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toddler moving to a big kid bed

By far the most common question we get about toddler sleep is when and how parents should transition their little one to a toddler bed. The tricky thing is, many times this question comes after they have already begun the transition, and it’s not going so well for their child.

Here at the Sleeper Teachers we’ve helped hundreds of families successfully transition their children from the crib to a toddler bed. If you know your child is ready to make the move and you want equip yourself with a thorough resource to making a seamless and pain-free transition, our Crib to Big Kid Bed Transition Guide is for you. We cover topics such as everything you need to consider before making the move, how to know when your child is ready, ways to practice and prepare for the transition, optimal room setup and environment, and finally we walk you step-by-step through what it takes to transition successfully.

While this blog post serves as an overview, the guide is your deep dive and check list for making a smooth crib to toddler bed transition. Read on for more information about supporting your toddler through the big transition out of their crib.

When is the Right Time for the Transition to a Toddler Bed?

You may be ready to transition from a crib to a big kid bed if:

1) your toddler is 3 years or older, and 

2) your toddler is independently sleeping through the night in a crib, and

3) your toddler is consistently napping well in a crib, and

4) your toddler has shown interest/signs of readiness to switching to a bed like mommy’s bed, and/or

5) your toddler is unsafely getting out of the crib on their own.

If you’ve answered YES to these questions, then read on!

If you’ve answered NO to these questions, then PLEASE WAIT! Trust me when I say we’ve worked with many toddler families, and none have ever said “Dang, I really wish we would have transitioned into a big kid bed earlier”.

In fact, I hear the opposite all the time…. “Shoot, we really should have waited until our toddler was older to better handle the transition.”

Toddlers making the move to a big kid bed
This is my son Lincoln at 2.25 years old. We waited until he was 4 to move to his big kid bed.

Now is the Time to Transition to a Toddler Bed – How do we Mentally Prepare?!

To start, fill your little one in on what’s happening. Explain to them that they’re going to be making the move into a new big kid bed, set a date, and let them know when the switch is going to happen.

When you explain what’s happening to your toddler, make sure you do it with a positive spin! Get him or her excited about the move, and practice

Be aware that there’s a bit of tight-wire act to be performed here. On the one hand, you want to prepare your toddler for the switch, but at the same time, you don’t want to make a huge production out of it. Turning the whole thing into a monumental occasion puts a lot of pressure on your child and is likely to stress them out a bit.

Now is the Time to Transition to a Toddler Bed – How do we Physically Prepare?!

A few weeks before the transition, we recommend moving their new bed into their room (while they are still sleeping in their crib) so they can get used to sleeping in a room with a bed. You will also want to make your child’s sleep space as safe as possible. To do this, bookshelves, dressers and other large furniture pieces need to be tightly anchored to the wall to prevent them from toppling over.

Here come’s the fun part… You are ready to actually make the trip to Ikea and pick out the hardware, just be sure to bring your toddler along.

Next, give your child some input into choosing the bed they want, what sheets they like, and what pillow feels the most comfortable. This will make them feel included and empowered in the process, and will give them a sense of ownership over their new bed. This can work wonders in easing the big kid transition.

Let’s do it – Making the Move Out of the Crib

So now that the selected bed has been assembled and the sheets are on, you’ll want to set up the bed in the same place the crib used to be.

In fact, you’ll want to keep just about everything exactly as it was in your toddler’s room except for the new bed. This is a big transition, so try not to make any other unnecessary changes.

It is very important to maintain as much sense of normalcy and routine the night of the big swap. When you’re getting your toddler ready for bed, don’t alter his or her bedtime routine, don’t switch up bedtime, don’t offer a brand new food at dinner. Keep everything as predictable and as mundane as possible.

Again, you don’t need to make a production out of it. Tell them you’re proud of them, but try to avoid statements like, “What a big kid you are now!”

Toddlers are typically in a perpetual state of uncertainty about whether or not they want to do this whole “growing up” thing (think Peter Pan syndrome), so we want to keep things as low-key as we possibly can.

EEEEK! What happens if…

There are 3 general ways the transition goes:

A) Your kiddo adapts immediately to their new bed and they don’t test the waters or break the rules whatsoever.

B) Your little one seems to adapt immediately but, after a week or two, starts leaving their room, playing with their toys, or calling for mom to come back in several times a night. I call this the honeymoon phase scenario.

C) Your toddler starts doing all of the things listed in B on the very first night.

If you find yourself with an A transition, celebrate heartily! You are among the very lucky minority, CONGRATS!

The solutions for B&C are the same. For middle of the night wakes, walk your child back to their room as many times as necessary with very little interaction. You may find yourself having to repeat the expectation that they need to stay in their bed over and over again, which is normal for such a big change. After all, your child is experiencing more freedom than they are used to, so it will likely take time for them to feel comfortable with it.

If bedtime shenanigans creep in, come up with an appropriate consequence, and make sure to share it with your child in advance. Once the game playing starts at bedtime, offer a warning and remind them of the consequence if they engage in the same behavior again. Make sure to follow through, since toddlers thrive when parents hold their limits.

Wow, that was a lot of Info!

If you’ve read through this article and still feel like you could use some extra information and guidance about making a seamless toddler bed transition, check out our Crib to Big Kid Bed Transition Guide. It has everything you need to go from uncertain and hesitant to informed and confident in making the big move as smoothly and pain-free as possible.

Alternatively, if personalized guidance with a full sleep plan, shared digital sleep log for tracking data plus daily accountability and support is something that you could benefit from, please reach out to us here. We’d love nothing more than to be the newest member on your family’s sleep team!

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