The Big Question: When To Transition To The Toddler Bed?

It is the big question: WHEN to transition to the toddler bed?

Are you considering transitioning your toddler from the crib to a bed? Or are you considering transitioning your toddler from the family bed, to a bed in their room?  Whenever, it is time to make a big change in life, it is important to understand what the “why” or “motivation” is to make the change. With understanding the “why”, you can make a plan that will help you succeed in making that change. Why are you considering moving your little one out of the crib? Or what is the need behind transitioning them from co-sleeping to sleeping in their own room? Are you experiencing bedtime battles or nap resistance? Are you hoping that by involving your toddler in the selection of new bedding, it will entice them to sleep in the new bed all night long? Are you hoping for some sleep magic with the new bed?!? Do you have a little gymnast who is climbing out of the crib? Is safety now an issue and you think the only option is to move them out of the crib?

Even if you related to a “why” listed above there are reasons to wait a bit longer too. Let’s consider those first.


Reason #1 – Your child is under 2 ½ years of age

If your toddler is under 30-months of age it is likely that your child does not have the developmental ability to “stay put”. It is between 2 ½ and 3 years of age when they achieve the developmental milestone of understanding simple time concepts such as “last night” and “tomorrow” as well as have the ability to answer “where” questions. If you are going to transition them to a bed and they don’t yet have this ability then you will need to look at the whole room as a “crib” and make sure it is completely childproofed. For information on how to childproof their room read the blog How To Set-Up A Safe Toddler Sleep Environment. You also might need to adjust your expectations about where your child sleeps, as it is likely in the beginning of the transition you may find them sleeping on the floor near the door.

Reason #2 – Your child is experiencing a recent big life or worldview change

I often get a call that sounds like this: “We are expecting our second child in a month and want to get our 2-year old into a big bed before the baby arrives.” I do understand the desire to make sure that sleep is solid with the first child as parents anticipate the long nights ahead with an infant in the house. However, when there is a big change like a new sibling, often you will see a sleep regression, even if you don’t transition to a bed. It is important that your toddler doesn’t associate being put in the new bed as being “kicked out of the family bed” because new baby brother or sister has arrived. It is recommended that you make the transition to the new sleep space two to six months prior to baby’s arrival or four months after the baby’s arrival.

Starting preschool is another life change that can influence your child’s worldview. For some toddlers it takes a little extra time to be comfortable with peers and teachers. You might see an increase in night awakening and a strong need for comfort in the night upon starting preschool.

Just this last month, I had a family call me for help with transitioning their child to a big bed. Within the last 4-months this family had many life changes. They had moved, their toddler started preschool full-time and their new baby girl had arrived. They were frustrated because their toddler was regressing at bedtime and the transition to the big bed was not working. Ugh! That is such a difficult situation and I can imagine everyone is overwhelmed and exhausted. In this situation, I helped the parents create a “bridge sleep plan” as a short-term solution. We put more support into the bedtime and nighttime sleep for the toddler until, the preschool transition was complete and little sister was four months old.   At that point, they can revisit the big bed transition without co-sleeping.

Reason #3 – Your toddler is in the middle of a developmental milestone

Between 18-months and 2 ½ years of age there are a few significant milestones that can cause night awakenings, nap striking or bedtime battles. There is a link between developmental milestones and sleep regressions. Often, you will see these regressions right around the time they are experiencing a language burst. If that is the case, changing to a big bed isn’t going to be the magic answer to making it all better. I wish you could bribe your under 2 ½ year old toddler with pretty new blankets and sticker charts to help them behave like little ladies and gentlemen at bedtime but remember their little brains haven’t yet developed the ability to meet you in your logic. They might be clingier and need more of your emotional support as they are making this big leap. Sleep regressions are temporary, usually lasting 2-3 weeks. If you are past six weeks, it might be time to look at sleep coaching but not necessarily changing their sleep location. This can be especially true if your toddler takes a very long time to fall asleep. It would be better to stay in the familiar environment while getting their self-soothing skills established. You can look at transitioning to the big bed after things are back to a peaceful consistent place.

What if you have one of those reasons above to wait and keep them in the crib but your little gymnast is climbing out of the crib and now it is an issue of safety and they need to be moved to the bed. I echo your concern, if you are not able to stop the little crib-climber, it would be best to look at a floor mattress and childproof the room. Before you resolve yourself to giving up the crib, read my blog, Toddler Climbing Out Of The Crib Prevention Tips and give one of those tips a try to see if you can get the climbing out to stop.

Now that we have explored several reasons that support waiting before moving your little one to a bed, lets continue the discussion with reasons why you may want to make that transition.


Reason #1 – Safety issue with your crib-climber

If you have considered the tips in the blog mentioned above to keep your toddler from climbing out of the crib and maybe even have tried them but you still have a very talented crib-climber then it is time to make the transition.

Reason #2 – Your toddler is asking to sleep in a bed

Your 2 ½ -3 year old may have already arrived at the milestone of being able to “stay put” and they are asking to sleep in the bed instead of the crib. Then it is time to follow their lead and give them the support to take on this next big childhood challenge.

Reason #3 – Your toddler is 3 feet in height

Once your child is about 3 feet tall, the American Association of Pediatrics recommends that you transition your toddler out of the crib and on to a bed. The bed doesn’t need to be a conventional raised bed. You could take the crib mattress and put it on the floor. Source: American Academy of Pediatrics

If you have decide that yes, in fact, it is the right time to transition to a big kid bed then I recommend you take a look at Good Night Sleep Tight, Gentle Proven Solutions To Help Your Child Sleep Well And Wake Up Happy by Kim West with Joanne Kenen. The method is called the “Shuffle” and it is an excellent approach to coaching your toddler to sleeping in the new bed. The book provides step-by-step instructions and the chapters are broken out by age so you can read about how the method works with the specific age of your child. I have used the Shuffle in my practice for years with my clients who are coaching their toddlers to sleep in their new big bed. I have many happy parents and peaceful sleeping toddlers after using this method. You can download this book from my website.

Transitioning to a big bed will be rewarding for you as parents and for your toddler too! The key to remember is that it will take a committed effort over a few weeks, so keeping calm is essential to the process. It is important that both parents are on the same page. I have created a blog called Things to Consider When Transitioning To A Toddler Bed, with a list of questions parents can discuss as they consider how to meet their child’s needs during the transition to the new bed. If your toddler is one of those “sweet sensitive souls” and change is difficult for them, you might need to stay with them longer than you had anticipated while adjusting to the new big kid bed. For those of you who have the “strong vocal child”, you might have to listen to their protests and experience their boundary testing with empathy and equal consistent resolve. For these little go-getters it is especially important that you create an environment that is safe for them. The blog How To Set-Up A Safe Toddler Sleep Environment will give you the information you need to create that environment. I wish you a smooth transition in this next step of parenting and many nights of sweet sleep.

If you are looking for support on how to improve your baby’s sleep, twice a month Sleep Talking Tuesdays: FREE Q & A Sleep Support.  On the Sugar Night Night calendar, you can find information when this Q & A will be offered next or you can request a 30-Minute phone consultation with Jen Varela.