How to transition your toddler from crib to bed
Do you have a growing toddler who is soon too big for his crib? How do you know when it’s the right time to transition him to a bed, and how do you make the transition a success?
In this article, I’m going to be sharing my tips with you based on our experience transitioning our toddler, 2 and a half, from a wooden crib with bars to a floor bed. Throughout the article below I have interspersed our personal experience in italics.
Although I totally get that making the transition of your toddler from crib to bed can be a big change not just for your child, but for you as well, I’m here to tell you that the experience doesn’t have to be scary, I promise!
Have a cup of strong hot coffee, because you might just get woken up a little earlier by your toddler during this time of change.
Step 1: Let your toddler guide the timing
As I have spoken about many times, I love the basic assumption of RIE parenting that children can and should develop naturally in their own time.
I’m not a huge fan of forcing change on your child when he clearly isn’t ready. That said, there are some situations when you do need to take the lead as a parent and calmly and confidently make a change.
For example, you might be expecting a new arrival, and maybe you don’t want to buy an additional crib, so you want to try to transition your toddler to a bed. This was the case for us—and also, C was simply getting too tall for the crib as well as her sleeping bags.
Whether or not you have any such parameters to work around, follow these 3 basic rules of thumb when determining the best timing:
Establish good sleep habits
I really recommend first establishing good sleep habits that work for your family. If you have a solid sleep routine, and your toddler generally naps well and sleeps through the night, then you’re giving yourself the best chances for a transition I’d say.
Otherwise, if you attempt this big change while your toddler already doesn’t sleep well, it’s going to be harder to make a successful transition.
If you want any specific tips on nighttime routines and sleeping through the night, check out my article on establishing good sleep habits.
Follow your toddler’s interest
If your toddler expresses interest at any point, go with it! If you ask him his opinion, trust and honor his answer.
Now, sometimes kids say yes when they mean no, and no when they mean yes… you know your child best. However, odds are that if your toddler spontaneously requests to transition from a crib to a bed, he is more motivated than if you were to introduce this change on your own.
I asked my daughter whether she would like to sleep in a big girl bed like her friends, and she said yes, so I took that at face value.
Avoid other transitions at the same time
I really do not recommend instituting too much change at once. (Words to live by, ha!)
Do not attempt to transition your toddler from crib to bed while any of the following is occurring at the same time:
- First year of school
- Arrival of a sibling (within 1-2 months around your due date)
- Potty training
- Parental separation (not necessarily divorce but maybe a new job with different work hours, etc.)
- Weaning from breastfeeding or pacifiers
The one exception that might work is moving house. I haven’t tried it myself, but maybe your toddler’s transition from crib to bed is less noticeable in a way in a new room in a new house? Or it might be way too much change at once. You be the judge!
We are making the transition now, in February, a few months before the arrival of our second baby and well before the start of C’s first year at school in September. Additionally, she is not potty trained yet (our first 3 attempts bore no fruit…)
Keep an open communication
Whatever you do, talk your toddler through this process. Even if he suggests it, even if he says yes to your inquiry of whether he wants this change to happen, keep talking to him about it.
Now, I’m not saying you need to harp on about it. Don’t run the risk of working it up so much that it becomes stressful to you or your toddler, because that would be counterproductive.
Just remind him of the change that is coming and how you are going to proceed. Gauge his continued interest and don’t make it about performing for you. Some sites and blogs I’ve seen recommend reading a book where the main character transitions from his crib to a bed. It might give you an idea.
Personally, we didn’t feel the need to go out and buy a special book. I made sure C was interested, and I spoke about the change occasionally when I felt like the context called for it, but I followed her lead and I didn’t talk about it more than she wanted to hear about it.
Step 2: Involve your toddler in the setup process
Don’t remove his crib and replace it with a bed on the sly! Even if your toddler can’t physically help you, make sure he is at least with you and can see his crib getting carried away and his new bed going up (and please, only if you have done Step 1 above!).
Then it’s time to:
Pick out the new bed together
If you can, take your toddler with you to choose his new bed. You might go for a regular bed with a bumper (a barrier that prevents your child from falling out when he rolls over) or just a simple floor bed. Let him pick out the sheets as well!
In researching tips for our own experience, I found this article from Montessori Method super helpful, especially since we are using a floor bed for our daughter.
Set it up together
The next step is to set up the bed with your toddler present. Make it a fun occasion for the whole family! Take your toddler’s blankets and lovies from the crib and set them up in the bed too.
C already has 2 double beds in addition to the crib in her room, so all we did aside from removing the crib was remove the bed frame from one of the double beds and we sat the mattress on the floor. So we didn’t actually pick out a new bed or sheets. We are trying to save money, and C already thought of the bed as “hers” because it’s been in her room longer than she has!
