Switching your child out of the crib and into a bed too soon can be a big mistake! But most families do end up making the switch too soon.
I’ve seen it happen a million times.
So I’m here to save your sanity with three ways to know when your child is really ready to make the move to a bed. Hint, hint: number three is the one you really want to pay attention to. You can start working on it ASAP.
>>Watch this blog on my Awesome Little Sleepers YouTube channel! 👇
Crib to bed transitions: getting some clarity
First, let’s clearly define the difference between cribs and beds. It may seem obvious, but it doesn’t hurt to cover the basics.
Crib or toddler bed?
When I say crib, I mean a bed with four sides, like a box. Your child should not be able to get in or out of the crib on their own.
Some cribs have a removable side so that as the child gets older, they can get in and out by themselves. This is what I call a toddler bed.
A toddler bed can be a converted crib or a separate piece of furniture, typically low to the ground, and smaller than a twin bed. Some have built-in rails, some don’t.
Different types of toddler beds
Another type of bed can be a floor bed, also known as a Montessori bed. It’s basically a mattress or pallet that lies flat on the floor that your child can easily get in and out of on their own.
Then, of course, there are traditional twin, full, and queen-sized beds that kids can sleep in.
So, when I say “bed”, I mean any type of open bed that kids are meant to get into and out of by themselves.
The main difference with a crib is that kids are put into and taken out of them by an adult. They do not have autonomy to get in and out by themselves.
Autonomy is the biggest difference here.
In a crib, kids can’t choose to get out. With a bed, they can. And you guessed it - THAT is where lots of sleep problems come in.
3 things to consider when transitioning to a toddler bed
Here are three things I recommend every parent consider when you want to make the transition from crib to bed:
1. Your child’s age.
There’s no magic age that you should make the switch. A simple Google search of the question “when to switch to a toddler bed” recommends between 18 and 36 months. In my experience, between two and two and a half years old is when most people ditch the crib.
But I believe maturity is more important than actual age. Once kids move to an open bed, they can choose not to stay in the bed. They can get up, play with things in their room, come to your room to ask for more stories and hugs, or start waking you up in the middle of the night. I see this day in and day out with families who enroll in my toddler sleep course, Sleep Tight Without a Fight.
Your child has to be old enough to understand rules and boundaries for sleep before you move them to a bed. Setting rules and boundaries can be tough during the day - at night, it can be even harder!
That’s why I recommend keeping kids in the crib until they’re at least three years old.
Older, more mature kids typically understand rules and boundaries better. When I say “understand,” I don’t mean they follow the rules without fail - just that they understand them! You can explain things and role play more effectively, and they can better grasp the idea of reward for good behavior. You may need to rely on ALL of these things to help them stay put in their new open bed.
Safety is also a factor.
If you think your kid would wander around the house in the middle of the night, avoid moving to a bed for as long as you can. Cribs keep our kids contained and safe (or at least they should).
You don’t want to keep your child in the crib if they can climb out, because they can fall and that could be dangerous. But if they’re starting to show signs of climbing out, they’re under three years old and you don’t think they’re mature enough to handle an open bed, that does NOT mean you have to switch to a bed right away. Try some easy changes so that they can’t climb out. Check out this post: “4 Hacks to Stop Crib Climbing.”
But, if you’re looking for a magic age for when to transition to a toddler bed, I recommend 3 years or older.
2. Your child’s size.
Some kids really do outgrow their crib. If your child can’t lay down and stretch without hitting the top or bottom of the crib, it may be time to make the switch. Watch them on the monitor while they sleep and see if they’re rolling and stretching, hitting the sides, and having disrupted sleep.
Some big kids love their crib and sleep great. In that case, don’t be in a hurry to switch. You don’t need to feel bad about them looking big in their crib if they’re sleeping great. But if you have a big kid who’s complaining about feeling cramped, it’s probably time to switch.
3. Your child’s sleep habits.
This may be the most important factor! You want to avoid moving to a toddler bed or any open bed until your child is a solo sleeper. Meaning they can fall asleep all by themselves and sleep through the night without your help.
If they still need you to rub their back or hold hands next to their crib while they fall asleep, then I can almost guarantee you, that’s going to get worse once they move to a bed.
With a bed, there will be more space, so they may start asking you to lay with them. And then you may start falling asleep in there. I mean, I know if I lay down in a dark room after 7 p.m., I’ll be asleep in 10 minutes!
If your child is used to crying for you in the middle of the night to come fix their covers or rock them back to sleep, once they’re in a bed, this can escalate. They now have the freedom to keep coming out of their room, coming to find your help and they may start needing more and more help from you in order to get back to sleep.
You might end up just letting them sleep in your bed to just get things to settle down so everyone can go back to sleep.
Establishing good solo sleep habits BEFORE moving to a toddler bed is very important.
All in all, once your child is over 3 years old, is a great sleeper in the crib - able to fall and stay asleep independently - and they are mature enough to understand rules in your house, you should feel confident about making the switch to a toddler bed.
If you need help getting your child comfortable sleeping alone in their new big kid bed, check out my free Toddler Sleep Masterclass. You’ll learn all about my REST Method to get your child happily to bed before 8 p.m. and sleeping 10-12 hours straight through the night with no wake ups.