how to transition to the toddler bed

How to Peacefully Transition to the Toddler Bed (It might be easier than you think!)

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Nothing says “I’m a big kid now” quite like transitioning from a crib to a toddler bed. It’s also perfectly normal for you (and your child) to have some big feelings about this transition. It is a major milestone in your child’s development.

Below you’ll learn when to do the bed transition, as well as how to prepare yourself, your child, the room, some favorite supplies, and some excellent tools to ease everyone’s anxiety. Preparation is key when it comes to any big transition, so put some thought into when would be a good time for your family to make the switch. 

when to start toddler bed transition

When to start the transition?

Did you know that one of the most common causes of toddler sleep problems is moving out of the crib too soon?! I know, it sounds so backwards. However, according to baby and toddler sleep expert Cara Dumaplin (founder of Taking Cara Babies), 

"If your baby struggles with sleep, transitioning out of the crib is rarely “the fix.” In fact, it usually makes the issues WORSE. Before 2 ½ years old, most little ones simply do not have the developmental capacity to understand the statement: “You need to stay in bed.” I know it can be exciting to create a “big boy” or “big girl” room, but keeping your baby in the crib just a bit longer will actually make the transition much easier."

Cara actually recommends transitioning to the toddler bed around age 3. Keep reading here for more signs that it’s time to transition to the big kid bed.

Our son actually never climbed out of his crib, but by age 3.5 he was getting too big to stay in the crib any longer (hello 90th percentile height). Therefore, we embarked on the epic quest known as “How to Transition to the Toddler Bed”. Honestly, I was much less anxious for this transition compared to potty training. You can read all about our bizarre potty learning journey right here.

preparing adult for toddler bed transition

Preparing the Adult for the Bed Transition

Now, you may not want to hear this, but transitioning your kid to the toddler bed will most likely impact his/her sleep (and therefore your sleep as well). It could be anywhere from a few nights up to a few weeks. Fear not, though, sleep shall resume once again! Just keep in mind that some extra patience (and morning coffee) will be required as you all move through this transition together. 

For me it’s always helpful to read about any major transition, like switching to the big kid bed, ahead of time. This allows me to feel prepared, calm and ready to guide my child peacefully and as stress free as possible. Make sure you do what you need to do to feel equipped to lead your family along this momentous journey, as well.

You’ll also want to toddler-proof your child’s room, now that they will have free rein throughout the night. Tuck window blind strings out of reach, put child locks on windows, make sure toys do not have choking hazards, strap furniture to walls, etc. 

Fave supplies for the toddler bed transition

  • Twin bed frame (We opted for a full size twin bed instead of a toddler bed so that it’ll last much longer. However, if your child is still very young, then a toddler size bed may make more sense for you. Here’s a nice, neutral toddler bed frame.)
  • Bed rail (will help keep your kid from falling out of the new bed, though they seem to find other ways to do so.)
  • Baby gate for doorway (If you don’t want late-night wandering around the house. I also recommend a simple one that doesn’t swing open, especially if your child has already mastered how to use those like mine did. Another option is a door strap lock which is positioned high up on the door, away from curious little hands.)
  • White noise machine (thee holy grail for great sleep. We seriously will never sleep without one ever again.)
  • Ok-To-Wake clock (game changer for helping your kid stay in their room until you’re ready to start the day.)
  • Kid’s weighted blanket (Our most favorite item!! Calming, soothing and helps kid stay in bed until they fall asleep. Choose a blanket weight that’s approximately 10% of your child’s body weight.)

Preparing the Child for the bed transition

The majority of toddlers usually thrive on routine and consistency, so you’ll want to prepare your kid ahead of time for what exactly will happen during this toddler bed transition. Additionally, toddlers LOVE to help adults. Put that energy to good use and invite them to participate as much as possible each step of the way. 

Here’s what worked for us

  1. Allow your child to choose a date on the calendar to say bye-bye to their crib. (Pro-tip: only print the current month, not the whole year 😉.)
  2. Read books about the big kid bed transition. (This is one of our faves, and here’s another one.)