Remove the crib from the room
To remove any temptation for your toddler to return to his crib, I highly suggest you put the crib out of sight and out of mind by storing it elsewhere.
But in case you are waiting for a new baby, don’t set up the crib for your new arrival just yet! Don’t let your toddler make the link between his big change and yours. Keep the focus on your toddler’s achievement of sleeping in a bed.
C recently asked me if she could go back to her crib, and I think it’s because I didn’t have anywhere to put it immediately except just chuck it in my room. It’s not yet set up for our new baby, but it is just sitting there. I think that was a mistake on my part!
Step 3: Child-proof accessible areas
You will need to reevaluate the newly accessible areas to your toddler. Make sure his room is completely safe if you haven’t already (it can be great to create a “yes” space as early as possible).
You may also need to make certain areas inaccessible, whether long-term or just at naptime and nighttime. For example, if your toddler can get up out of bed and open his door, what will he be confronted with in the hall? Will he have access to other bedrooms, bathrooms, or any other areas that you need to child-proof?
We have a landing that’s already child-proof, but we decided to also lock our bedroom door during naptimes and we reinstalled the baby gate at the top of the stairs, chiefly for nighttime.
Step 4: Have reasonable expectations… and patience
Realize that your toddler will take some time to adjust to this new change. Don’t expect perfection the first time! He might not sleep at all on the first try, and for this reason, I highly suggest that you make his first time in the big bed a naptime, not a nighttime.
Then keep the following in mind:
Allow your toddler to explore his new freedom
I really suggest that the first time your toddler sleeps in his new bed, you allow him the time and space to explore his newfound freedom. By all means, go and tell him to get back in bed and go to sleep, and do this a few times, maybe every half hour.
But don’t scold unless your toddler is doing something he already knows he shouldn’t be doing. You want to avoid creating a negative ambiance around this new sleep habit. It shouldn’t be about punishment.
Don’t misunderstand me. I’m not saying you should let your toddler run amok. Just let him get it out of his system, especially the first time sleeping in the new bed.
Then make it banal
There will doubtless be many times when you will need to go remind your toddler to get back into bed and go to sleep. Just like you would if he were still in his crib, make your intervention as banal as possible.
This was probably the best piece of advice I read when I was preparing our daughter for this transition. I wish I could find the article again. But I already did this when she woke in the night in her crib, so it was a great reminder to me to keep doing what I’m doing.
Stay calm, firm, and confident with your toddler. If he wakes at night, don’t bother hiding your fatigue. You don’t need to suddenly sleep in the bed with him, because he should have already learned to fall asleep on his own in his room when there was a crib. But you shouldn’t get angry or upset and start yelling, either. Remain neutral and be prepared to go in as many times as necessary, but always in the same calm tone.
Keep communicating about his progress
Keep the lines of communication open with your toddler. How does he feel about the new experience? You should definitely tell him you are proud whenever you notice him making progress! Resist the temptation to bribe him with things like, “If you sleep on your own through the night in your big bed, I’ll give you an extra story tomorrow at bedtime.”
Trust in your child always and promote his natural intrinsic motivation to sleep in a bed.
Good night, sleep tight
If you did the work beforehand of establishing good sleep habits and assessing whether he was ready, making your toddler’s transition from crib to bed should be fairly quick and painless.
But we can all use a little help! I sincerely hope my tips in this article were useful to you if you are on the same journey as us.
Looking for more sleep advice? Check out my other articles here on Mamas Café Society:
- Best sleep tips—Help your baby or toddler sleep through the night with my best sleep tips!
- Mythbusting co-sleeping—Learn about the different ways you can co-sleep with your baby or toddler, the right way!
- Baby routines—Establishing a great daytime routine is actually a fast way to help your baby sleep. Find the perfect baby routine by age in my article.
- Minimalist nursery ideas—Get my recs for baby beds.
What worked for you when you transitioned your toddler from crib to bed?-Jessica
About the Author
Jessica is an American expat living the dream in Normandy. She is wife to a French hubby and mama to a Franco-American daughter, born in 2018, and one whippet. Passionate about all stages of writing, this Francophile created her blog in 2020 to help others navigate motherhood with a focus on conscious parenting and bilingual parenting. Bonne lecture !
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Other helpful resources
- Pregnancy Series: She’s here! M’s birth story
- Pregnancy Series: Month 9
- Pregnancy Series: Month 8
- Pregnancy Series: Month 7
- Pregnancy Series: Month 6
- Pregnancy Series: Month 5
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