How to transition your child from the crib to a bed

Ah, the crib. It’s such a cozy space for your little one to sleep. And it’s a reassuring place for you because you know that (unless she is climbing out) she is in a safe space. So, it can be a little unnerving to think about transitioning your child from the crib to a bed. But with some preparation and the right mindset this transition can go smoothly. In this post, I’m sharing some of my strategies to help you ensure the transition from the crib to a bed is a successful one!

I do want to preface this post by saying there is no hard and fast rule on when to make the transition to a bed. If your child meets the height and weight requirements as per the crib manufacturer, it is perfectly acceptable to keep her in a crib well past her third birthday.

Is your child ready for a big kid bed?

Transitioning your child from crib to bed is a big change. Moving her before she’s ready is asking for trouble. Here are the signs that your child is ready for this change:

At least 3 years old. Your child should have the ability to understand directions, boundaries, and consequences. These skills will allow her to understand the Sleep Rules (which you will want to review before her first night in the new bed).

Good sleep habits. The transition to a bed never solves any sleep problems. In fact, existing sleep problems are made worse because of the newfound freedom! Make sure you have a good bedtime routine in place and that your child sleeps through the night on her own.

They show interest in a big kid bed. This interest can be a huge help because it can open the door to conversations about what it means to sleep in a “big kid bed.”

You may be considering the change if your child keeps climbing out of their crib. Ideally, the steps outlined in my article on How to Prevent Crib Climbing will help keep your child sleeping in a crib a little while longer. But if you’ve tried everything to no avail, transitioning to a bed may be your only choice. In this case, you will want to be extra diligent about following through on Sleep Rules.

It can be tempting to surprise your child with a bed – but it’s best to plan the transition and involve your child in the process.

Transitioning to a big kid bed

The transition to a bed impacts your child physically, emotionally, and mentally. Many parents make the mistake of simply buying a bed and assuming their child knows what to do. I get it – I, too, am the type of person who wants to act quickly once I’ve made up my mind on something. But trust me on this one: Do a little bit of advance planning before you put your child in a bed!

Get your child involved in the transition

While some surprises are great, you want to avoid surprising your child with a new bed. Instead, talk to her in advance about what’s coming. Get her excited about the change by involving her in it! If you are converting the crib to a toddler bed, have your child pick out some new sheets. If your child is moving to a new bed, take her with you to shop for beds. Explain to her that bedtime and naptime will still be the same; she will simply be sleeping in a cozy new bed. Let her ask questions and reassure her.

Prepare the room

Since your child will be able to get out of bed, you need to make sure that her sleep space is safe. My advice is to treat the room like one big crib. Remove all potential hazards. Get down to your child’s level and examine the room. Are there things she could trip over, bump into, pull down? Be sure to also look at the area outside of her bedroom. Are there stairs nearby? Use a baby gate to block off the stairs overnight. Review the bedroom safety checklist for more tips on creating a safe sleep environment.

Start at night

It’s best to have your child sleep in the new bed starting at night (her drive to sleep is strongest then). You may also want to introduce a slightly earlier bedtime during the transition. It may take her longer to fall asleep. She may wake more frequently overnight, or even skip a few naps initially because of the novelty of a new bed. Your child needs time to adjust to sleeping in a new environment – an earlier bedtime can help stave off problems due to overtiredness.

Establish sleep rules…

Before your child’s first night in the new bed, take some time to discuss your expectations. Let her know that she is expected to stay in bed all night and for naps. If you are using a toddler clock (which I highly recommend), explain what will happen: “When the light turns green, it will be OK for you to get out of bed” or “Mommy or daddy will come to get you when your light comes on.”

It’s common and totally normal for children to test their newfound freedom, either right away or after a few nights. You should expect this and plan for how you will deal with it ahead of time.

…and follow through

When (not if) your child gets out of her bed – at night or during naptime – you need to deal with it quickly and consistently. Every time your child gets out of bed, immediately walk her back to her bed. Avoid eye contact and remain completely silent. And…do not re-tuck blankets or give hugs. You want to avoid giving attention to your child when she gets out of bed.

Children learn quickly, and if you are 100% consistent your child will understand that there is no benefit to getting out of bed. Remove the audience, and the show stops.

The bottom line: Transitioning your child to a bed can go smoothly if you are prepared

If your child is at least 3 years old, has good sleep habits, and is showing interest in a bed she’s likely ready to handle the transition. Talk to her about the responsibility that comes with sleeping in a bed and make sure that her room is safe in case she roams around. Explain the expectations that she stays in bed all night and be prepared to follow through by returning her to her bed if she decides to leave her room. Remain firm and consistent in how you respond to your child’s testing of her newfound freedom, and she will eventually get the message.

How was your experience with transitioning your child to a big kid bed? Tell me in the comments below!

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