can wait until your child is potty trained and needs to be able to go to the bathroom independently at night.

Don't Move From Crib to Bed During a Time of Stress

Just like starting potty training or any other potentially difficult transition from babyhood to toddlerhood, timing can be everything. If your child is coping with a recent move, divorce or illness it's best to try moving from crib to bed at a later time when things are calmer. And while many parents feel pressured to make the move when a baby (who will need the crib) is on the way, you should try and time it so that there's plenty of time for adjustment and the move doesn't coincide too closely with the chaos of baby coming home. A great time to start is when you're first pregnant or even a few months after the baby has arrived since a bassinet can be used at first.

Choose the Right Toddler Bed

If you purchased a convertible crib, choosing a new bed is no worry and you may find the transition is a little easier since it's a basically the same piece of furniture. If you're choosing a new bed, make sure your toddler has some input after you've narrowed the choices. Choose a bed that is durable and low to the ground to prevent injuries should your child fall out. Avoid bunk beds until your child is older. If possible, sit and bounce on an assembled bed to test the durability. If it's falling apart or feels shaky at the store, don't buy it.

If you're buying a used bed make sure all the necessary parts are included and there is no chipping paint (unless you plan on refinishing). Test antique beds for lead paint before use.

Let Your Toddler Help Choose the Bed if Possible

When your child is a baby, she passes milestones with little awareness that she's doing something wonderful. Most of the excitement is ours. It can be easy to continue this into toddlerhood, but now is when the enthusiasm of passing a milestone can be shared or rest mostly with your toddler. In addition, the more involved she is in the mechanics of the transition, the more likely she is to cooperate and handle the move well. You don't want her to be overwhelmed with the decision, however. Choose a few beds that you can absolutely live with, find or take pictures and let her choose which she likes most. Check it out at the store if possible and allow her to choose, always aware that her reaction may tell you a lot more than her words.

Let Your Toddler Pick Her Own Bedding

You won't be able to let your child choose her own bed if you already have a bed or are getting a bed handed down to you, but you can let her choose what goes on the bed. Let her choose her own sheets and a new blanket so she feels more ownership and involvement in the whole process. If you can, pick up at least two sets so that you have a back-up for middle-of-the-night accidents or times when the dirty sheets are waiting in the dirty laundry basket for routine cleaning.

Allow Your Toddler to Keep Old Comfort Objects

Even though you'll be letting her pick out her new sheets and blankets, let her keep anything that she uses for comfort and self-soothing like special blankets or stuffed animals she sleeps with regularly in the crib. The time for letting these objects go can come later.

Some parents experience success weaning from the bottle or a pacifier at this time and have toddlers that simply accept that these items are not allowed in the new bed. More, however, find that trying to wean these objects creates failure at both weaning and transition to the new bed. It just creates a feeling of too much insecurity, therefore, you might find it better to hold off on the tougher weaning activities for now so your toddler isn't overwhelmed by all the change.

Make Sure your Home is Child Proofed

Your toddler will no longer be confined to the crib by a wall of slats and it may take some time for her to get used to staying in bed at night. Verbally and physically (by returning her to her bed, repeatedly if necessary) reinforcing that she must stay in her bed at night is a must, but you shouldn't rely on that to keep her safe. Make sure that her immediate environment is safe and consider using an approved safety gate on the door to keep her in her room if she frequently tries to leave. Make sure the whole house is childproofed, too, so that she'll be safe if she wanders while you are sleeping.

Stairs should have gates and bathrooms should be child-proofed for those middle-of-the-night potty runs.

Expect Some Tumbles and Prepare for Them

Previously, your child could roll about her crib all night and stay safely contained, experiencing only the slightest of bumps or bruises. With the big bed, she's likely to experience at least a few tumbles to the floor and more if she's a restless sleeper. Combat this problem by fitting the bed with side rails or placing pillows or a thick rug on the floor beneath the sides of the bed where she's most likely to fall. If the problem becomes especially frequent, bothersome or if you feel the bed is high enough to warrant risk of injury, you might consider placing the mattress directly on the floor and moving the bed out of the room until this phase passes.

Start With Naps Only

If your toddler seems keen on the idea of transitioning from crib to bed, by all means, jump right in. Place the bed where the crib used to be and see how it goes. If, however, your toddler seems worried, unsure or balks at the very mention of the big bed, then give it a try at naptime first. Have the crib and bed in the room at the same time using the bed for naps and the crib at night. Make sure she still has access to her favorite comfort items at both nap and bedtime.

Once she seems comfortable with sleeping in the bed at nap, set a date to say goodbye to the crib and help your toddler count down to that date. You can mark off days on a calendar or move one stuffed animal per day from crib to bed until everyone has moved, for example.

Let a Sibling Lend a Hand

If your toddler has an older sibling, you can leverage a bit of peer pressure in the transition process. Consider having the two share a bedroom for a while so that your toddler can learn by example. She will see that her older sibling has no problems in the big bed and will learn that staying in bed is the norm at night. Having a sibling around at night can add to her sense of security and can nurture a sense of closeness between siblings as well.

Beware of this method if the older sibling has problems staying in bed or if bedtimes are chaotic, however. Adding your toddler to the mix is likely to make the situation trouble times two.

Say Goodbye to the Crib in a Special Way

When you decide on a day to move the crib out of the room (whether you've had both crib and bed in the room or you are replacing one with another from the get-go) mark the event with some celebration. Let your child know what is going to happen to the crib after it leaves her room. Is it going to a friend or in the attic for a future sibling? Are you going to sell it and use the money to help pay for the new bed? Share these plans and let her see the crib one last time before it's taken away.

Resist the urge to spring a new bed on your toddler by surprise. The reaction may be one of disappointment and rejection rather than excitement and acceptance. She's spent a lot of her life in the crib and to see it abruptly gone can be a shock.

Stick to the Old Routine or Wait if You Don't Have a Routine

If you have a bedtime routine that works, it's best to continue that routine as she moves to the new bed. You want to make the transition as complication-free as possible so if everything is business as usual, your toddler will feel more secure and accept the changes more readily.

If, however, your bedtime routine is chaotic or the only reason your child stays in her crib is because she can't manage to get out, you might want to rethink making the move just yet. Try to create a routine and follow it through to fruition and then make the move to the bed. The unseen boundaries of the new bed may already present a problem, but it will be worse if your toddler presently stands screaming in her crib as you leave her each night.

Protect the Bed and Keep it Clean

You're going to want to protect the mattress and keep it in good shape. If you don't take protective measures, you'll have a mattress that won't last a year much less last through another sibling. The biggest culprit, of course, is liquid. Liquid, in the form of spills from nighttime bottles and water cups, certainly, but mostly from urine. Night training takes longer than day training so expect potty accidents.

The best bet is to case the entire mattress in a waterproof cover (look for one that also protects from dust and mites if you suspect allergies) and then go a step further by using a protective pad between that and the sheet. If you formerly double sheeted your baby's crib mattress, continue doing it in the big bed.

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