Don’t Lose Sleep Over Transitioning to a Toddler Bed — Follow These Expert-Approved Tips
It happened. Maybe you woke up one morning to a loud bang as your toddler finally discovered how to climb out of the crib. Maybe your toddler stopped sleeping through the night. Maybe you have another baby on the way and you need that crib back ASAP. No matter what your reason, the end result is the same: you want to transition your little one to a toddler bed!
Soon-to-be-parents expect a newborn to not sleep through the night. There are tons of information, products, online support groups, and more to help tired parents during this time. But while that stage is blessedly short, toddler sleeping habits are no walk in the park either. From toddler sleep regressions to nap strikes to sleeping on the floor, figuring out how to get your kid to go to sleep is practically a part-time job.
Luckily, it is possible to transition to a toddler bed — I've done it twice! — and with a few solid strategies in place, your child will be sleeping in a big kid bed in no time (and you'll be sleeping much more soundly, too). POPSUGAR talked to pediatricians and child sleep specialists to get expert tips on the best ways to transition to a toddler bed. Read their advice in the slides ahead, and don't forget to breathe!
Transition at the Right Time
Timing depends on your child's physical skills, as you'll want to make the transition before your tot learns how to escape the crib, said Harvey Karp, M.D., pediatrician and bestselling author of Happiest Toddler on the Block. He recommends putting the mattress on the crib all the way down after your child's first birthday and padding under the crib with a carpet or mat.
"Generally speaking, if your toddler seems like she's plotting her first crib escape, or you've caught her vaulting commando-style over the railing, it's probably time for her to move to a bed," Dr. Karp told POPSUGAR. "If you're pregnant, it's usually best to move your toddler out of the crib a few months before the new baby arrives . . . but beware: if you move your toddler to a bed and the next week move the baby into her old crib, your tot may feel jealous — like you gave her beloved possession to the new intruder!"
If your child hits 3 and hasn't launched an escape or welcomed a sibling, you can begin to transition then. Both of my mini climbers escaped their crib prisons before their second birthday.
Use Books and Examples to Prepare Your Toddler
Give your toddler, no matter what age, some time to think about his or her new bed before moving it in the room. "You can start reading books about big-kid beds with story characters they are familiar with," Hina J. Talib, MD, pediatrician and adolescent medicine sub-specialist practicing at The Children's Hospital at Montefiore in New York City (and a mom to a 5- and 3-year-old!), told POPSUGAR. "If they are curious about it and ask to read these books over and over, they may well be ready."
She also mentioned talking about older siblings, relatives, and friends who have transitioned to a big kid bed in a positive way, and even showing your toddler pictures of other kid's big beds to help them process this change.
Validate Your Toddler’s Feelings
Transitioning to a toddler big is a huge step in your little one's life, so be open and honest with them. "Even when they're itty bitty, talking to them is crucial for all transitions!" Andrea De La Torre, owner and founder of Baby Sleep Answers, baby sleep consultant certified through the Institute of Pediatric Sleep and Parenting, and mom of two boys, told POPSUGAR.
De La Torre suggests telling your toddler about each step of the process, why they are transitioning, and what the exciting factors are. If they are old enough, ask them how they feel about this. "Validate those feelings and then explain the need for the transition," she said. "This is so important, not only to make your little feel important, but also to make the transition smoother!"
Baby-Proof Your Toddler’s Room
Since your toddler will likely be in their room alone, with free rein, for the first time, you'll want to double check that everything is baby-proofed. "Kid-proof the room and your house so if they get up in the middle of the night, they won't get hurt. Make sure you find the right spot for their toddler bed, being mindful to keep away from windows, blind cords, draperies, radiators, heat registers, and wall or floor lamps," Gaetana Keogh, director and nursery advisor for Evolur, a company that makes luxurious nursery collections, convertible cribs, nursery storage, and more, and mother of four kids, told POPSUGAR.
Add a Baby Gate or a Lock
My 2-year-old would constantly get out of bed until I installed a lock on his door. Once he realized he wouldn't be able to roam the house, he started sleeping in his bed.
Dr. Karp also suggests using a gate or lock to keep your toddler in their room. "Say something like, 'Honey, this is Mr. Gate! Mr. Gate will help you stay in the room so at bedtime, after we sing and read and say night-night, then we'll close Mr. Gate, and he will help you stay safe and happy in your room all night.'"
