The transition from crib to toddler bed is one many toddlers make due to either necessity (parents need the crib from a new baby), hope for better sleep (child who is bed-sharing with parents or struggling to sleep in the crib), climbing out of the crib, or because they have simply outgrown their pack n play or sleeping space. While the transition goes smoothly for some toddlers, it's a huge adjustment for others.
After moving to a toddler bed, one of my kids never tried to get out of bed or thought to leave his room, and the other needed to be secured in her room with a lock because she always tried to escape. One night, when I forgot to secure her door, an hour after I put her to bed, she raided my nail polish and painted her nails, and proudly came to the living room to show me!
These eight tips will help you make the toddler bed transition smoothly.
1. Get the timing right. This is the first and most important point. If a child transitions to a toddler bed too early, they will likely not have the capability to understand staying put and staying safe. Many kids aren't ready until at least 3 years old (or older!), although some may be fine before 3. Also, try not to make the transition at the same time as other big changes in your toddler's life, such as a new sibling being born or starting at a new school.
2. If possible, sleep train before moving to the toddler bed. Sleep issues aren't likely to just go away once a child moves to a toddler bed. They may even get worse. If your child is not sleep trained yet, and is still in a crib, it is recommended to make sure your child can get to sleep independently and sleep all night before you transition to a toddler bed. While it is possible to sleep train in a toddler bed, it's more challenging, and sleep issues can become worse with the freedom of a toddler bed. Once your toddler is at the right age and is sleeping 10.5 - 12 hours a night and going to sleep independently, they will likely continue to sleep well after transitioning to a toddler bed.
3. Make it special. Choose special blankets and sheets for your child, to help build excitement about the toddler bed. You can let your child help pick out their new bedding. A new comfort item, such as a blankie or stuffed animal. Spend time playing in their room during the day, so they have positive associations with their bedroom.
4. Keep your schedule and bedtime routine the same. Don't make any big changes in the schedule (such as dropping a nap) when you transition to a toddler bed. Keep bedtime the same time each night, and keep your bedtime routine consistent.
5. Make sure the room is safe. You can use toddler safety rails on the sides of their bed to keep them from falling out of bed. Put straps or anchors on heavy furniture so it can't fall on them. Use outlet covers and safety locks on dresser drawers. These can be used on bi-fold closet doors, and these can be used on pull-down door handles. For regular door knobs, you can use a child safety lock such as this, or a Door Monkey to keep your child safely inside the room. You can use a light switch cover like as this to cover the light switch. Make sure cords, baby monitors, cords for the blinds or curtains, sound machines are out of reach.
6. Talk to them about it. Before the transition, tell them they're going to sleep in a big bed. Be very positive, but be careful not to be too dramatic about it, or it could actually cause more anxiety than they would have had otherwise. When I moved both of mine to their toddler beds, I told them what was going to happen, but didn't make it too big of an ordeal, and they both transitioned easily.
7. Start in the new bed at bedtime (not nap time). Do your regular bedtime routine, lay them down in their bed awake, tell them you love them, and tell them it's time to go to sleep and you'll see them in the morning. Then walk out of the room and secure the room so they can't get out. You can use a video baby monitor to make sure they're safe. Don't linger in their room, lay in bed with them, or stay until they are completely asleep. Your child may stay in the bed and go right to sleep, or may get curious with the newfound freedom and experiment with walking around the room. Don't go back in or engage with them too much unless they're unsafe.
8. Don't start any new habits or make too many changes. I don't recommend making too many changes to your child's room (other than extreme baby proofing). Some sources on the internet recommend adding new nightlights to the room when you switch to a toddler bed, but that can be too stimulating for your child. If your child is already sleeping well in their room, no need to add anything different, like new lights. If toys are too stimulating and your child wants to stay up and play with toys, you can remove the toys or hide them in the closet at night.
Your child may need a few days to adjust to the new bed, and may struggle with bedtime or nighttime wakes in the first few days. Be patient and stay consistent. Resist the urge to lay down with them or start new habits. It will get better!
I don't recommend attempting to do a very gradual transition, which is what some sources online recommend: where the parent lays with the child in bed, or pats their back to get them to sleep, or lets the child sleep in the toddler bed part of the night and the parent's bed the other part. Those things can be confusing for your child, and you'd just be setting them up for new habits you would have to break later. I would recommend starting the way you want them to go on. It's ok to do naps in the toddler bed right after they make the transition. It could be even more confusing if you try to do nighttime sleep in the toddler bed and naps still in the crib or a parent's bed. Toddlers need consistency, clear boundaries, and strong limits.
If your child has trouble staying in bed in the mornings, you can use a toddler alarm clock that is set to go off at a certain time each morning.
If your child goes through a major sleep regression or has a lot of trouble with getting to sleep at night, nighttime wake-ups, or early morning wake-ups after you make the transition to a toddler bed, I would love to talk with you and help you work through those issues.