How (and when) to transition to a toddler bed

How (and When) to Transition to a Toddler Bed

27 November 2020 • Words by Alesandra Dubin 3 mins

Some kids would happily stay in their cozy cribs indefinitely. Others try to escape at the first chance they get. But whether your kid loves or hates crib life, the time will eventually come to make the transition to a bigger bed. And it can be daunting. This big milestone can pose emotional as well as physical challenges for kids and parents alike. Here are our tips for how and when to make the transition to a toddler bed— and how to do it as seamlessly as possible.

When should I transition to a toddler bed?

With apologies to binary thinkers, there’s no exact right moment to transition to a toddler bed. The general rule of thumb is to move your kid into a toddler bed before they’re able to climb over the crib’s railings and get into danger. 

Typically, this happens between 18 months and around three years old, or when kids reach close to three feet tall. According to Happiest Baby founder, Dr. Harey Karp, more than 90 percent of 18-month-old toddlers sleep in a crib; about 80 percent at two years; and 40 percent by three years old. Of course, all babies are different and some will attempt daring escapes sooner. That will be your cue to bring out the toddler bed. 

On the other end of the spectrum, some kids may feel safe and comfortable in the crib. And if that’s the case, there’s no need to rush the process. Do note that babies might feel more emotionally attached to the crib the longer they stay in this sleeping arrangement, making the transition to a toddler bed more challenging when the time does come.

How to choose your toddler’s first bed

You may already have a crib that converts to a toddler bed. If so, you’re good to go after a few turns of the screwdriver. Whether you’re converting your crib or transitioning to a bigger bed, try moving the crib mattress onto the floor as an interim step. If you’re getting a brand new big-kid bed, make it irresistible. Otherwise-reluctant kids may be more eager to make the transition when their new big-kid bed looks like a racecar, a rocket ship, or a castle. Let kids deck out their new accommodation with their own bedding choices and accessories; this is both enticing and empowering.

Whatever you select, make sure it’s a bed that’s sturdy enough to stand up to toddler treatment. It should be low to the floor, so kids can get in and out easily, and don’t have far to go if they fall out. To confirm safety standards, check your bed and any rails for a sticker specifying certification from the Juvenile Products Manufacturers Association (JPMA)

Given that a toddler bed is just an in-between step before a bigger bed will be necessary, a budget-friendlier alternative is to skip right to a twin bed instead. Installing guardrails will keep your toddler from falling out. (Don’t look for the JPMA sticker on twin beds, as the org only certifies toddler sizes.

How can I make the transition to a toddler bed smoother?

Let your kid get used to the new sleeping arrangements by making the bed a place for quiet playtime as well as naps throughout the day. The transition will be gentler if kids have a positive association with sleep. Make bedtime comforting by establishing a bedtime routine. This might include a soothing bath, a dimly lit and calm environment, and plenty of cuddle time. 

Add to the dreamy environment with a soothing soundtrack; the Moshi sleep app has magical bedtime stories and meditations made just for kids at bedtime. These ongoing rituals help kids feel safe, loved, and anchored, even amid a period of transition. But even with all possible preparation, this transition may be rough for the whole family. So, manage your expectations. You might find your kid creeping around for hours, exploring their newfound freedom, so make sure to childproof any accessible areas of the home and put up a baby gate to limit movement if necessary.

In some cases, your kid just might not be ready and might fight the transition, even ending up back in the crib for a while longer. But not to worry: When the time is right, you’ll all get there!

For more ways to help kids ease gently into sleep at bedtime, try these natural sleep aids or other tried and true calming techniques.

Alesandra Dubin

Alesandra Dubin is a Los Angeles-based lifestyle writer with a focus on parenting, wellness, and travel. Her work has appeared in Business Insider, Good Housekeeping, Parents, TODAY, Best Life, and countless other outlets.