Excellent question! Transitioning to a toddler bed from a crib can be a very exciting time for both you and your child. For most of us, the switch marks the end of the ‘baby’ phase, and the bright beginning of a new ‘big kid’ phase. To help your child make the transition as positive and stress-free as possible, your timing is crucial. Start too early, and your child could feel insecure, unsettled, and begin to have trouble sleeping soundly and securely in their new bed. Start too late, and your child may be cramped (physically as well as developmentally), and the change could be harder to make then you anticipated!

Here are some tips on how to determine your child is ready to make the move to a toddler bed. Remember that no two children or families are alike, so try to make the decision based on your own individual child rather than what your mother-in-law may tell you, or what all your friends are doing!

In most cases, children are ready to transition out of the crib between 18 months and 3 years of age.  Here are some of the readiness signs to consider:

1. Consider your child’s language skills. In general, your move will be easiest when your child can communicate in 3 – 4 word sentences. At this language level, they will be able understand when you explain their new sleeping arrangements, and what they can expect. On the flip side they can communicate likes/dislikes, preferences, etc. which can help them express needs/wants which can help them adjust to their new bed. (e.g. have your child pick out fun new sheets or new pajamas to look forward to!) He will also be more likely to tell you what is NOT to his liking, so that you can problem solve should any hiccups arise! Good two-way communication can be a crucial key to making sure your child is feeling comfortable and happy in this important transition.

2. Consider any upcoming transitions in your child’s life. Some families may need to transition their children to a bed because they are expecting a new baby.  If this is the case, be sure to make the switch 2 – 3 months BEFORE the baby arrives, so there is not a sense that the baby is ‘taking over’ their crib. Try to reinforce the idea of being a ‘big boy’ or ‘ big girl’ with new sheets, pajamas, or anything else your child desires, but respect that they also may wish to stay ‘babyish’ for a while longer. You may expect some regression such as increased clinginess, sucking a thumb, needing a ‘lovey’, etc. However if met with reassurance, and some freedom to indulge in these ‘younger’ behaviors, they should return to embracing their newfound independence within a month or two. If not, consider that your shift to the toddler bed may have been more based on pressure of the arrival of the new baby as opposed to your child’s readiness. Consider borrowing a crib or buying one second-hand to use until your child is truly ready for a bed.

3. Consider your child’s feelings about sleep and bedtime. In order to go to sleep in a toddler bed (and stay asleep for the night), your child needs to feel comfortable about bedtime, and not resist, avoid or fuss (too much!) when it is time to go to sleep. A child who is used to a good bedtime routine (e.g. bath, book, etc) which ends with a peaceful, cooperative transition to the crib, will easily generalize these skills to their new bed. If your child still cries when you put him to sleep, gets up frequently in the middle of the night, or fights being put in the crib, he’s probably not ready for a toddler bed.

4. Consider your child’s safety. Are you comfortable if your child wakes up before you do and wanders unsupervised around the house? If not, maybe it’s best to wait a bit before making that transition!  (Or find a baby gate to put at her doorway to keep her in her room!). Here’s another scenario: Is your child attempting to climb out of her own crib? That can be scary, but don’t jump to the transition to toddler bed just because of this alone. You may need to work on transitioning to sleep a big longer (see point #3) in order to help her feel comfortable with the  bedtime routine and falling asleep.

5. Consider your child’s physical development.  If a child is too big or too cramped in a crib, it is time to transition out. Keep in mind that most toddler beds use a crib mattress, so you may need to invest in a twin bed in this case. You can still purchase guard rails so that your child does not roll off.

6. Consider your own emotions. Are you simply exhausted, and anxious for your child to move on to the ‘big kid’ phase? Or are you sad to see your child grow up, and wish he could stay a baby a little bit longer? Sometimes our own feelings may cloud our judgments on what is best for our child. Don’t feel bad about this!! It is a normal, healthy, and natural part of being a parent! However, do try to be aware of your feelings, and examine as to whether or not your decision is based on your own readiness as opposed to the readiness of your child. As hard as it may be for us, children need to be ready themselves in order to feel a sense of pride, accomplishment, and security in this new milestone!

7. Consider other big-kid behaviors. Is your child enjoying trying out her own independence in other ways? Is she trying to spread butter on her own toast, do up her own pants, get in and out of her own car seat, in the process of toilet training, etc..? If so this is a sign your child will likely welcome the newfound independence of her own bed. Keep in mind that the crib is a place of comfort, familiarity and security.  A new bed will most likely feel ‘good’ if your child is ready to start doing more things for herself. This may be easier for a second-born than a first-born, as younger siblings frequently seek to imitate their older siblings. But either way, if your child is frequently saying “ Mommy, I do it!”, and resisting your help with daily tasks, this is a sign that she is likely ready for a venture to a new bed!

Best of luck and as always I welcome your comments and questions!!

Dr. Deb