• Martha Lewis

3 Steps to easily switch your toddler from a crib to a bed 

When it comes to making the transition from a crib to a big-kid bed, there are two questions

that need to be answered. The first is when, and the second is how.

So the first question I will answer is WHEN you should switch your toddler from a crib to a bed.

First of all, it's key that your child already sleeps through the night in her crib. If she doesn't, then I recommend sleep training in the crib first. There are 2 reasons to sleep train in the crib:

1. If you’re about to start sleep training, there’s going to be a period of adjustment as your toddler learns to fall asleep independently. It's going to take a little getting used to. During this adventure, it’s comforting for your little one to have a familiar place to sleep. Her bedroom, her sheets, her lovey, her crib. Everything that can stay the same should stay the same until she’s mastered the skills to fall asleep on her own.

2. A toddler who is well rested and able to fall asleep independently is far less likely to leave her room at night, which is the single biggest issue that parents run into when they move their little ones out of the crib.

If you want to move your toddler into a bed because she's jumping out of her crib, I urge you to wait! Read my blog post about what to do if your toddler is jumping out of his crib.

So sleep train first. Then transition to a bed once she's used to sleeping independently. Trust me, it' much harder to sleep train in a bed than in a crib!

As for an ideal age, I recommend waiting to transition to a bed when she's at least 2 1/2 years old. Until then, children can't understand consequences as easily. It's also unsafe to give your young toddler access to the entire house where she can get into trouble or get hurt.

Also, there is absolutely no rush to get your toddler out of her crib and into a bed. I have seen plenty of 3-year olds sleeping happily in a crib. And none of the clients I’ve worked with have ever told me, “ I wish we’d transitioned her to a big kid bed earlier.”

You may be worried that your child will become too attached to her crib as she gets older. So then the transition will be even harder. It's a theory that I disagree with because I've never seen it happen.

Soooo, if your child is sleeping through the night and she's at least 2 1/2 (but ideally at least 3), here's the how to make the transition as smooth as possible.

Step 1: Preparation

You’re going to want to fill your little one in on what’s happening. Explain to her that she's going to be making the move into the new bed. Set a date, and let her know when the switch is going to happen. When you explain what’s happening to your toddler, make sure you do it with a positive spin.

So there’s a bit of tight-wire act to be performed here. On the one hand, you want to prepare your toddler for the switch. But at the same time, you don’t want to make a huge production out of it. Turning the whole thing into a monumental occasion puts a lot of

pressure on your child and is likely to stress her out a bit.

Bring your toddler along on the adventure of picking out her own bed. Giving your child some input into which bed she wants, what sheets she likes, what pillows feel the most comfortable, will obviously ensure that she gets something she likes. But it will also help her feel a sense of ownership over her new bed, which can work wonders in easing the transition.

Once the bed is put together and the sheets are on, you’ll want to keep the bed in the

same place the crib used to be. In fact, you’ll want to keep just about everything exactly

as it was in your toddler’s room except for the new bed. This is a big change, so try not to

make any unnecessary additional changes.

Step 2: Implementation

Don't alter the routine when you’re getting your toddler ready for bed on that first night. Don’t switch up bedtime. Don’t try to give her a new food at dinner. Keep everything as predictable and mundane as possible.

Again, you don’t need to make a production out of it. Tell her you’re proud of her, but try to

avoid statements like, “What a big girl you are now!” Toddlers are typically in a perpetual state of uncertainty about whether or not they want to do this whole “growing up” thing, and we want to keep things as low-key as we can.

So now that your toddler’s been put to bed and the light’s been turned out, there are a few

different scenarios that can play out:

• Scenario 1 - They adapt immediately to their new bed and they don’t test the rules

whatsoever. In this case, celebrate heartily. You are among the very lucky minority.

• Scenario 2 - Your little one seems to adapt immediately. But, after a week or two, starts

leaving their room, playing with their toys, or calling for mom to come back in several times

a night.

• Scenario 3 - Your toddler starts doing all of those things the very first night.

Step 3: Troubleshooting

The solution to the latter two of these scenarios is the same. Offer a warning when your

toddler demonstrates the unwanted behavior. Tell her what the consequence is going to be if she does it again. And then follow up on that consequence if and when she repeats it.

Chances are that you’ve already discovered a consequence that works on your toddler, and

I strongly suggest you keep that it place. Again, we don’t want anything to change except

for the bed. So keep doing whatever you’ve been doing up until now in regards to managing behavior.

In case you haven’t discovered an effective consequence yet, I find that taking the lovey away for a short period of time and closing the door all the way are both pretty functional without putting your toddler into hysterics. For each repeat offense, increase the length of time that the door stays closed or the lovey stays out of the bed.

That pretty much sums it up folks. Explain what’s happening, keep things light, set

the expectations and enforce the rules. It’s not always going to be easy. But it is pretty


One final thought to keep in mind... As much as we’re trying to keep this transition as stress-free and smooth as we can, remember this: You are the boss. It’s almost a mathematical certainty that your little one is going to buck a bit about this change. She’ll probably leave her room a lot, she’ll call for you to come in, ask for a glass of water. And more than anything, she'll say that she wants to go back to sleeping in her crib.

It’s crucial that you hold your ground every step of the way here, especially during the first few weeks. If you start bending the rules and allowing her to climb into bed with you, or letting her get back into the crib, this process is going to go on for months.

So harden your will, maintain an air of calm authority, and enforce the rules firmly and

consistently. It may make you feel like a bit of a tyrant at times. But it will get your little

one sleeping peacefully in her new bed a whole lot sooner.

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Martha Lewis, MS

Jackson Hole, WY



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