Crib to Toddler Bed | Tips for a Drama-Free Transition
I used to rock my daughter to sleep every night. Each time was a precious and quiet moment for us both. Our routine started with a nighttime bath and then a bedtime story in a rocking chair. I'd dim the lights and watch her eyes flutter then shut as she drifted off to sleep.
As she got older, I began to wonder if she should still be sleeping in a crib, but then why mess up a good thing? Everyone in the house was sleeping at night...and soundly. That's my first piece of advice: If it works, don't rush to change it until it doesn't work anymore. You will know when it is time.
The first clue came was when I was awakened out of a deep sleep to a clanking in A's room. I rushed in to find that she climbed up and over her crib. She was trying to bust through the baby gate that we used to keep the dog out. Luckily that stopped her long enough for us to intervene.
The second clue came about more slowly. As she got longer and heavier, the transfer from rocking chair to crib became clumsier. Our routine often resulted in “starting the process all over again” because she would wake up and cry. This is when we become really serious about the big bed talks.
Here was my strategy:
- Ease into it over time and one conversation at a time to give yourself leeway if there seems to be a lot of anxiety. Adjust your timeline if necessary.
- Add a little enticement with some swag such as cool night lights, new bedding, and perhaps a new stuffed animal. Make a special shopping trip out of it.
- Add white noise like a basic box fan or a sound machine.
- Keep the toddler bed in the same place as the crib to avoid confusion when your child wakes up in the morning or to avoid any middle-of-the-night outcries.
- Make the change over the weekend or when you have some time off from work to accommodate for wake-ups through the night.
- Sun-blocking curtains are useful for those long summer days when the sun sets late and rises early.
- Set a deadline to put your plan in motion, but don’t worry if you need to adjust it.
On deadline day we removed one side of her convertible crib, lowered the mattress, and presto! we had a toddler day bed. A convertible crib works nicely because you can use the same mattress and frame, giving your child a secure feeling of something they are already used to.
Now we are in the process of moving from a toddler bed to a full size bed. I will use the same strategy, but this time I'll throw a mommy/daughter slumber party on deadline day to ease the new anxiety.
I am not going to lie—I was kind of a failure at transitioning my oldest to a toddler bed. I decided to do it in order to give the crib to my newborn when she was ready to leave her basinet. My two are only 16 months apart and looking back, I think that my older son probably felt a little displaced. New bedroom, new bed, new sister. This led to many, many months of one of us (my husband or I) sitting next to his toddler bed on a stool and reading until he would fall asleep. But I must say, he loved having his big boy bed and it was very sweet to see him getting settled with his stuffies and picking out his own blankets. Letting him pick out a new night light also helped. I think looking back I would have just gotten him a convertible crib from the start that I could turn into a toddler bed and let him keep a familiar bed longer, then sprung for a new crib for my daughter. The one good thing that may have come out of it was he has a great bedtime routine now and loves to read in bed before falling asleep. Maybe all of those months of watching us read by his bedside (and read to him) sunk in!
One of the very first indications we had that our triplets were
out to get us
a true team was the day that not one, not two, but all three of them decided to side saddle their cribs and make a break for freedom. That's right: three toddlers all deciding that they were ready for the big time. Though I wasn't in their rooms when it happened I have a story in my mind that includes them plotting their escape for days, maybe weeks, then knowing just the right moment to move. I'm convinced I should have been playing Mozart on my belly instead of binge watching Prison Break during my pregnancy. These kids were good. Too good.
Once they'd fled the coop, we converted their cribs to beds and waited anxiously for the first thud to happen during the night. We put layers of pillows on the floor next to each bed just in case they fell out. Magically, they never did! However, they did discover the joy of purposely jumping off the bed onto the mounds of pillows. Pro tip: Don’t tempt your kids with mounds of pillows next to their toddler bed.
Our bedtime ritual after moving them to beds always included three stories (one for each, but shared together), a special song of some sort (Bob Marley’s “Three Little Birds” was, and still is, my fave), and tucking them in like burritos. If I forgot the burrito tuck, they were out in two seconds. It wasn’t so much that the tuck held them in the bed but rather it was the final step of the process. Kids thrive on rituals, and if you skip a step it throws off their chi. A piece of advice would be to give your toddler a choice of things to include in their night time ritual like choosing a stuffed animal, reading a book, doing some yoga poses, or singing a song.
To this day our kids rarely ever stay in bed after we go through the night time ritual. But no matter how many times they ask for a drink of water or want to ask me a question about something arbitrary when they should be drifting off to sleep, I will keep doing the tuck and singing to my three little birds.
I’d heard the parental urban legend that you don’t need to transition a child from a crib to a bed until they actively (and regularly) try to climb out of the crib. My husband and I were totally on board for that plan. But then I got pregnant again, and when my daughter was about 20 months old, we decided to move her to a real bed even though she showed no signs of trying to climb out. (We did toy with the idea of just buying a second crib for the second baby, but it didn’t seem like the fiscally responsible choice.)
We tried a phased approach to transitioning to a real bed (we skipped the toddler-sized bed and went straight to twin size), and it worked pretty well for us:
- Phase 1: Crib mattress on the ground
- Phase 2: Twin mattress on the ground
- Phase 3: Twin mattress with boxspring on the ground
- Phase 4: Twin mattress with boxspring in the bed frame
We stayed in Phases 1 and 2 the longest (probably about 6 months total), and I always braced myself for her rolling off onto the floor, but she never did. We also used these bumpers under her sheets well into Phase 4 and they worked like a charm.
My second child is now 18 months old and we have no plans to move him out of the crib anytime soon. This time we’ll be sticking to the urban legend and will not transition him until he tries to make a break for it!
“To Bed, To Bed, I Said!” What if the words of Dr. Seuss were that easy? We said go to bed and the kids did it because we just asked? Wine sales would go way down, I know that much.
The transition to a toddler bed from a comfort they have known since birth can be a tad challenging, but helping your little one understand and embrace the new can be exciting. I have to admit that the changes went pretty well here (don’t hurt me) as long as I had an idea.
For our first, our game plan was to let him pick out his very own big boy bed. He wanted a bunk bed for friends and cousins, and we agreed. He was so excited when we got home that Brian built it on the spot so it was ready that night. One bedtime story and he was out, never looking back.
Our second was kind of the same. We let him help get the bedding, make the bed, and set it up super cozy so he would just love it. He did, but we had to stay for a couple extra stories this time and laid with him until he fell asleep.
For our last, well, there was a little more feet dragging and whining. By both of us. He was our last, so making that transition was tough. It took a little more pushing and I gave in a little more. But then, an idea! Since, we already had beds and bedding, I needed something new. The Triple Sleepover(™ haha!). We put all the boys in one room for awhile and from there it was easy peasy. Those nights with extra giggling after lights out were totally worth it because he was happy and I think his brothers were happy to have him.
Sometimes it takes a little extra mama thinking to get the job done, so I have faith that you’ll think of something awesome to make the transition pretty special!
Whether you're transitioning your wee one to a bed because of an impending new addition to your family, or you're thinking it's "just time," it's important to remember that soon they'll be asking for bunk beds or telling you their plans to sleep in a hammock inside a yurt. This, too, shall pass.