Navigating the Transition from Crib to Toddler Bed: Expert Tips for Parents

Navigating the transition from crib to toddler bed can be tricky for parents.  As a Certified Toddler Sleep Consultant, I get asked about the topic of toddler bed transition quite often, so here is your go- to guide on when to make the transition and how to help keep your toddler in bed when transitioning from the crib.

Importance of Sleep and Physical Activity for Toddlers

Children are developing at an amazing rate in the first 5 years, so it is so important to first understand the important role that sleep plays in the growth and development of your child.  As a Mom who just exited the toddler years with my second, I cannot emphasize enough how much sleep factors in to our toddlers emotions, physical play, socialization and growth.  Making sure that your child is getting the adequate amount of sleep each day is so important, and between the ages of 2 – 5 , your toddler should be getting between 12- 14 hours of sleep per day.  Need a little help with awake windows and sleep needs? Download my Awake Windows Cheat Sheet Here!

Another key factor that plays into your child’s sleep is physical activity.  According to the World Health Organization, toddlers should be spending at least 180 minutes in a variety of types of physical activities each day. Following these guidelines, along with eating healthy can help aid your toddler’s sleep and growth.

Understanding the Right Time to Transition from Crib to Toddler Bed

It is important to watch for the signs that your child is ready to make the transition from crib to toddler bed. I highly recommend that parents wait until at least the age of 3 before making the transition.  Children under the age of 3, have a difficult time understanding the expectations around a toddler or big kid bed. Often, they see it as an invitation to come and visit your room multiple times in the night. There is no rush for the transition, and there are no rules about how long a child can stay in the crib, so try not to feel the pressure from friends and family to make the transition too soon.  It can really backfire!

The #1 reason that parents bring up for the transition is crib climbing. It is preventable!  Take a few minutes to read my blog post here for my 5 must have tips to prevent crib climbing.   If all of those tips do not deter your toddler, then for safety reasons, I would make the transition.

Making the Room Safe for the Crib to Bed Transition

When you do make the transition from crib to toddler bed, make sure to address all of the areas of safety.

  1. Use guard rails on the new bed, or use one guard rail and place the bed up against a wall.
  2. Clear the room of any dangerous items that they can grab in the night.  Check for cords, outlets that are not covered and any creams or medicines are high up of reach.
  3. Make sure that all furniture is secured to the walls to prevent tipping.
  4. Make sure that your child has not outgrown the crib. They should have freedom to move their legs and arms.

5 Tips to Keep your Toddler in Bed when Transitioning from the Crib

  1. Establish a Consistent Bedtime Routine:  It is important to have a consistent and calming routine for your child prior to bedtime.  Children thrive on predicatablity and need to have time to wind down at the end of the day.
  2. Create an Ideal Sleep Environment: Make sure that the room is dark, cool and comfortable.  Overheating at night can cause wakeups, trigger nightmares and night terrors and fragmented sleep.  A light room can prevent adequate melatonin production, leading to overnight and early wakeups.
  3. Limit Screen Time Before Bed: There should be no screen time in the hour leading up to bedtime.  This directly affects their sleep and melatonin production, as well as other pieces of their development. Instead try for a calming book, a meditation or stretching before bed.
  4. Address Boundaries and Expectations:  Toddlers are natural boundary pushers, so it is necessary that the rules around bedtime and the new bed be explained to them.  And parents and caregivers, you need to be consistent with those boundaries!
  5. Address Fears and Anxieties: Hear your child’s concerns and then help them to understand the safety of their room and new bed.  Need some tips on how to deal specifically with nightmares and night terrors, check out my post here : The Differences Between Night Terrors and Nightmares in Toddlers and Tips to Manage

Managing the Change with Patience

It is important to remember that with change comes protest and sleep disruption.  It is 100% up to the parents or caregivers to explain the boundaries and be consistent with them, to help their child understand and make the transition as smooth as possible. Be prepared for a few nighttime visits in the beginning.  My expert advice, as a Certified Baby and Toddler Sleep Consultant, is to stay calm and quietly walk your child back to their bed.

Remember the key importance of physical activity and all of the other factors that affect your toddlers sleep hygiene.  Sit down with your toddler when it is time for the big transition. Explain the boundaries and importance of sleep.  Let them help pick out new bedding and even a new stuffed animal for this special transition.  Giving our toddlers choice helps to develop their independence.  Their is absolutely nothing wrong with a 2-4 year old still being in their crib, don’t rush the transition, as long as all safety measures have been addressed.  When the time comes, enjoy this big step with your little one!! They are growing up!

Missy Morrison Charko, is a Certified Baby and Toddler Sleep Coach based in Canada.  One of BC and Vancouver’s most trusted toddler sleep coaches. She helps families go from exhausted to rested, with her proven strategies and support.  If you have a toddler who is not sleeping well, book a free child sleep evaluation call .  This is a great chance to discuss your family’s options. 

Free Download For Parents

The Five Steps to Getting Your Child to Sleep Tonight!

Sign Up to Get your FREE copy of my “Getting Started Guide”.