There are many different thoughts on the right age to move a child out of a crib and into a bed. Some families even start with a mattress right on the floor and never use a crib. I prefer to contain (safely) in a crib for as long as possible! Especially if your child is struggling with sleep. Working on a solid sleep foundation before transitioning to a bed can make a huge difference in how this big transition goes.
When a parent reaches out to ask questions about this time, my first questions back to them are if their child is still in a sleep sack and trying to climb out of the crib. Understandably many parents roll their eyes at the thought of a toddler still using a sleep sack. There is nothing wrong with keeping your child in a sleep sack the entire time they are in the crib—especially if they are trying to escape. My son didn't want to give up his sleep sack even after moving to his toddler bed, and that's ok.
Sleep sacks keep children cozy, warm and offer a sense of security. They can also make it harder for children to climb up or get their legs high enough to reach the crib rail, making it more difficult to get out of the crib.
But what happens when your child is still trying to escape the crib, even with a sleep sack and the mattress lowered to the safest position? It's time to send out the crib eviction notice!!!
It's go time!
When the time is right to move your child from the crib to a big kid bed, here are NINE simple steps you can take to make the transition go more smoothly for you and your child.
1. Timing is everything
Don't make the transition during a stressful time or other big life changes.
Even the timing of your child's age is an important factor. Many families need the crib for another sibling and rush the toddler out. Or maybe someone told you their child moved into the big kid bed at xyz age, and you are feeling the pressure too. Each child is so unique, and the age can vary.
Why is age an important factor? The longer you can keep your child safely in the crib, the more developmentally prepared they will be to move to a bed. They will have more impulse control and understanding and be able to stay in bed.
2. Talk, Talk, Talk
Express your expectations to your child around their new bed and bedtime. Share with them the safety aspects and the fun and exciting parts too. Maybe they are allowed to walk out of the room when they wake up in the morning, or perhaps you agree to walk into their room and do a morning puzzle together. Whatever works for your family is the right choice but share this with your child, so they can get excited about it and work on following the new rules.
3. Childproof the Room
Being out of the confinements of a crib and being in their room alone may be very exciting and even a bit overwhelming! Some kids want to get out of bed, play with all of their toys and maybe even climb furniture and wreak havoc.
Creating a safe room is so important to keep your child safe. Secure furniture to the wall, remove potential hazards like cords or lights. Maybe move toys and other distractions out of the room or securely in the closest, so your child isn't tempted to play during sleep times. This can be temporary until your child gets used to sleeping in their new bed.
4. Monitor the Situation
If you used a baby monitor before, I would still leave it up and potentially adjust for a wider room angle. It's a plus if you have a two-way talk and can ask your child through the speaker to please get back into bed or reassure them when they need a little extra support without having to physically return to their room.
Have your toddler be part of the decision-making. I don't mean offering them bedtime or no bedtime but realistic and straightforward questions like "would you like to read three books or do a puzzle together before bed?" or "Would you like these pajamas or those pajamas?" Here you are offering them control while limiting their options.
Additional ways to include your child could be asking them for help pick out new bedding or a new big kid lovey. It could also be asking them to help choose their reward chart stickers, morning reward (when they meet their sleep goals), or the order of their bedtime routine.
If you had a great bedtime routine going before this transition, keep it going! Offering consistency to your child's routine offers them security around bedtime. Let them have the same lovey's, read the same books, maybe even add a few extra minutes for more snuggles during this time, so they feel supported. If you didn't have a great bedtime routine before, now is the perfect time to start!
"Ok To Wake" lights can be a great tool to help your child understand when it's sleep time and when it's ok to get up and start the day. While most small children can't read a clock, they can understand a light changing color or a cute robot opening its eyes, both indications that it's ok to get up.
We use a color-changing light, and I see it being a game-changer for families every week. It's a very simple tool for huge success.
While we are talking about lights in your child's room, it's ok to offer a nightlight in their room, but remember to keep it very dim (if it casts a shadow, it's too bright) and using colors such as ambers, yellow and red are best for nighttime to promote sleep. You want to steer clear of blue, green, and purple colors that can hinder sleep.
8. Walk them back
Walk them back to bed and back to bed and back to bed as many times as they need! Seriously, this may feel like a gazillion times, but it can be a critical step to the process, especially for younger and determined children.
You can offer motivation like leaving the door open as long as they stay in bed quietly or a sticker reward chart. For older children, you can even offer something like a "hall pass" that can be used to get out of bed one time after bedtime to use the bathroom, get a drink of water, or one more hug & kiss. Your child can have the option of "cashing" it in or saving it for the morning and using it for something else like a morning cartoon, chocolate chip pancake breakfast, or morning snuggles in bed together.
9. Sleep Coaching
If you've worked on all of the above and feel like you still need sleep guidance, please reach out. I work with families 1:1 to create custom sleep plans to reach individual sleep goals. I focus on using the most gentle methods that will realistically work for your child in alignment with your parenting philosophies.
Thanks for reading. Sweet dreams!
Heidi Lovens is a Certified Baby and Toddler Sleep Coach and Founder of Everyday Lovens. She is the Western Regional Director of The Association of Professional Sleep Consultants. She specializes in educating sleepless parents on the fundamentals and importance of sleep.
Heidi has worked with infants, toddlers, multiples, disabled children, and families created through foster care and adoption. Over the past 18 years, Heidi has dedicated her career to caring for babies and young children. She uses her certification as a Sleep Coach and former Happiest Baby on the Block Educator to share gentle techniques with parents and caregivers.
Note: Guest blog posts are shared for informational and educational purposes and may not reflect the official policy or position of SlumberPod (parent company, Dovetail Essentials, LLC), our employees, and/or contractors.