Most parents start the transition to toddler bed when they see their toddlers climbing out of their cribs. I know that’s true for me. My eldest climbed out of the crib and fell smack on the floor. One of the twins somehow landed on his feet. As for his twin brother, we found him straddling the crib, hooting, “Horse-y!”
For other kids, the transition happened because they liked the idea of a big bed. They associate cribs with babies and want their own beds instead.
And still others are ‘forced out’ of their cribs when a new baby arrives. Whether they want to or not, these kids need to adjust to the toddler bed to make room for their baby sister or brother.
No matter the reason, we can all use these tips for transitioning from crib to bed.
A smooth transition to toddler bed
Let’s begin with preparing your child for the transition into a toddler bed. We’ll assume she’s excited or at least compliant enough to try her new bed. (Later, we’ll talk about what to do when that transition doesn’t go so well.)
1. Frame the change as something positive
Focus on her growing up and the next stages of sleep arrangements. Avoid bringing up other factors and talk about her instead. For instance, don’t say that you need the crib for the new baby (even if it’s true). Instead, talk about how she’s growing up so fast and she can be just like mom and dad with her own bed.
At the same time, keep your enthusiasm in check. Have a genuine conversation without overdoing how cool sleeping in a toddler bed is. She’ll see right through the antics and might feel more anxious than excited.
2. Install a toddler rail
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Confession time: One of my twins fell at least five times on the floor because it took us that long to finally get a toddler rail. The poor thing slept in a crib that, while it converted to a bed, didn’t include a rail. We even tried putting pillows on the floor to catch his falls (#momfail).
When you’re shopping for a rail, make sure you get one for a toddler bed frame. I saw many rails in stores but most were for twin beds. We got something like this:
Our other convertible crib came with a toddler rail so that came in handy.
3. Explain the rules to your child
Though exciting or new a toddler bed can be, explain to your child the rules. Let her know to stay in bed until mom or dad comes in to get her up. You can even get a clock with a light timer that turns on when it’s daytime. She needs to stay in bed until the turtle lights up.
Anytime my kids go through changes, we read books about that topic. Read these books a few days or weeks before the big change so you can open a dialogue about what to expect. Some favorites include:
- The Girl Who Got Out of Bed by Betsy Childs
- Back to Bed, Ed! by Sebastien Braun
- I Love to Sleep in My Own Bed by Shelley Admont
- A Bed of Your Own by Mij Kelly
- Your Own Big Bed by Rita M. Bergstein
5. Make the room safe and comfortable
Think of your child’s room as her new “crib”—she now has access to the rest of the room. Even if you explain that she’s to stay in bed, don’t chance it that she’ll follow your word.
Instead, make the room safe by removing items or clutter she can trip on in the middle of the night. Clear the pathway to the door in case she tries to open it. Any toys you don’t let her play with unsupervised should go in a different room. You want to keep most items out of the way to lessen any danger now that she’s more mobile.
At the same time, keep the room comfortable and calm. You might want to remove any battery toys that light up or make sounds. Now that she has access to them, she might play with or even step on them by accident.
6. Use a night light
My eldest felt scared transitioning to a toddler bed because of his fear of the dark. That may even be why he tried to climb out in the first place.
Even if your child had been fine in the dark, consider using a night light now that she’s in her bed. She might roam, and better for her to do so without tripping or bumping on anything.
Let’s say you did all the above: you talked about the transition to toddler bed and read books all about it. You encouraged her with positive words and even bought her a new blanket.
What if, despite all that, she has a meltdown? I’m talking a banging on the door, won’t stop crying, “Don’t leave me Mama” meltdown?
We went from the child who slept through the night in his crib to one who didn’t want anything to do with his toddler bed. You can imagine how relieved we were for not to go through that twice with our twins.
What to do?
7. Put a safety lock on the doorknob inside the room
This might seem mad, considering we’re talking about locking your kid in her own bedroom. But think of it this way: before, she was within the confines of her crib. Now, she’s within the confines of her room.
Our eldest had reached the age where he could turn the knob to open the door. We didn’t want him roaming our home and instead wanted him to sleep is in his bed. We put safety locks like these on the inside of his room. Other parents said they used a baby gate as another option.
8. Check in every few minutes
If your child is still crying when you close the door to the room, set your timer for five minutes.
When it goes off, open the door and walk her back to bed and tuck her in. Explain that she needs to sleep in her bed and that you’re right in the next room. Then walk out and close the door. Keep this and all interactions subdued and minimal.
Then, set your timer for 10 minutes, and do the same thing. If she’s still crying at the 10 minute mark, open the door and walk her back to bed again. And repeat at 15 minutes again until she finally falls asleep.
9. Encourage your child to sleep in her bed, not yours
I get that we’re always there for our kids when they’re scared. But letting her sleep in your bed because she’s scared tells her that her bed and room aren’t safe places to be.
Instead, walk her to her room and tuck her in each time. Acknowledge her fear (“I know you’re scared because you’re sleeping in a bed for the first time”). Then, reassure her that all is well and her bed is a warm and safe place to sleep.
Or, find a happy medium by sitting next to her bed on the floor while she sleeps in her bed. Let her know you’ll be there for a few minutes and then it’s time for you to sleep in your own bed too.
But keep in mind that if she throws a fit when you leave, then you can’t use this tactic again (clearly it didn’t work).
10. Let your child sleep on the floor
Another thing, if you find that she fell asleep on the floor, it’s okay. There’s no need to carry her back to her bed. If she wakes up the next morning, congratulate her for having gone through a huge change. (Yes, even if you hardly slept.)
It took about two weeks before our eldest was 100% fine sleeping in his toddler bed. No sitting next to him, no yanking on the doorknob. We didn’t find him passed out on the floor. He slept the whole night in his bed, safe and snug.
Your child may be the same or completely different, like my twins. With them, they had the added benefit of not being alone in the room, which helped them feel less scared. They also saw from day one their big brother sleeping in a big boy bed and knew the transition was a normal one.
Whether your child is eager or scared, the transition to toddler bed is a big one they all make. No longer are they the little baby you laid in the crib but are now big kids, complete with their big kid beds.
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Tell me in the comments: How did you handle the transition to toddler bed? What challenges are you currently facing with your child’s sleep?
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