When Should a Toddler Sleep in a Big Bed?
Of the many childhood transitions, moving from a crib to a bed is an important rite of passage. When should a toddler sleep in a big bed? Here are some tips for timing it right and making it a smooth move.
Apr 21st, 2022 •
Sometime after your child’s first birthday, you may begin to think about how long they will sleep in a crib or in bed with you. The move to an independent bed can happen anytime within the toddler years or later. To give you an idea, 90% of children 18 months old are still sleeping in a crib; at 24 months, 80% are still in a crib; and at 36 months 40%. So, at three years, nearly 50% of children are still using a crib.
There is no exact science regarding the right time to move your child, and in fact, some children move themselves, but generally the change will take place between 18 and 36 months of age: sometimes a little sooner; sometimes a little later. Some experts think later is better and recommend waiting until your child is three or older. What determines the right time for a transition from the crib or family bed depends on a number of variables related to emotional readiness and safety.
When to Make the Move
Some parents are more comfortable waiting for their child to express an interest in moving to a big bed, others need to move their child, ready or not, for a variety of reasons. The most common consideration for deciding when the move should take place includes the following.
When It Is Not Safe Anymore
When your child is physically adroit enough to start climbing out of the crib, it is time to think about moving them. This can happen early with a bigger child, but for sure by the time they get close to the 3 foot tall mark they are able to get themselves out of the crib.
My youngest son was tall enough by a year to hang his head over the crib rail and flip himself out. If this starts happening, move the crib mattress to its lowest level; this might buy you some time. But, when your little climber or flipper is catapulting themselves out, it is time to ditch the crib.
They Want a Big Bed
Many precocious two year olds are aware enough of their surroundings to question why other children (siblings, cousins, friends) sleep in big beds while they are still in a crib. They may express their readiness by showing displeasure with the crib or asking when they are getting a big kid bed. Your child may present this natural opening, so you can think about and discuss the move to a big bed.
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Just because they express interest, however, does not mean it is time to move. In conjunction with that interest, assess your child’s ability to handle non-physical boundaries. Can they stay in bed without the confines of the crib railings? Will they feel safe? Their interest signifies it is a great time to start working on the transition to a big kid bed, but you don’t have to rush it or do it all at once. Talk to your child, and wait to see if their interest continues over an extended period like several weeks, then move forward.
Some parents and experts like to support potty training with the ease of getting in and out of a big bed. No need for lifting over the rails; children can get up and go on their own. This expedites the time it takes to get to the bathroom and makes for less accidents. If your child is expressing an interest in using the potty, or you think they are ready to be trained, you might want to consider a move to a big bed first.
An Imminent Arrival
If you are pregnant or adopting, and will need the crib for a new brother or sister, it might be time to move your toddler to that big bed. There are a couple of schools of thought about this. First, that it is best to move your toddler and get them used to a big bed well in advance of a younger sibling joining the mix. Recommendations vary, but at least 6 weeks and preferably two months before the new arrival.
Some experts think that after a baby comes can work as well. Most newborns sleep in a bassinet for the first few months, during which time your child will have the opportunity to bond with their younger sibling, and you can work on the idea of the big bed. This later scenario is especially preferable if children are spaced close together, and your toddler is on the younger side.
How to Transition Your Toddler to Sleeping in a Big Bed
You’ve decided the time is right, now what? If only it was as easy as buying a twin bed and telling your little one, “Sweetie, you are now going to sleep in this big bed.” That, however, can have disastrous consequences and most children need some help with the transition. Here are things you can do to prepare your child and ensure a smooth move to the big bed:
- Start introducing the idea: Talk to your child about moving to a big bed. This can be done directly or indirectly. You can have a discussion with them if they are old enough to grasp abstract concepts, or you can be less direct, planting the idea by pointing out other older children’s big beds. If you have a child who is younger, between 12-18 months, you may want to communicate indirectly with references to others having their own big beds.
- Get things ready: Decide on a bed, get supplies, and add any additional childproofing the room might need. You may have a crib that converts to a toddler bed; you may want to purchase a new toddler or twin bed. Whatever you decide, move the new bed into the room while your child is still sleeping in their crib if possible, this helps them get used to it. Get all needed supplies like a good mattress protector, a side rail, and bedding. You can improvise with a mattress on the floor or use a swim noodle as a guard rail to keep your toddler safe from falling out of bed. And while we are on the topic of safety, this is the perfect time to scrutinize their room for any additional needed childproofing. Your child will now have the ability to move around their room at night, is there anything that might be a potential hazard?
- Social stories and books: Stories about changing to a big bed help children process the idea indirectly when they are too young to process it directly. Creating a social story for older toddlers, and books about the transition for all ages, are great support. For the creative mind you can take pictures of your child’s room, their new bed, and download pictures of other children sleeping in big beds; create your own personalized social story to read to your child. If you would rather purchase existing books on moving to a big bed, try Big Kid Bed, by Leslie Patricelli or Your Own Big Bed by Rita M. Bergstein.
- Do it slowly: Let your child get used to the new bed. There is nothing wrong with taking several weeks to fully move from a crib to a big bed. Start by having your child take naps in the bed, read stories on the bed, and play on the bed. Don’t put pressure on your child to sleep in the new bed as soon as it is up, unless they really want to. Even then, if it is too scary backtrack and let them sleep in the crib again for a few weeks. Talk about getting it “all ready,” and let them pick out new sheets, help make the bed, and test out guard rails. Have them show off the bed to visiting grandparents and reinforce how proud you are and what a great job they are doing getting ready to sleep in a big bed.
- Keep the same routines: It is very important to keep the same routines while you are transitioning your child to a big bed. This means that they still get the same stories, the same bedtime prayers or tucking in. Make sure they have their favorite stuffed animal or blanket. Keep bedtime the same and don’t attempt a big transition if there is a lot of change happening at home or things are unsettled. If your household is out of routine with relatives visiting, preschool starting after summer break, remodeling, or your child has been sick, wait until things are more settled.
- Ritualize it: Children love ritual, whether it is a dream catcher above their bed, a nightly saying like “sleep tight, don’t let the bed bugs bite,” a talisman to keep the monsters away, or a stuffed guard bear that you remind to watch over your child in their new bed, these rituals help make their big bed a safe place to sleep.
When should a toddler sleep in a big bed? The transition to a big bed can happen at any point during the toddler years. It may be predicated on your child’s maturity or your need for the crib for another child. Assess when is the right time for your family, figure out the new bed and bedding, put in safety rails and additional childproofing, and start getting your child used to the idea. Keep a positive attitude, reinforce what a good job your child is doing, and the transition will be easier than you think.
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