9 Steps to a Smooth Crib to Toddler Bed Transition

The crib to toddler bed transition can be a challenge for many parents. Learn what you should do when you make the switch.

Crib to Toddler BedFor each of my kids, the decision to transition to a toddler bed happened when they climbed out of their baby cribs.

One fell on the floor and cried while another landed on his feet, wondering how he got there. And the other somehow straddled the ledge of his crib, hooting and hollering, “Mama look, horse-y!”

You may have found yourself in the same predicament, shocked and scared to learn that your toddler can now climb out of the crib.

Perhaps you’re pregnant and want to get her a new bed rather than another crib for the baby. Whether she wants to or not, she needs to adjust to a toddler bed to make room for her new sibling.

Or maybe she likes the idea of a big bed and its newfound independence. No more “baby” crib for her!

No matter the reason, the transition from a crib to a toddler bed can often come out of nowhere, forcing parents like you and me to act fast.

9 steps to a smooth crib to toddler bed transition

The thing is, after having slept in a crib all her life, your child might still find a toddler bed overwhelming.

She runs after you as you make your way to leave the room, or wakes up crying every night wanting to sleep in your bed. She might even feel resentful of the new baby sleeping in “her” crib, or overcome with sadness at no longer having her old sleeping arrangement.

However normal or expected these emotions may be, they can still feel challenging for many parents. Thankfully, you can do plenty not only to respond to her behavior, but to prepare her for a toddler bed to begin with.

Let’s begin with preparing her for the transition into a toddler bed. Later, we’ll talk about what to do when that transition doesn’t go so well.

3 Year Old Wakes up Crying Every Night

1. Frame the change as something positive

Your toddler can feel overwhelmed with this big change in her life. One of the best ways to ease her anxieties is to frame the toddler bed as something positive.

For instance, talk about how much she has grown so much that she no longer fits in the crib and now needs a new bed. Get her excited about the idea of hopping in and out of bed in the mornings and evenings, all on her own.

And 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 that 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.

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2. Install a toddler rail

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Confession time: One of my twins fell a few times on the floor because it took me that long to finally get a toddler rail. The poor thing slept in a convertible crib didn’t include an extra side rail. I even tried putting pillows on the floor to catch him should he fall (#momfail).

Thankfully, nothing happened to him, but in hindsight, I now see that the risk for injury was real and I should’ve installed a crib rail sooner.

If your crib doesn’t come with a separate bed rail, you can still buy an attachment. This will allow your child to still get in and out of bed, but prevent him from falling should he roll around.

And make sure you get one for the right bed size, whether a crib that converts, toddler beds, or twin beds. We got this bed rail that attaches to a converted bed.

Toddler bed vs twin bed: which one you should choose.

Toddler Bed vs Twin Bed

3. Explain the rules

As exciting a toddler bed can be, explain to your child the rules she should follow. After all, this is still so new for her—it’d be unfair to expect her to know how to behave without prior experience or explanation.

For instance, let her know she should stay in bed until you come in to get her up. Or you can get an alarm clock with a light timer that turns on, signaling the time she can get out of bed.

4. Read books about sleeping in a bed

Reading children’s books is a fantastic way to help your toddler understand changes in his life, including a new toddler bed. Hearing how other characters deal with a new bed will help him feel less alone and anxious.

Read these books during your bedtime routine so you can open a dialogue about what to expect. Then, continue to read them as he settles into the new sleeping arrangement. Here are a few books specifically about sleeping in a new bed:

5. Make the room safe and comfortable

Think of your child’s room as her new “crib.”

In the past, she was contained within her crib, but with a toddler bed, she now has access to her entire room. Even if you explain that she’s to stay in bed, don’t assume that she’ll follow that rule every time.

Instead, make the room baby-proofed by:

  • removing clutter she can trip on in the middle of the night
  • clearing the pathway to the bedroom door in case she tries to open it
  • putting toys you don’t let her play with unsupervised in a different room
  • moving most items out of the way to lessen any danger now that she’s more mobile
  • securing the dresser, changing table, lamps, or drawers
  • clearing cords out of the way
  • covering electric outlets

At the same time, keep the room comfortable and calm. Remove 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. And keep it tidy and organized to avoid over-stimulation.

3 Year Old Won't Stay in Bed

6. Use a night light

Your toddler might feel scared transitioning to a toddler because of a fear of the dark. In fact, I believe my eldest kiddo began climbing out of his crib in the first place for that reason.

If you feel like he’s afraid of the dark, consider using a night light to ease his anxieties. And even if he had been fine with the dark, a night light will help him see, should he get out of bed for any reason. Even though he should stay in bed, the last thing you want is for him to trip or bump into something.

How to get your toddler to stay in bed.

How to Get Toddler to Stay in Bed

When your child resists sleeping in a toddler bed

Let’s say you did all the above: you talked about the transition from a crib to a toddler bed and read books all about it. You encouraged your child with positive words and even bought him a new night light.

What if, despite all those steps, he has a meltdown? I’m talking a banging-on-the-door, won’t-stop-crying, “Don’t leave me Mama!” meltdown.

Not all kids take to a toddler bed smoothly. Even though I was relieved my twins took to their toddler beds easily, my eldest didn’t want anything to do with his new one. What can parents do in these cases?

