Toddlers have a mind of their own. I wish I could say I had a plan with each of my kids and transitioned them to a toddler bed when I decided the time was right. Unfortunately that has not been the case. Each of my kids has been different but when they were done with the crib and ready to transition to a toddler bed they sure let me know. Most of them choose a time that wasn’t convenient for me . . . like when I was 7 months pregnant with twins like my oldest daughter did. Toddlers know what they want though and I’ve learned that you can fight it but you usually won’t win. It’s best to follow your toddler’s lead and do things at their pace.
How do you know when it’s time to transition to a toddler bed? I have a few things I look for:
- Is your toddler climbing out of the crib? This can be a dangerous situation so one they learn to climb out I make the switch to a toddler bed asap. My oldest son liked to flip head first out of the crib. It only took one time seeing that before I knew I wasn’t going to play that game. My oldest daughter figured out how to climb out of her crib and onto her changing table. Finding her standing on top of the furniture freaked me out enough that I knew it was time to move on . . . even if I wasn’t ready.
- Are you having a new baby? Having a new sibling is hard enough without extra changes. If you are having a new baby in the next few months, sometimes it’s worth making the switch to a toddler bed well before the baby arrives, especially if your new baby is going to be needing the crib. This eliminates some of the jealousy that can come up when your toddler thinks the baby is taking his place in the crib.
- Is your toddler ready to potty train? Once you tackle potty training it’s time to give your toddler a little more freedom . . . at least enough so he can get out of his room and to the potty when he needs to. Developmentally, once your toddler is potty trained, he’s probably ready to make the transition from the crib. Most of my kids were not potty trained when I transitioned them from their crib so it isn’t the only factor to look for but if you have a young potty trainer it’s definitely something to consider.
- You have the time to make the transition. Any change takes some time to adjust to. Transitioning a toddler to a toddler bed is one that takes an extra dose of patience so it’s helpful if you are at a stage in life when you have the time to devote to helping your toddler make the transition (and encourage her to develop some healthy sleep habits at the same time). Life doesn’t always cooperate for this and sometimes your toddler is ready even when you don’t have the time (like when you are pregnant and on bedrest), so if you see a window and you think your toddler is ready I’d take it.
Making the Transition to a Toddler Bed
When you (or your toddler) has decided it’s time to make the switch to a toddler bed you can save yourself a lot of stress by putting in some time at the front end to help your toddler develop good habits.
Start by buying a good toddler bed . . . and by good I don’t necessarily mean stylish I mean one that is going to be functional for your toddler.
Some cribs transition into a toddler bed. I found most of those to be a bit high for a toddler and some didn’t have a side rail so kids can fall out (and have a long way to fall) so those may not be a great choice. We used a toddler bed from Delta Children’s with my last two kids and it worked really well. They have a great selection of popular characters so it’s fun for kids (and toddler beds are not permanent so don’t worry about decorating in a character theme) and they are easy for kids to get in and out of. You can read our full review of the Delta Children’s toddler bed here.
Stick to a routine. If there’s ever a time when you need a bedtime routine it’s when you are transitioning a toddler to a toddler bed. Change is stressful to anyone so, if you can, try and get your bedtime routine well established before you make the transition. The bedtime routine will cue your toddler in that it’s bedtime even if she isn’t getting in her crib like she is used to and will make the adjustment easier for her.
Be consistent. This is key. And it’s so, so hard to do sometimes. Whenever I switched my toddlers to a toddler bed I told my husband I was going to “Super Nanny” them. I haven’t watched the show in years but I still remember how firm she was about sticking to what she told kids was going to happen. Notice I said firm and not mean. There’s a major difference. Once kids realize they aren’t confined to a crib it can be hard to keep them in the toddler bed long enough to fall asleep.
When it’s time for bedtime, I go through the full bedtime routine (brush teeth, read stories, etc.) then tell my toddler exactly what is going to happen. I’ll say, “It’s time for bed now. I’m going to turn on your nightlight and tuck you in and you need to stay in bed and go to sleep.”
They never listen though.
I sit just outside my toddler’s view in the hallway and when I hear or see her get out of bed I walk in, calmly pick her up and put her back in bed. There’s no talking at this point. I already told her it was bed time. I try as much as possible not to make eye contact because I don’t want my toddler to get all worked up thinking she can change my mind.
The first few days I probably have to put my toddler back in bed 20 times. It feels overwhelming. I’m tempted to give in and just let her do whatever she wants but I know from past experience that if I don’t set good habits early I’m going to regret it. So I keep at it and the next night I might only have to put my toddler back in bed 10 times.
It usually takes 3 days of real consistency for my kids to “get it” and get back to normal sleep patterns in their new toddler bed. Your kids may not be as stubborn as mine are. Even if they are, eventually you’ll get through this.
Try a distraction. It’s hard for toddler’s to adjust to freedom when they are used to sleeping in a crib. Climbing out is such a novelty that it’s just way too tempting to do it. Distractions work wonders though. Try playing some music, white noise, or audio books for your toddler to listen to while she falls asleep. Add a fun new nightlight (we LOVE the Tranquil Turtle from Cloud b).
Be patient. Change is stressful for toddlers. Your toddler may act up in other ways while she adjusts to her new sleeping arrangements. Just recognize that she’s struggling and remind yourself that it won’t last forever.
Worried about Safety?
Safety is always a huge concern with toddlers. When they get a bit of freedom moving out of the crib they are usually tempted to explore a bit more so you may have to make some changes in their bedroom when moving your toddler to a toddler bed.
Use a baby gate. This is one of my favorite tricks when we transition to a toddler bed. With my oldest son, I lost so much sleep worrying that he was wandering the house in the middle of the night. I probably checked on him 10 times to make sure he was still in his room (and he was my easy child!). Save yourself the stress and put up a baby gate in your child’s bedroom door. I have heard of some parents locking the door from the outside to keep their child in but that makes me nervous because of the risk in a house fire.
Use a video baby monitor. I never used video baby monitors with my older kids but I’m obsessed with them now. I love being able to peek at my kids in the middle of the night or if they are taking a nap. With a toddler, I’d recommend a video baby monitor with a camera that you can rotate. Because toddlers move. My favorites are this little monitor from Vtech and the Levana Stella video monitor. My toddler likes that I can see her but if your toddler is anti-video monitor you may consider mounting it to the wall so it’s out of reach.
Toddler-proof the room. You’ve probably already baby proofed most of your house, but is it toddler-proof. I shared a few tips for toddler-proofing over on the Right Start blog. Since your toddler will be left unsupervised in her bedroom you’ll really want to look through everything. Make sure the electrical sockets have covers on them. Anchor all heavy furniture to the wall (or take it out completely). Clear the clutter from the room as much as possible. Not only will having fewer toys in the room help your toddler get to sleep since she won’t be as distracted but you won’t be as likely to miss any choking or other safety hazards.
What tips do you have for transitioning your toddler to a toddler bed?
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