10 Tips to Transition to a Toddler Bed
Congratulations! Your little one is ready to transition to a toddler bed. Or…at least you’re hoping they are.
Of all the milestones we face when our children are toddlers, transitioning to a big kid bed is one of the scariest for many parents. Your child is leaving the relatively safe confinement of their crib, and will have the freedom to explore their bedroom at will. It’s no wonder that many of us want to delay this milestone as long as we can!
If it’s time to make the switch, you want to do everything you can to make the transition as easy as possible. I’ve been in your shoes twice before, and will be moving my third child to a big kid bed shortly. Read on for our top 10 tips to make the transition to a toddler bed a smooth one.
1. Decide when to make the transition to a toddler bed
In most cases, the transition to a toddler bed happens somewhere between 18 months and 3 1/2 years. Practically speaking, the question of when to move a child to a big kid bed is often made for you. The transition usually happens when:
- They start climbing out of the crib.
- You need the crib for a new sibling.
- They’ve outgrown the crib.
- They express interest in a big kid bed.
My oldest two were forced out of their crib by the impending arrival of a new sibling. Although we didn’t need the crib right away (we put our newborns in a Pack ‘n Play in our room for the first few months), in both cases we decided to transition them to a big boy bed – and a big boy room – before the new baby arrived.
If you’re in a similar boat, I strongly recommend transitioning your child to their big kid bed (and a big kid room, if they’re being booted out of the nursery) well in advance of their new sibling’s arrival. They will have enough upheaval in their lives when the baby arrives, and you don’t want to add to it if you can avoid it.
With each of our boys, we transitioned them to big kid beds a couple of months before my due date. This gave us plenty of time to get them settled in their new room. It also allowed us to get them excited about the idea of a big kid bed, instead of feeling like they were being displaced for the new baby.
2. Pick a date and stick with it
I had the best intentions of doing this, but quite honestly things didn’t go as planned for us.
Transitioning your child to a big kid bed often means that sleep is going to do downhill – at least in the short-term. I recommend looking at your calendar before you make the switch, and choosing a few days when you know you’ll have the time and energy to handle the sleep disruption. Don’t choose a time when you’re going to be travelling, or you know you will be working more than normal.
Although this was my plan, I was also in full pregnancy-nesting-mode each time we transitioned our boys, and wanted to get the big boy rooms set up ASAP. We ended up switching them sooner than planned, because they were excited to sleep in their big boy beds as soon as they were set up. Be forewarned if you’re as eager as I was to get the big kid bed set up!
3. Figure out what big kid bed you want to use
If you’re lucky enough to have a convertible crib, and you don’t have a younger sibling who needs to use the crib, this is an easy decision.
In our case, we needed the crib for the new baby, so converting our crib to a toddler bed wasn’t an option.
Ultimately I ended up placing a twin mattress directly on the floor. This worked out GREAT for us. We skipped the toddler bed altogether, and didn’t need to worry about bed rails. If my son fell out of bed (and they WILL fall out, it’s only a matter of time), it was a short fall, which often didn’t even wake him up.
If a floor bed isn’t for you, I recommend choosing a bed with built-in rails, or attaching a rail to your child’s bed. I’ve linked a few highly-rated options below. Another option that works in a pinch (although it would be my last choice with a child who’s new to a big kid bed) is a pool noodle tucked under the fitted sheet.
4. Childproof the room
The most frightening part of the transition to a toddler bed is the fact that your child is going to have unfettered access to their room, and potentially the entire house. Making sure the room is properly childproofed is a must.
If you already have a video baby monitor, you’ll likely find that you appreciate it even more now! If you don’t and you want to invest in one, I recommend choosing one that allows you to pan and tilt remotely.
I’ve already mentioned that there’s a good chance that your child is going to fall out of bed. We found that a few pillows or blankets on the floor were enough to cushion the fall (although our kids were in floor beds to start, which made the fall minimal).
If your child is able to open the door to their room, consider your options for containing them in their room and/or limiting their access to the rest of the house. You may want to put a door knob cover on the inside of their door, or use a baby gate to either keep them in their room or limit the areas of the house that they’re able to access.
Finally, consider whether you want to remove certain toys from their room in order to minimize distractions. I was surprised to find that both of my boys stayed in their beds when we first made the move (likely because they were used to being trapped in their crib), but it wasn’t long before they were using their newfound freedom to explore their room at bedtime.
5. Get them excited
Involve your child in the process of picking out their new bed and bedding, to help get them excited about the transition. If they’re moving to a new room, let them help decorate.
In the weeks leading up to the transition, read books to get them excited about their big kid bed. If your little one is a fan of Elmo, Big Enough for a Bed is a great option.
6. Consider starting with naps
Depending on your set-up (i.e. if the crib is still set up) you may want to start the transition by having your child nap in their new bed. That way, if things don't go well, they've only missed a nap, and you haven't suffered through an entire night of very little sleep.
Whether you start with naps, or jump right into overnights, I recommend letting your child explore their new bed before you try to get them to sleep in it. Snuggle up for a cuddle, read a few books, and give them the opportunity to explore their new space on their own terms.
7. Keep the routine the same
When it's finally time for your child's first night in their big kid bed, keep their bedtime routine similar. This is a huge transition for them, so you want to do everything you can to make things as familiar as possible.
They may have a hard time settling the first few nights (or, they may surprise you and fall asleep quickly - you never know!). Resist the urge to go in their room more than you need to. This is when a video monitor comes in very handy - as long as they're not too upset or into something dangerous, I will let them work it out themselves as much as they can. If they end up on the floor, I'll leave them there (as long as they're not crying) - they will eventually figure out on their own how to get back into bed.
8. Move bedtime earlier
There's a good chance that your child will have a hard time settling down to fall asleep the first few nights, so I recommend moving their bedtime earlier while they adjust. This is also a good time to fit in lots of physical activity during the day, so they are extra tired and ready for sleep!
9. Consider a clock to help them stay in bed
As your child adjusts to their newfound freedom, you may find that their morning wake up creeps earlier and earlier. We used (and still use) a Gro Clock to let our children know when it's time to get up. The Ok to Wake! clock is another popular option for little ones who have a hard time staying in bed.
10. Be patient
Last, but definitely not least - be patient! This is a big transition for your child, and they may take some time to settle into their new normal. You may experience a few nights with less sleep than you'd like, but trust me when I say that it WILL get better. The novelty of their newfound freedom will wear off.
Good luck! The anticipation of the transition to a toddler bed was worse than the reality for us, and I hope the same is true for you!