7. Close the door

My son had reached the age when he kept wanting to leave the room. Any time he didn’t want to stay in bed, he’d escape the room and look for us.

The thing is, we didn’t want him roaming our home while we were asleep, and instead wanted him to sleep safely in bed. So, we made sure to close the door to prevent him from getting out on his own, just as the rails of a crib had prevented him from getting out and about.

8. Check in every few minutes

Now that you can keep your child in her room, you can then check in on her every few minutes.

Let’s say she’s still crying when you close the door to her room. Start by setting your timer for five minutes. When it goes off, open the door, walk her back to bed, and tuck her in. Explain that she needs to sleep in her bed and that you’re in the next room. Then walk out and close the door.

Keep this and all interactions subdued and minimal, and 30 seconds at most.

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. If you have your old baby monitor, you can use it to see what she’s up to without needing to open the door.

Another thing: It’s okay if she falls asleep on the floor for a few nights. There’s no need to carry her back to her bed and risk waking her up in the process.

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 your child sleep in your bed tells him that his bed and room aren’t safe places to be.

Instead, avoid the temptation to give in and let him sleep in your bed. As tired as you might be, this only reinforces his beliefs that he belongs in your room, not his.

Acknowledge his fear (“You’re scared because you’re sleeping in a bed for the first time”). Then, comfort and reassure him that all is well and his bed is a warm and safe place to sleep.

Tip: Spend plenty of time in his room during the day (and similarly, avoid using it as a “timeout”) so he associates it with a positive place to be.


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, and we didn’t find him asleep 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 crib to toddler bed transition is a big milestone to reach. No longer is she the little baby you laid in the crib, but is now a big kid, complete with her own big kid bed.

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  1. Transitioning right now. He is almost 2 1/2 and has climbed out 5 or 6 times in the past few weeks without getting hurt. I figured a good time to change before he gets hurt. He cries only several times for the first hour or two and then sleeps through the rest of the night in the bed (first night he slept on the floor for a few hours but got back into bed himself). It is a crib that converts to toddler bed so it is definitely recognizable to him so I would hoping it woulnd’t be too traumatic. I didn’t give him a pep talk before…just showed him his new bed and got excited. 2 days so far….keeping fingers crossed and hope I’m doing okay.

    1. Nina Garcia says:

      Sounds like you’re on the right track, Lisa! It can definitely take a while before it’s 100% smooth. My eldest also slept on the floor the first night or two 🙂 I’ve got my fingers crossed for you and the little guy!

    2. Have you removed all of his toys from his room or have you just shut the door and let him do whatever until he falls asleep. I am torn if I should clean out her room so there is nothing to play with except her night light?

  2. Our toddler son basically cannot spend a waking moment alone in his new bed. Whenever he wakes, usually two or three times a night, he comes to our room to my side of the bed and waits to be taken back to his room. He stands quietly with his head resting on the bed or even lies down next to our bed. That’s what happened about an hour ago and why I’m writing now at 3:50am. Right now I spend 60-90 minutes each night sitting by his bed until he falls back asleep, from putting him down to repeated night wakings. However, thus far we’ve actually left our and his doors open, so he’ll be safe if he gets up in the night. Then I read your post. Thanks.

    1. Nina Garcia says:

      Hope it works, Drew! I’ve found that the waiting by their bed til they fall asleep method only continues that habit, eg they start expecting that every night. Sleep training them to stay in their room has helped, especially if you treat sleeping in his room with confidence, that you know he’s safe and there’s nothing to worry about. Also make sure that you check in every few minutes if he’s still fussing and crying so he knows you’re still here.

  3. I like your ideas about transitioning. The issue isn’t her getting up and throwing tantrums or crying out. I mean this is an occasional incident where she does these things. Our problem is she just wont go to sleep and so she just gets up and turns the lights on or starts playing. She used to be so easy to put down now it is taking an hour and a half to get her to fall asleep and we have been doing this for 3 months now. The only way I can get her to go to sleep with in 30 min is to lay next to her crib until she falls asleep that way she can’t get up. I have tried the fade method. I still will sit in my room so I can see her ( I leave her door open so I can see when she has gotten up) but I keep going in and telling her to get back to bed and we have made no progress. My husband wants me to shut the door and just let her do whatever it is she wants to do and eventually she will go to sleep which is great and all but she typically sleeps 10-11 hours at night and now that we are in a toddler bed she wont nap either so I am afraid between letting her just stay up as long as she is in her room and not napping now ( I do lay her down but she just lays there for an hour to 1.5 hours- wont sleep) she is not getting enough sleep and is having meltdowns and very crabby sometimes. I don’t know what to do at this point. do I shut the door and just let her sleep when she is ready?

    1. Nina Garcia says:

      Hi Angela! I would agree with your husband with a quick change: I would shut the door, but go back in every few minutes (for instance, every 10 or 15 minutes) to put her back in bed, turn off the light, etc., and then shut the door again. This way, she knows you’re still there, you’re able to check and see if anything really is the matter, and you’re reinforcing that it’s time to sleep with the lights off and in bed. In time, she’ll accept this as the new norm, and not you sitting in her room waiting for her to sleep. Hopefully in time and with consistency, she’ll know to simply stay in bed all night 🙂 Good luck! I know it’s rough, and at three months it can feel defeating at times. Hopefully this helps!