Tips for Moving Your Toddler From Crib to Bed

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 they express interest, need to get to the toilet or climb 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 with waiting to make this transition.

You can safely wait until your child shows 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.

Avoid Transitioning 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 the baby coming home. A great time to start is when you're first pregnant or even a few months after the baby has arrived (use a bassinet for the newborn at first).

Choose the Right Toddler Bed

If you purchased a convertible crib, choosing a new bed is no worry. You may find the transition is a little easier since it's a basically the same piece of furniture.

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.

Putting the crib mattress (which is the same size mattress used in a toddler bed) or a twin size mattress on the floor is also a good option. This can be helpful for parents looking to save money or for children who need to have the easiest access in and out of bed.

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 you're choosing a new bed, allow your toddler some input after you've narrowed the choices. When your child is a baby, they pass milestones with little awareness that they are doing something wonderful. Most of the excitement is ours. Now is when the enthusiasm of passing a milestone can be shared with your child.

Also, the more involved they are in the mechanics of the transition, the more likely they are to cooperate and handle the move well. You don't want them to be overwhelmed with the decision, however. Choose a few beds you can absolutely live with, find or take pictures, and let them choose which they like most. Check beds out in person, if possible, and allow them to choose, always aware that their reaction may tell you a lot more than their words.

Let Your Toddler Pick Their Own Bedding

You won't be able to let your child choose their own bed if you already have a bed or are getting a bed handed down to you, but you can let them choose what goes on the bed. Let them choose their own sheets and a new blanket so they feel more ownership and involvement in the 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 your child pick out their new sheets and blankets, let them keep anything that they use for comfort and self-soothing, like special blankets or stuffed animals they sleep 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 simultaneously 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

It may take some time for your toddler to get used to staying in bed at night. It is important to verbally and physically (by returning them to bed, repeatedly if necessary) reinforce that they must stay in their bed at night, but you shouldn't rely on that to keep them safe.

Make sure that your child's immediate environment is safe and consider using an approved safety gate on the door to keep them in their room if they frequently try to leave. This means securing all furniture to the wall, covering all outlets, and making sure there are no wires or cords within reach. Make sure the whole house is childproofed so that they will be safe if they wander while you are sleeping.

Stairs should be gated using a screw-mounted (not pressure-mounted) gate at the top of the staircase. In the bathroom, lock away medicine, cleaning products, and other chemicals. If you have a toilet seat lock, your child will need to wake an adult to use the bathroom in the middle of the night.

Expect Some Tumbles and Prepare for Them

Previously, your child could roll about their crib all night and stay safely contained, experiencing only the slightest of bumps or bruises. With a big bed, they are likely to experience at least a few tumbles to the floor (more if they are 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 they are most likely to fall. If the problem becomes especially frequent or 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 your child still has access to their favorite comfort items at both naptime and bedtime.

Once they seem comfortable sleeping in the bed for naps, 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. They will see that their older sibling has no problems in the big bed and learn that staying in bed is the norm at night. Having a sibling around at night can add to a sense of security and can nurture 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, mark the event with some celebration. Let your child know what is going to happen to the crib after it leaves their 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 them 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. They have spent a lot of their life in the crib and to see it abruptly gone can be a shock.

Stick to the Old Routine

If you have a bedtime routine that works, it's best to continue that routine as your child moves to the new bed. You want to make the transition as complication-free as possible. 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 their crib is because they 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, 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 their crib as you leave them each night.

Protect the Bed and Keep It Clean

You're going to want to protect the mattress and keep it in good shape. The biggest culprit, of course, is liquid. That includes spills from nighttime bottles and water cups, certainly, but mostly from urine. Night training takes longer than day training, so expect some potty accidents.

The best bet is to encase 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.

By Stephanie Brown
Stephanie Brown is a parenting writer with experience in the Head Start program and in NAEYC accredited child care centers.