The crib to toddler bed transition can be a challenge for many parents. Learn 10 things you should do when you make the switch.
For each of my kids, the decision to transition to a toddler bed happened when they each climbed out of their 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 edge 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 his crib.
Or perhaps you’re pregnant and want to get your toddler 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 your toddler 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 toddler bed can often come out of nowhere, forcing parents like you and me to act fast.
Transitioning from a crib to a toddler bed
But 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 in the middle of the 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.
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.
Free printable: Do you struggle with getting her to take a nap? Download The Five Habits That Will Make Your Child’s Naps Easier! Discover the five steps you need to do to finally get a break while she naps. Join my newsletter and grab your copy below:
Plus, you’ll also get my newsletters, which parents say they LOVE:
“I feel like you have been looking in my window. This gave me hope and practical ways to move forward in my never ending toddler tantrums, million diapers a day, always messy house, never ending work filled life. I will try reflecting today. Thank you.” – Abigail
2. Install a toddler rail
Disclosure: This article contains affiliate links, which means I will earn a commission—at no extra cost to you—if you make a purchase.
Confession time: One of my twins fell at least five times on the floor because it took me 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 an extra rail. I even tried putting pillows on the floor to catch him should he fall (#momfail).
If your crib doesn’t come with a separate bed rail, you can still buy an attachment. This will allow him 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 converted beds, toddler beds, or twin beds. We got this bed rail that attaches to a converted bed:
3. Explain the rules
Though exciting a toddler bed can be, explain to your child the rules she should follow. After all, this is still so new for her, so 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 or your partner come in to get her up. Or you can even 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 her life, including a new toddler bed. Hearing how other characters deal with a new bed will help her feel less alone and anxious.
Read these books a few days or weeks before the big change so you can open a dialogue about what to expect. Then, continue to read them as she settles into her new sleeping arrangement. Here are a few books specifically about sleeping in a new bed:
- A Big Kid Bed is Coming by Liz Fletcher
- Big Kid Bed by Leslie Patricelli
- A Bed of Your Own by Mij Kelly
- Big Enough for a Bed by Apple Jordan
- Big Bed for Giraffe by Michael Dahl
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 chance it that she’ll follow that rule every time.
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.
Move 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. 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. And keep it tidy and organized to avoid over-stimulation.
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 began climbing out of his crib in the first place for that reason.
If you feel like she’s afraid of the dark, consider using a night light to ease her anxieties. And even if she had been fine with the dark, a night light will help her see, should she get out of bed for any reason. Even though she should stay in bed, the last thing you want is for her to trip or bump into something.
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 her with positive words and even bought her a new night light.
What if, despite all those steps, she 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. Put a doorknob lock inside the room
This might seem crazy, considering we’re talking about locking your toddler in her own bedroom. But think of it this way: in the past, she was “locked” within the confines of her crib. Now, she’s within the confines of her room.
My son had reached the age where he could turn the knob to open the door. Any time he didn’t want to stay in bed, he’d open the door and look for us.
The thing is, we didn’t want him roaming our home, and instead wanted him to sleep safely in bed. So we put safety doorknob locks on the inside of his room. Other parents said they used a baby gate as another option (don’t forget to install wall protectors, too!).
This prevented him from leaving the room, just as the rails of a crib had prevented him from getting out and about.
8. Check in every few minutes
Now that you have doorknob covers to keep your toddler 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 toddler to sleep in her bed, not yours
I get that we’re always there for our kids when they’re scared. But letting your toddler sleep in your bed because she’s scared tells her that her bed and room aren’t safe places to be.
Instead, avoid the temptation to give in and let her sleep in your bed. As tired as you might be, this only reinforces her beliefs that she belongs in your room, not hers.
Acknowledge her fear (“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.
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 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, going from crib 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 own big kid beds.
Get more tips:
- What to Do When Your 2 Year Old Wakes Up at Night for Hours
- Transitioning to a Toddler Bed at 18 Months
- 8 Mistakes You’re Making When Your 2 Year Old Refuses to Sleep
- How to Get Through the 2 Year Old Sleep Regression
- Toddler Climbing Out of the Crib? Easy Solutions to Help You
Don’t forget: Join my newsletter and download The Five Habits That Will Make Your Child’s Naps Easier below: