6 Tips for Switching Your Child from a Crib to a Bed

Sleeping male toddler with arms up on pillow
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Switching from a crib to a toddler or twin bed is a big milestone that's often exciting for a child as it's one of the first signs that he or she is no longer a little baby, but a "big kid." Any big change, however, can also be unsettling for young children, which is why some take longer to successfully make this adjustment than others. Picking up on signals that the time is right for a new bed can help with this important transition, as can knowing some tricks that some parents have found useful along the way.

Know the Signs

Once your toddler is climbing out of his crib, it usually means it's time to move him to a different bed. You don't want to risk having your toddler fall out of his crib and hurting himself. Even if he's not climbing out of his crib yet, he likely will at some point.

The general rule is that once your child is 36 inches tall, the crib should be retired.

If you want to keep him in the crib a bit longer, remove crib bumper pads and anything else that your toddler may be using to climb out, and make sure there's a fluffy rug or something soft, like pillows, for him to land on if he does go overboard.

Consider Timing

The transition from a crib to a bed may come sooner than you'd like if you have a younger baby who will soon need the crib. Try to make the crib-to-bed switch well in advance of that event so your toddler doesn't feel like she's lost her bed because of the baby. Using the new bed only for naps at first is a good way to familiarize her with it before she uses it at night.

Also, if your toddler is going through other major transitions such as weaning, toilet-training, or starting preschool, it's probably better to hold off on changing her bed for now.

Choose Wisely

There are several options for post-crib sleeping. If your crib is convertible—meaning you can take off one side and turn it into a daybed—this is the easiest and most economical option. Plus, the bed will already feel familiar to your child.

However, if the crib is getting a new occupant, you'll have to get a new bed. Since toddler beds only accommodate crib mattresses, though, you may want to avoid investing in one and move your child directly to a twin bed. One way to make this transition less dramatic is to put the mattress directly on the floor for a while.

Finally, a bed rail can be used with either a toddler bed or a twin bed to prevent falls and add a little extra feeling of security for your child (and you).

Make It Personal

Your toddler will probably be more excited about leaving his crib behind if he has some say in how the new bed looks and feels. If he's old enough, let him choose some new sheets and bedding—and even the bed itself, if that's an option. He will undoubtedly want to, and should, bring his favorite stuffed animals into the new bed, and even that can help him feel more eager to head to bed.

There are also books out there that address children's feelings about moving from a crib to a bed, so consider a trip to the library or bookstore before the big day. Examples include "Big Kid Bed" by Leslie Patricelli and "Your Own Big Bed" by Rita M. Bergstein.

Start Child-Proofing

Since your toddler is no longer confined by the crib, she may be tempted to explore. Make sure that her immediate environment is safe. If you haven't already:

  • Ensure that climb-able furniture is anchored to walls.
  • Install electrical outlet covers.
  • Make sure window-blind cords are out of reach and window guards are installed.
  • Consider using a gate in the doorway to keep her in her room if she frequently tries to leave.
  • Install a gate at each stairway entrance she can access from her bedroom.

Give It Time

For most kids, the freedom to roam will be irresistible, and you will most likely see your little one appear after he's been tucked in, asking for another drink of water or another bedtime song. Reinforcing bedtime rules will be more important than ever. Keep the nightly routine the same as it was when she was in the crib. Calmly and silently return your toddler to bed as many times as it takes. Praise your child for practicing good bedtime habits. Eventually, she'll adjust to her new sleep spot and the crib will become a distant memory.

A Word From Verywell

It's worth mentioning that while the transition from a crib to a bed can take some time for kids to get used to, the same can be said for some parents. Leaving behind the crib, in a way, symbolizes that your baby is no longer a baby. If you find this difficult, try to see it through a different lens: Your little one is thriving, growing, and on her way to bigger and even better things.

By Vincent Iannelli, MD
Vincent Iannelli, MD, is a board-certified pediatrician and fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics. Dr. Iannelli has cared for children for more than 20 years.