How to ease the transition to a big kid bed for older toddlers
Transitioning from a crib to a bed is a toddler (and parent) rite of passage. Most children will move from their crib to a bed between 18 months and three years. Many sleep and child development experts recommend keeping your toddler in their crib for as long as you can. As a mom of two, I wholeheartedly agree with this recommendation!
My daughter, thankfully, never attempted to climb out of her crib. She had a lot of sleep issues as a baby, but from about 18 months on, she was a champion crib sleeper and loved being in her crib at night. We decided to wait as long as we could before transitioning her from her crib to a bed. Finally, we made the big move when she was a little over three years old.
We spent a lot of time talking up my daughter’s new bed. She seemed really excited about it. She loved when a big package came from Amazon and it turned out to be her new mattress. My daughter was so happy to pick out her pink and purple unicorn comforter and polka dot sheets. But when the time came to say goodbye to her crib and sleep in the big bed, she didn’t want to do it! We struggled for weeks trying to convince her to try out her new bed. Every night, she would cry that she wanted her crib.
We tried everything we could think of to help make the transition easier for her. All our efforts finally paid off. She is now happy to climb in her bed every night (and stay there… for the most part)!
I put together ten ways to help ease the transition from the crib to a bed. But first, here are some reasons why keeping your toddler in the crib for as long as possible is recommended.
When Should My Toddler Switch From A Crib to A Bed?
When my daughter’s third birthday was coming up, I started getting worried that she was still sleeping in her crib. Should we have already switched her to a bed? I worried we were babying her by keeping her in the crib for so long or that I was being a lazy parent.
However, many sleep experts and pediatricians recommend postponing the transition to a bed as long as possible. In general, if your toddler is not trying to climb out of their crib, they should be able to sleep there until they are 35 inches tall. You can find the height limit in your crib’s instruction manual.
They will probably reach the height limit shortly before or by the time they turn three. For reference, my daughter has always been on the small side for height. At her three year old checkup, she was 34 inches tall.
The Case for Keeping Your Toddler In a Crib As Long as Possible
There is no real rule for when to transition to a bed. However, a recent study, published in the journal Sleep Medicine, found that toddlers may sleep better in cribs up to age 3.
In the study, caregivers of toddlers aged 18 months to 35 months who were crib sleepers versus bed sleepers reported:
- earlier bedtimes
- shorter time falling asleep
- fewer night awakenings
- increased sleep duration
- less resistance at bedtime
Toddlers are able to get out of their beds independently. This can affect the time it takes them to fall asleep if they keep getting up.
Young toddlers are still developing self-regulation skills so staying in bed at bedtime can be difficult for them. However, in the crib, they have no choice but to stay put (as long as they haven’t tried climbing out). This makes it easier for them to fall asleep and stay asleep as the temptation to get up isn’t there.
Whether you move your toddler from a crib to a bed at a younger age or wait until age three, there will probably be challenges during the transition. Here are the best tips you’ll find for helping your little one change their sleep space from a crib to a bed.
1. Let them pick out their own bedding
Encourage your three year old to get excited about their new bed. Let them pick out their own sheets, pillowcase and blanket. Take a special trip to the store to browse bedding or order them online.
Maybe you don’t want Paw Patrol to overtake your kids’ woodland creatures themed room. In that case, offer them a few mom-approved bedding selections. I gave my daughter a few different choices that matched her room. She picked out the ones she liked best.
2. Have them choose a special stuffed animal or bed buddy to sleep with
My daughter loves playing with her stuffed animals. However, she has never wanted to take any of them to bed with her. When she was younger, we encouraged her to bring a lovey into the crib with her. She went through a phase of sleeping with one at night, but that soon ended.
When she turned three and we prepared to move her from her crib to her bed, we encouraged sleeping with a lovey again. We tried to get her to pick a stuffed animal to snuggle with to help make the transition easier. Someone gave me the idea of letting her pick out a new, special bed buddy. We decided to take her to the store and let her pick out a new stuffed animal.
Before we got the chance to do that, we visited my mom the day before we planned to make the switch to the bed. My daughter fell in love with a toy dog she found at Mimi’s house. Of course, Mimi let her take it home but told her that the dog did NOT like sleeping in cribs. She said he needed to sleep in a bed and he needed a friend to sleep with him. It worked like a charm. My daughter named him Makini and has been sleeping with Makini in her bed every night.
3. Read books about moving to a big kid bed
Books are a great tool for helping our kids learn. That includes learning about new routines. I love using books to explain new ideas and experiences to my children. We used books when we potty trained, when we weaned off the pacifier, and of course, when we transitioned my three year old from the crib to the bed.
We read this one with my daughter when we were preparing to move her to a new bed.
4. Put the bed in the room before you begin the transition so your toddler can get used to it
We utilized this tip but it may not work best for every child or family. I think it helped for my daughter to be able to sit on her bed, play on it, and see it in her room before she had to sleep in it. However, because her crib was still in the room, it tempted her to want to sleep in the crib instead.
We kept the crib because we’ll be moving her younger brother into it once he’s no longer sleeping in our room. To be honest, I liked that we had it as a back up on those first few nights that we tried to transition. I had no idea my daughter would be so upset about sleeping in the bed when the time came. It made sense for us to allow her to sleep in the crib a few more nights while we figured out how to make the transition easier for her.
Alternatively, you can have your child help you disassemble the crib so they can physically say goodbye to it. Then, they may not ask to sleep in the crib since it’s no longer there!
If you have a crib that converts to a toddler bed, the transition may be easier on your child. Since they are still technically in their crib, it will be more familiar and just look and feel a little different.
