How to Keep Your Toddler in Their Crib

toddler standing and smiling in crib

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You may notice after your child turns 1 that your house might as well be a jungle gym. You're likely to find your toddler scaling the couch and the coffee table, summiting the stairs, and, to your dismay, climbing out of the crib. 

Realizing that your baby is climbing out of their crib can be scary, and it's not uncommon to think your toddler’s newfound jailbreak skills mean it’s time to transition to a big kid bed—in fact, this used to be common advice. But not so fast. Most of the time, it’s best to wait before making the change to a toddler bed and employing a few other tricks first instead.

Is It Time for a Toddler Bed?

So when is it the right time to make the switch? Every child is different, but according to Lori Strong, certified sleep consultant and owner of Strong Little Sleepers in Austin, Texas, 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.

"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," says 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."

Three-year-olds are often better able to handle the freedom that comes with a big kid bed since they've hit some important developmental milestones. They have the ability to understand consequences and cause and effect; they can problem-solve; and they are beginning to understand the concept 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. But what if your toddler is climbing out of their crib?

Avoid Crib Tents

Just as the advice to move to a toddler bed as soon as your child starts climbing has changed, so have recommendations surrounding crib tents. Today, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) advises against using crib tents because they pose an entrapment and strangulation risk.

7 Ways to Keep a Toddler in a Crib

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

Don’t Overreact

When they climb (or attempt to climb) out of the crib, avoid a big reaction. Even if your reaction is negative, big reactions are more likely to encourage repeat behavior and you just might find that your little one continues to perform their new trick again and again. 

Set Boundaries and Expectations

Though you should aim to temper your reaction, if you catch your toddler in the act of trying to climb out of the crib, a firm “no” may be enough to stop them in their tracks.  

Remove Items From the Crib

Look for things that can give your toddler a boost and eliminate them. Stuffed animals, books, toys, blankets, crib bumpers, and pillows can all be used as a step for toddlers who are trying to escape their cribs.

Lower the Mattress

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends lowering the crib mattress before your baby can sit independently and moving it to the lowest position (if not already) before your baby learns to stand.

Making sure their crib mattress is lowered before your baby hits these big milestones not only helps ensure their safety but can also deter climbing—at least for a while. Additionally, make sure there’s no furniture near the crib that your toddler can use to gain a foothold and climb out of the crib. 

Adjust the Position of the Crib

If your baby’s crib has one side that is higher than the other (designed to be against the wall), rotate the crib so the lower side is against the wall and the higher one is facing the room.

Try a Sleep-to-Wake Clock

A sleep training clock for toddlers offers visual cues for when it’s time to get up. You can set the clock to change colors at a designated time signaling to your toddler that it's OK to be up for the day. Another alternative is to teach your toddler which number on a digital clock means wake time. 

Use a Sleep Sack 

Sleep sacks, also known as wearable blankets, are a great alternative to loose blankets and bedding. Not only are they extra cozy and safe even for younger babies, but they can keep your toddler from being able to put their legs over the side of the crib.

If your toddler has mastered zippers and is finding their way out of their sleep sack, try putting it on backward (with the zipper on their back rather than their front), which can deter curious little hands and escape artists.

A Word From Verywell

Although your toddler climbing out of their crib can be frustrating, there are ways to cope. Adjusting furniture, setting boundaries, and trying out products like sleep sacks and sleep training clocks may be just the thing to help everyone get a little more sleep. 

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  1. Yeh ES, Rochette LM, Mckenzie LB, Smith GA. Injuries associated with cribs, playpens, and bassinets among young children in the US, 1990-2008. Pediatrics. 2011;127(3):479-86. doi:10.1542/peds.2010-1537

  2. American Academy of Pediatrics. Make Baby's Room Safe: Parent Checklist. Healthy Children. Updated August 14, 2020.