The transition from a crib to a toddler bed can be a VERY big milestone for your little one to reach. But figuring out when it’s the best time to make that big move can be challenging. You might be wondering “when do babies usually move to a toddler bed?”, “is it the right time for my older child to make the switch?” and “what are the signs I should be looking for?” In fact, a mom in the My Sleeping Baby Facebook Community asked a great question that I want to address:
“Is there anything wrong with keeping a 3.5 year-old in a crib? I don’t want him to transition from a crib to a toddler bed just yet. He doesn’t climb out, sleeps through the night, doesn’t ask for a big boy bed, and loves his crib. He doesn’t have older siblings, so I’m not even sure he knows about the transition to big boy bed. Change is not something he does well with. I think if we let him stay there until he’s four, he’d be fine. He wakes up dry and doesn’t use the bathroom at night. Is there a reason to transition him to a big boy bed that I’m missing?”
In this blog post, I’ll be addressing all these questions about the transition from a crib to a toddler bed, as well as the specific question from this particular mom. I will provide you with my top tips for a smooth transition to a big kid bed that take your child’s developmental milestones into account.
My honest thoughts on when to transition your little one from a crib to a toddler bed
In short, I’m a HUGE advocate of keeping toddlers and preschoolers in cribs for as long as possible. And I practice what I preach- my two younger kids were sleeping in cribs until they were four years of age!
So to address this mom’s concerns about her 3 year-old still sleeping in a crib, there is NOTHING wrong with keeping your 3 year-old in a crib. In fact, MANY babies and younger toddlers (3 year-olds included) are not ready to move to a toddler bed to begin with.
Here’s why I recommend holding off the transition to a toddler bed for as long as possible:
Reason 1. Toddlers usually aren’t mature enough for the freedom a bed offers
Let’s face it, young children are not known for their impulse control. Rather, toddlers can be like little drunk people stumbling around, knocking things over, and causing chaos (though they’re still cute). So when your little one prematurely transitions from a crib to a toddler bed, you are giving her the freedom to leave her bed and her bedroom whenever she pleases.
And let me tell you, that is NOT something your toddler is developmentally ready for. In addition to the safety issue it creates, allowing your little one to leave her room and run around like a headless chicken whenever she pleases can cause all sorts of new sleep problems that you DO NOT want to deal with in the long run. Trust me!
Reason 2. The crib makes many toddlers feel secure at nighttime
The crib, specifically the crib railing, provides many younger toddlers and preschoolers with a sense of security. Even though toddlers are at a stage where they are learning to explore their surroundings and assert their independence, they still crave the security and comfort of an enclosed sleep space. And a crib provides a physical boundary that can help to meet this need. When a toddler is transitioned to a bed too soon, we often see a big sleep regression because, suddenly, the child feels unsettled in this new, massive bed.
I can’t tell you how many parents reach out to me for help because their young toddler, who previously fell asleep nicely on their own in their crib, suddenly needs a parent to stay in the room until they fall asleep now that they transitioned to a bed. This scenario tells me that the child isn’t ready to transition from a crib to a toddler bed just yet. Maybe they’ll be ready soon, but for now, it’s better to get them back into the crib ASAP.
Reason 3. You can avoid unnecessary nightwakings
Here’s the reality: If you’ve started sitting next to your child in their new bed until they fall asleep, there’s a good chance they’ll start to wake up at night and look for you. Your child may think, “Hey, where did mommy go? Where did daddy go? They were right there while I fell asleep.” This can lead to all kinds of unwanted nighttime visits…ALL because of their new-found freedom to leave their bed and their room. The last thing you want is to find yourself returning your kid to their bed over and over and over again all night long.
Don’t bother having your kid transition from a crib to a toddler bed if they’re sleeping beautifully in their crib. Just leave well enough alone. And if your younger toddler or preschooler happens to be giving you sleep troubles in their crib, transitioning them to a bed will likely make things worse. So, take a deep breath, relax, and let your little one snooze away in their cozy crib instead.
“But Eva- we need the crib for the new baby!”
Good point! This is probably the most common objections to keeping a toddler in the crib.
Here’s the deal, friend. If you have another baby on the way and your older one is only going to be 2-2.5 years of age by the time the baby is born, I STRONGLY recommend buying a second crib for your new baby.
Remember- babies and toddlers SHOULD NOT move from a crib to a toddler bed until they’re REALLY ready. It’s not worth making this big move if your younger toddler ends up regressing in the sleep department, leaving you with a whole slew of additional sleep problems when you also have a newborn at home! Good luck with that one.
Trust me, go the safe route here and simply get a second crib for your new baby.
Signs it’s time for your little one to transition from a crib to a toddler bed
If your little one has figured out how to jump out of the crib, it might be time to make the big move to a toddler bed. Sometimes, your little one can suddenly turn into a mini Houdini and is escaping from their crib like it’s no big deal, even if the crib mattress is on the lowest setting and even if he’s in a sleep sack. When this happens, it’s time to bid adieu to the crib and to make the transition to a toddler bed.
Trust me, you don’t want your little gymnast to attempt an Olympic-style dismount from their crib and end up flat on their face. It creates all sorts of safety concerns from these potential falls, producing a recipe for a late-night emergency room visit. So, if your toddler is the next Spider-Man and can climb out of their crib, it’s time to embrace the big boy bed!
Your little one might also be ready if he appears to be mature enough to handle the freedom offered by a bed. This usually happens somewhere in the 3-4 year-range, though every child is different. If your child is grown-up enough to understand and respect sleep rules and boundaries (such as “always stay in your bed quietly until your clock says it’s morning”), then your child is probably ready!
Tips for a smooth transition from a crib to a toddler bed
First things first, timing is key! Don’t try to make this switch to a big kid bed when your child is tired or dealing with other transitions, such as starting a new school or moving to a new home.
The next step is to ensure your child is feeling relaxed and excited about the big move. Don’t forget to involve your him in the process! For example, you can let him pick out new bedding or a special stuffed animal to sleep with. This will get him pumped about the upgrade and less likely to resist. You can also introduce a rewards system in the form of sticker chart to incentivize your little one’s cooperation and encourage good behavior. Make sure to continue with your regular bedtime routine so that there’s a sense of familiarity here.
Lastly, make sure the room is safe for your little adventurer. Double-check everything and secure any loose items. You might want to install a baby gate by the door so that your little one can’t open the bedroom door and leave whenever he pleases. Safety always comes first.
The bottom line here is that there’s NO race for babies to make that big transition and move from a crib to a toddler bed any earlier than they need to. Keep your little one in that crib for as long as possible. The reality is that most toddlers still need the physical boundaries of the crib that keep them contained, most toddlers feels more secure in a crib, and most toddlers really sleep best in a crib! No one wins a special shiny gold medal for moving their kid to a bed by a certain age- I promise.
My advice? Take the easy way out here and only transition them to a toddler bed when they’re REALLY ready.
Other articles and resources on toddler and preschooler sleep
Why your 2 year-old’s nightwakings aren’t going away!
Helping your child adjust to their new sibling
Toddler naps- when do they give them up?
Everything you need to know about separation anxiety
Is it too late to sleep train your baby or toddler?