One of the most common questions I hear from parents of toddlers is when should we move them to a bed? My answer is always, when they ask for it! Why do you think I say that? It’s very hard for children under the age of 3 to comprehend the rules associated with sleeping in a bed. For example, they do not have the ability to understand the imaginary boundaries of a bed. Up until now, the crib rails provide that “boundary” for them. Similarly, younger children do not have the impulse control of older children. While they may understand you when you say that they need to stay in their bed all night, they lack the ability to actually stay in bed. Even if your child stays in the bed for the first few nights, weeks, or even months, they will eventually realize they can get out of bed. At that point, they are free to roam around their bedroom and possibly the house. You may end up with a “Jack in the Box” or a child that pops out of bed every time you leave the room. How exhausting!
Many parents feel they “need” to transition from a crib to a bed for several reasons: correct poor sleep habits, pending arrival of sibling, or child is climbing out of their crib. If a child has poor sleep habits in a crib, they will most likely have the same issues in a bed. It can actually worsen! Ensure your child’s sleep schedule and bedtime are age appropriate. It’s more important to correct the issues prior to moving to a big bed. Many parents who are expecting another child feel then “need” to move their older child to a bed either because they need to use that crib or just feel like it’s what they should do. I encourage you to wait. A new baby is a big transition for a toddler. They will be adjusting to many different feelings and moving to a new sleep space shouldn’t be one of them. There will likely be a sleep regression when the new baby comes and it will be exhausting getting up with both your new baby and your wandering toddler. What if your child is scaling the crib and able to get out? Climbing out of the crib is not necessarily a reason to transition early either. There are a couple of tactics to try before you result to moving your child to a bed. For starters, use a sleep sack. Children will have a harder time climbing in a sleep sack. You should also lower the crib mattress to the lowest level and remove any objects/crib bumpers that could give your child a leg up to climbing. Lastly, use your video monitor with a talk back function. As soon as your child attempts to climb, immediately say “NO”! You may have to do this several times but they will get the idea! I always suggest trying one or all of these tactics rather than transitioning your child too early.
When your child is ready, there are several tips to ensuring the transition is successful. It is important to have a plan of action. See the steps below to help ensure the transition will be as smooth as possible.
Choose the type of bed.
Will you move to a toddler bed, a twin, or straight to a double? This decision is entirely up to you. If you have a convertible crib, it may be easier just to remove the rail to “test the waters” so to speak. If your child is not truly ready it’s much easier to put the rail back up than totally reassemble a crib. However, if your child is truly ready and knowing that your child may quickly outgrow a toddler bed, it may be better to go straight to a twin or double. Whatever you do, involve your child in the process. You want them to be excited about the move!
Toddler proofing the room.
You may ask “why would I need to do that”, the house is already baby proofed. Even though we will want our child to stay in bed all night, the likelihood of that happening may be slim. We want their space to be safe so you will not have to worry about them hurting themselves at night. You may consider installing bed rails as well especially if your child moves around a lot while they are sleeping or a baby gate at the bedroom door if you anticipate a lot of getting out of bed.
Hold a family sleep rules meeting.
I mentioned earlier about children under the age of 2.5 – 3 may have a hard time “understanding the rules” associated with a big kid’s bed. It’s very important that they are able to comprehend the transition. Be sure to sit down with your child before the move and explain what is happening, why it’s happening, and what the expectations are. They need to know what they are expected to do and the consequences of not doing those things. Include the whole family in this meeting.
Your children will only be as consistent as you are! Some transitions may be seamless and others may take a while. Regardless, it’s important that parents remain 100% consistent on enforcing the sleep rules and how they respond to a child that gets out of bed and leaves the room. If your child leaves their bedroom to roam, you will want to return them silently (no emotion). You do not want to reward them for leaving but make it a totally unrewarding experience.
There is no special age in which to move a child from their crib to a bed. Many parents tend to make the switch between the ages of 2 and 3. I encourage you to wait until as close to 3 years of age as possible. By waiting until they are old enough to comprehend the rules associated with sleeping in a bed, can visualize the imaginary boundaries, and have greater impulse control (stay in bed throughout the night), you will set both your child and your family up for success. Remember – If they ask for it, they are ready for it!
This post comes from the TODAY Parenting Team community, where all members are welcome to post and discuss parenting solutions. Learn more and join us! Because we're all in this together.