Tips for Keeping Your Toddler in the Crib

toddler standing and smiling in crib

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You may notice after your child turns one that your house might as well be a jungle gym. Your toddler is scaling the couch and the coffee table, summiting the stairs, and, to your dismay, attempting to vault out of the crib. 

Realizing that your young child is able to climb out of the crib is scary for parents, and it's not uncommon to immediately think your toddler’s newfound jailbreak skills means it’s time to transition to a big kid bed. But not so fast.

According to Lori Strong, certified sleep consultant and owner of Strong Little Sleepers in Austin, Texas, climbing out of the crib does not always mean you have to make the switch to a toddler bed immediately.

“A lot of kids will experiment with climbing out of the crib, and often kids will do it really early. Some kids try it as early as 15 or 18 months old, and those kids are not ready to be in a toddler bed,” said Strong. "If you switch to a toddler bed at this age, you’re essentially saying, 'I’m just going to give you a ton of extra freedom that you don’t know how to handle.' It ends up causing bigger problems.” 

How to Keep Your Toddler in the Crib

Safety is obviously the top concern for parents, and there are steps you can take to keep your toddler in the crib. Strong suggests trying these strategies before you consider transitioning to a big kid bed: 

  • Don’t overreact in front of your toddler. When he climbs (or attempts to climb) out of the crib, avoid a big reaction. Even if it’s a negative one, it will often lead to your little one performing his new trick again. 
  • Remove items from the crib that can give toddlers a boost. Stuffed animals, books, toys, blankets, and pillows can all be used as a step for toddlers who are trying to escape their cribs.
  • Set boundaries and expectations. If you catch your toddler in the act of trying to climb out of the crib, a firm “no” can often keep stop her in her tracks. 
  • Use a sleep sack. Putting a sleep sack on your toddler backward (so they can’t unzip it) can keep your toddler from putting his leg over the crib. 

So when is it the right time to make the switch? Every child is different, but according to Strong, it’s best to wait until your toddler is at least 2 to transition to a big kid bed, but the closer your child is to 3, the better.

Three-year-olds are better able to handle the freedom that comes with a big kid bed—their developmental milestones include the ability understand consequences and cause and effect, they can problem-solve, and they are beginning to have concepts of time, which will help tremendously if your child is an early riser. 

But ultimately, there’s no set age when you have to move your toddler from a crib to a big kid bed. "I recommend you wait until your child asks for a bed,” said Strong. "If they’re not asking for it, they’re happy where they are and if they’re not climbing out, there’s no need to say, ‘Well, we’re going to get you a bed today,' because to take away the place where they’ve been sleeping for so long, for some kids, is a shock.”

As long as your child is comfortable and happy, don’t surprise them with a bed one day out of the blue. The switch to a toddler bed should be handled as a gradual transition, not an overnight change. 

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