5. Let them sleep in the bed for naps first
We tried having our three-year-old sleep in the bed for naps to help her get accustomed to sleeping in the bed. This was also helpful for ME because I could keep an eye on her during naps. I could know if she would stay in her bed or try to get out when no one was in the room with her.
6. Make a book or visual board explaining what will happen when they move to a bed
This is a helpful trick I used a lot when I worked in Early Intervention. Making a book can help your toddler with learning new routines. You can write a story and draw your own pictures or take pictures of your toddler. You should include your usual bedtime routine and then end the book with your child sleeping in their new bed.
Alternatively, you can draw each step of the bedtime routine on a poster board. Hang this visual board in their room to look at each night.
A book or visual board can help you toddler see each step of their bedtime routine. This allows them to know what to expect next. It also gives them some ‘rules’ for what happens each night at bedtime.
7. Start a countdown so your three year old knows when they are moving from their crib to the bed
After having multiple false starts with moving my daughter into her bed, I decided to set a date for the actual move. When we would tell her she was going to sleep in her bed at night, she’d agree during the day. Then at night, she would say she didn’t want her bed and wanted to sleep in the crib. Instead of fighting with her, we just put her in the crib.
Finally, I created a countdown. I wanted to prepare her for the day she would really have to sleep in the crib. I did a four-day countdown because I didn’t want to drag it out too long! Every night, my daughter would color a square on her countdown before bed. I told her that when all the squares were colored in, it would be time to sleep in the bed.
Our bedtime countdown chart worked perfectly! She knew that when the squares were all colored, it was time to sleep in the bed. So when the big night came and she started to protest, I showed her the chart. I explained that all the squares were colored in, so it was time for the big bed.
8. Keep your bedtime routine the same
If your toddler is ready to switch to sleeping in a bed, you probably already have a regular bedtime routine. Keep this the same when transitioning from a crib to a bed. Except, of course, they’ll now climb into bed instead of being put into the crib.
If you don’t have a good bedtime routine, start one now before you decide to move your toddler to a bed. This way, they will have something comforting to them (a familiar bedtime routine) to help adjust to this big change.
9. Use a Hatch or Wake to Sleep Clock
One thing I’m sure many parents worry about when switching from crib to bed is their toddler getting out of bed whatever they want. To prevent this, we use the Hatch.
There are also different products that can work well, like an ‘Okay to Wake’ alarm clock.
At bedtime, the Hatch in my daughter’s room, which also acts as a nightlight, glows blue. This means she needs to stay in bed. I have it programmed so that a 6:30 am, it turns green. That means it’s morning she can get out of bed.
At three years old, she doesn’t know how to tell time yet. It’s hard for her to know if it’s morning or still nighttime when she wakes up. Especially in the winter when it’s so dark out. The Hatch helps her to know if she should go back to sleep or if she can get up!
10. If all else fails, try sleeping in the room with them for a few nights
When it comes to kids, we have always been a do-whatever-you-can-to-get-some-rest type of family. In the past, that meant letting my daughter, who used to consistently wake up between 5-6am, watch a show on the iPad in our bed while we slept in a little on the weekends. Luckily, she’s now more of a wake up between 6-7am kind of three year old so we’ve grown out of that stage! But, we are pretty flexible with what we allow when it comes to trying to get more rest.
I couldn’t sleep in my daughter’s bed with her when she was transitioning from her crib because I was still breastfeeding her younger brother overnight. However, I did lie in her new bed with her until she fell asleep for the first few nights. I set the expectation from the beginning that I would only stay a while in her room. I told her that I had to sleep in my own bed. That way she wouldn’t expect me to be there when she woke up.
I think this worked for us because she knew what to expect and I didn’t spend all night in the bed with her. However, that time I did spend with her, was enough for her to start feeling more comfortable being alone in her big bed once I left.
Final Thoughts on Transitioning Your Toddler To A Bed At Three Years Old
It’s been several months since my three year old moved from sleeping in her crib to sleeping in bed and it’s been great. After a rocky start, she has happily transitioned to the bed. She sleeps all night (most nights) and gets up when her “light turns green”.
If you’re having some anxiety about moving your 2 or 3 year old into a bed, try a few (or all) of the tips mentioned in this post.
Let your toddler pick out their own bedding and a bed buddy or stuffed animal to sleep with. Prepare them for the transition by reading books about kids sleeping in beds instead of the crib and create a book or visual board about their new bedtime routine.
Speaking of routines, keep their bedtime routine the same except for their new sleeping arrangements.
If you’ve purchased a new bed instead of converting their crib to a toddler bed, move the bed into the room early to let them adjust to it. Try it out for naps first.
Use a Hatch or toddler alarm clock to encourage them to stay in bed despite their new freedom of being able to get up whenever they choose.
Start a countdown so they know when the big move will happen.
Finally, if your toddler has trouble with the transition, try sleeping in their room with them (in the bed or maybe on a mattress on the floor) for a brief period of time. This may help them get more comfortable with sleeping in the bed. It may not work for all families, but if your toddler is struggling with moving from a crib to a bed, it might be worth a try.
Not all of these tips on moving your three-year-old from a crib to a bed will work for all children, but I hope you found a few that were helpful!
Are you preparing to move your toddler from a crib to a bed? What are you doing to help make the process easier? What do you think might be the most difficult part?
Related posts on infant and toddler sleep:
- How To Prepare Your Baby for Sleep Training
- Sleep Training Advice From a Mom Who Tried It All
- What You Need to Know About Normal Sleep for Infants and Toddlers