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Transitioning your Toddler from Crib to Big Kid Bed

"My toddler was climbing out of their crib so I transitioned them to a big kid bed at 18 months, but now he won't go to sleep and won't stay in his bed," says the desperate mom who can't remember the last time she got to sleep in her own bed.

This is the number 1 scenario my clients come to me with. You are not alone. So let's talk a little about when and how to make this transition so that you don't end up like my desperate mamas hanging on by a thread.

When should I move my toddler to a big kid bed?

NEVER. Kidding...

Before the age of 3, toddlers aren't really able to understand WHY they need to stay in their bed for sleep. They still need those boundaries a crib provides.

Before transitioning your toddler to a big kid bed, ask yourself these questions:

  1. Will my child understand that they have to stay in their bed all night?

  2. If my child gets out of bed at night, is it safe for them to be in their room or in the house unsupervised?

  3. Is my toddler under the age of 3? If yes, keep them in the crib.

  4. Have I tried every option to keep them in their crib?

My recommendation to all my clients is to keep your little one in their crib until AT LEAST 3 YEARS OLD.

Yep, you read that correctly. I've even had clients of a 2 year old move the big kid bed out and bring the crib back in. Even a portable crib like a Pack 'n Play with an upgraded mattress is a great option if you've already gotten rid of your crib.

How to keep your toddler in their crib

Have a crib climber? If they're climbing out of the crib, they'll climb out of the bed. Here are some tips to keeping that little monkey in the crib as long as you can:

  • Lower the crib mattress as low as it can go.

  • Readjust the crib. If you can safely remove the mattress springs and drop the mattress to the floor inside the crib without there being any gaps, go for it. Note: American Academy of Pediatrics says to not modify the crib in any way. Technically this is modifying the crib, so please use your brain here and make the decision that's right for your family.

  • Use a sleep sack! Keeping your toddler in a sleep sack until at least 3 years old helps prevent them from getting a leg up and over the crib.

  • Remove all bumpers and stuffed animals. These are often used to boost the kiddo up to climb over.

  • Reposition the crib. Put the crib in the corner of the room so two sides of it are against a wall, turn the crib around so the high side (if there is one) is facing into the room and the low side is against the back wall. Now you have 3 sides taken care of. Have a tall dresser or something similar? Move that up against the crib to block off the 4th side. Nope, it's not pretty. But it does the trick and will save you so much lost sleep.

How to transition your toddler to a big kid bed

If all else fails, then it's probably time to move them to a big kid bed. Here's what to do:

Childproof the room. Think of their room as one giant crib. Walk around it at their level and secure, pick up, or remove anything unsafe or that they could possibly get into when they should be sleeping.

Include them in the transition. This is a huge change for your toddler! Let them pick out their new sheets and bedding and include them in setting up and decorating their new space.

Give them a comfort item. Make sure your toddler has a comfort item they love to snuggle up with to help them through the transition.

Mom's t-shirt. My favorite comfort item to help ease the transition for my toddler clients is mom's t-shirt. Sleep in your shirt the night before and then let your toddler wear it or let their favorite animal wear it for the first few weeks of the transition. Tell them that whenever they feel scared to snuggle up to that shirt and you'll be snuggling them right back. Role play this as part of your bedtime routine!

Keep your bedtime routine. Whatever bedtime routine you've always done, keep it consistent here. That's their sense of security before bed and we want to really instill that sense of safety and security during this transition.

Sleep train. Anticipate some challenges. Know ahead of time what sleep training method you're going to use to address those challenges and be consistent with it. Be patient with them as they're learning to understand the new arrangement, but be consistent in your response to anytime they get out of their bed at night.

If you need help determining a sleep training method, set up a free 15-minute consultation with me to discuss!


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