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Can I Move My Toddler From a Crib to a Big Kid Bed?

Toddler sleeps in his new big kid bed

Life with a toddler is full of changes as they grow and become more independent. One of the most exciting transitions is when they’re ready to make the switch from a crib to a ‘big kid’ bed.

When should I start the crib to bed transition?

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends making the transition between 18 months and 3-years-old. However, deciding on when to make the switch has more to do with a toddler’s size and development as opposed to a specific age.

“If the child is more than 35 inches, they probably are outgrowing the standard crib. We’re trying to keep kids as safe as possible,” said Maryellen Flaherty-Hewitt, MD, medical director of Yale New Haven Hospital’s Pediatric Primary Care Center and professor of pediatrics at Yale School of Medicine. “If you have a very adventurous toddler who is trying to climb out of the crib, I think that’s one of the first things that parents will say is ‘OK, this may not be the best environment for them.’”

Other milestones are important factors too. Some families choose to make the transition to a toddler bed before the arrival of a new baby sibling. If a toddler is potty training, they will need to be able to get out of bed and can’t be confined to a crib at night.

Safety first

Many cribs have the option of converting into a toddler bed by replacing one side with a smaller railing. Even with that guardrail, it’s possible for a child to either fall out or climb out on their own. That’s why it’s important to make sure the mattress is placed on the lowest setting to the ground as possible. Alternatively, some families choose to place the mattress directly on the floor.

Once toddlers have free reign to get in and out of bed on their own, it will be especially important to toddler-proof the room where they sleep. Some ways to do that include:

  • Securing furniture to the wall
  • Making sure all plugs are covered
  • Eliminating any loose cords, exposed wires or loose drapery
  • Removing hard toys or objects that could pose a safety risk like a wooden rocking horse or dollhouse
  • Add a baby gate at the top of stairs
  • Close doors to other rooms including bathrooms. During potty training, teach toddlers to get a caregiver first so they can make their way to the bathroom safely

Easing big transitions

To help ease any transition, Dr. Flaherty-Hewitt says focus on one thing at a time.

“You don't want to introduce a new bed while they're getting ready to start a new daycare. You want to keep transitions as minimal as possible so that they get used to these changes,” she said.

One way to do that is by introducing the new bed at nap time first. Everyone is happier during the day than at the end of the evening, so it might be easier for your child to accept. In the meantime, keep other routines the same. If your child’s bedtime includes a bath, followed by a story, keep doing that.

Positive reinforcement can help too. For example, some families like using a sticker chart. Perhaps five nights in the new bed will be rewarded with a special treat. Either way, consistency is key.

“Toddlers and young children tend to really like their schedules. They like things to be a certain way because it gives them a sense of being in control,” said Dr. Flaherty-Hewitt.

If your child is having a tough time transitioning to a big kid bed, that’s ok too! If they are safe, it’s OK to put the bed transition on the backburner until they’re ready.