3. Create a social story featuring your own child, and tailor it specifically to your exact situation (nothing fancy, just draw stick figures and familiar objects). Some things to include,

    1. Why they’re switching beds
    2. How your child might feel
    3. Everything else will stay the same (night routine, lovey…)
    4. Positives about the new bed
    5. What to do if wake up during night, what to do in morning
    6. How your child will feel after sleeping in new bed

4. Invite child to help assemble new bed. (This helps them become more familiar with the bed so that it’s less scary and less new.)

big kid bed transition

5. Put toddler bed in room next to crib a few days early. (I learned this pro-tip from Susie at Busy Toddler!!) This again helps with familiarity, starting to “claim their territory”, and learning the rules of the bed (if they’re allowed to jump on it or not, etc.)

6. Allow child to CHOOSE which bed to sleep in during the last few days leading up to the “bye bye crib” day. (This helps your child feel more in control, test out the new bed, still have the safety net of the crib if they’re really not loving it, and helped immensely with our child’s anxiety.) – Much to my surprise he chose to sleep in his big kid bed from the minute we put it in his room! 

7. Practice with the Ok-To-Wake clock. (Remind them over and over that you’ll come to get them when their clock turns GREEN. They can read books, play, sit on bed, etc while they wait, but screaming at the top of their lungs will not be an option 🙃)

8. Set out some cheerios for any early morning hangry vibes. (Also learned this from Susie at Busy Toddler, she calls it “The Offering”). Of course, only if you feel comfortable doing so

First Night in the Big Kid Bed

When it’s time for the first night in the new bed, follow your same nightly routine leading up to sleep time. The first night will probably take some extra time to settle in. My son took for-ev-er to physically get in the bed that first night. He needed lots of reassurance, reminders that we’ll still check on him on the camera, and that he could go back to the crib if he didn’t like the bed (just for those first few nights). Then finally, once he physically laid down and we put the weighted blanket on top, he was out like a light. (I swear, this weighted blanket is MAGICAL! Worth every penny.)

The second night went much quicker than the first. Again lots of reassurance, reminders of what to do and what’s staying the same as always, sharing how much we believed in him, etc.

Your kid may get out of bed once you leave the room, they may play and read and jump around, AND they will eventually sleep (whether on or off the bed). Remember, it’s all normal and it’s all fine. The novelty will wear off and they will realize that the bed is much more comfortable than the floor (or not, and that’s fine, too).

Bye-bye to the crib

On the child-appointed “Bye-Bye to the crib” day, invite your child to help disassemble their crib. You can share fond memories of the crib, give it a hug, give thanks for all the times you used it, and anything else you want to do to celebrate this big day. Your child may have some big feelings about this, and that’s ok. Hold space, allow the feelings, and validate that it’s ok to feel sad, etc. Plus, remind your child how proud of them you are, and that they’re learning how to be a big kid.

One last tip

On the days when your kiddo is way too wound up at bedtime and they need some help settling down, I highly recommend using some nighttime routine cards. You can either print some pre-made ones (these are my fave for their simplicity) or make some yourself. For added durability I’d suggest printing on cardstock, laminating and adding them to a binder ring. (P.S. Here’s my fave, cheap laminator.)

These cards put your kid in control (which they LOVE). They also help your kid visualize and internalize their nightly routine, thus practicing ownership and responsibility. I don’t know about you, but my kid loves telling us what to do. I’ve found that having something visual and tactile to carry around with us as we go about the routine really helps him focus and calm his body in preparation for sleep. 

In conclusion

There you have it, how to joyfully and peacefully transition to the toddler bed! We covered when to start the big kid bed transition, as well as how to prepare yourself, your child and the room. Plus, you learned about my favorite supplies for this big milestone and excellent ways to reduce everyone’s anxiety. You got this!

Your turn!

Did I miss anything? What’s your best advice for families approaching the big kid bed transition? Tell us in the comments!

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