Give Your Toddler as Much Control as Possible
My toddlers like to be in control of their worlds, so I try to let them make the decisions as much as I can. De La Torre recommends letting your child choose what color sheets they like and what stuffed animal they want to sleep with, as well as asking them what would make them more comfortable in the new bed. "If you can, shop with them for fun bed objects, new room decorations, a cool OK-to-Wake clock, and more," she added. "Just a little something that can make the transitions exciting for them!"
Spend a Little Extra Time in Their Room Before Bed
Rather than just putting your child in their new bed and letting them adjust on their own, Rachel Mitchell, founder of My Sweet Sleeper, certified pediatric and maternity sleep consultant, former night nanny, and mom of six, recommends spending time with your toddler in their room before bed. Help them get their bed ready, put their bedding and stuffies on the bed together, anything else to help them feel comfortable in their new space.
"Parents may need to plan to spend a bit longer in the child's room during the nap and bedtime process than they normally would just to help the child feel comfortable, as sometimes the newfound freedom of being in a bed can be difficult for the child," Mitchell told POPSUGAR.
Do the First Transition at Night
On the day you decide to transition your toddler to their big bed, give them their regularly scheduled nap in the crib. Then, move their toddler bed in before bed. "I also recommend that the first sleep that happens in their toddler bed be at night when their sleep drive is higher and melatonin is working in their favor," Mitchell said.
Don’t Make Too Many Transitions at Once
Did you recently move? Did your toddler recently start using the potty seat or start a new daycare? This is not a good time to adjust to a toddler bed. Dr. Talib recommends waiting at least a month before or after big-family events or toddler transitions, "so you can give this transition your full attention."
Expect an Adjustment Period
Unless you are very, very lucky (and even then, I'm not totally convinced it's possible), there will be an adjustment period when transitioning your toddler. Expect it. Prepare for it. Embrace it! "Some children transition really easily and for others it takes a bit more time so parents should remain consistent in their approach which will help their child feel safe and secure," Mitchell told POPSUGAR.
If your child regularly gets out of their new bed, whether in search of you or not, try not to stress. "It is very normal for the toddler to repeatedly climb out of bed to look for the parents," Leah Alexander, MD, FAAP, pediatrician and medical consultant at Mom Loves Best, told POPSUGAR. "Rails or guards are helpful to prevent the child from rolling out of bed while asleep, but they do not prevent an awake toddler from leaving the bed. During the transition period, it may be necessary to repeatedly return the child to his or her toddler bed. Remaining as calm as possible helps to reassure the toddler that it is safe to sleep in the new bed. Positive encouragement for remaining in bed and avoiding co-sleeping can help shorten the transition period."
She also explained that every child will accept the transition differently, and the process will take time. That's OK!
Keep Putting Your Toddler Back in Bed
For a while, it felt like the first hour after bedtime was spent putting my toddler back in his bed. This is exhausting — but so important! Mitchell suggests that as you're walking your toddler back to their room, remind them it's time to sleep. Parents can also sit on their child's bed and rub their back, remind them they are safe, and tell them goodnight again.
"This will certainly be a test of patience as you walk your child back to their room for the 25th time, but after enough consistency your child will learn to respect this boundary," Mitchell said. "If it gets to the point that the child is completely overtired and parents are spending hours walking their child back to their room, it may be a better option just for that night to have the parent(s) stay in the child's room until they fall asleep and then try again the next night."
Give Them a Visual Reminder
When toddlers won't stop waking up in the middle of the night, try getting them a light alarm clock or another visual reminder to help them know when it's morning. Dr. Talib had success with a traffic light-themed alarm clock with her 5-year-old. "We don't use the sound, but the red light switching to a green light to indicate when it is time to come out of their bed or bedroom in the morning has been a very helpful visual cue," she said. "Our son loves to watch the exact moment it switches and after it does, will start singing good morning songs."
Offer Praise and Rewards
Let your little one know how proud you are of him or her when they sleep through the night in their new bed. "Praise them for practicing good bedtime routines maybe with a sticker chart and by the end of the week reward them with a special treat," said Keogh.
Comfort Your Child During Nightmares or Illness
If your toddler has a nightmare or is sick, it's definitely OK to go in their room and comfort them. Don't expect them to keep up the same routine if they're scared or not feeling good. "If a child is having night terrors or nightmares or other sleep challenges, they need your presence and support at night," said Dr. Talib.
Discuss any concerns you have with your pediatrician, so they can make sure your transition process is going smoothly and safely, or reach out to a child sleep specialist for more tips.