From Crib to Big Kid Bed: When To Transition to Toddler Bed

Is your child ready to go from crib to big kid bed? Learn how to tackle the transition with expert tips.

Mother putting blanket on and stroking head for her little girl daughter on bed in a dark bedroom at night, Child asian girl hug teddy bear, Comfortable children at home concept
Getty Images

Moving your little one from a crib to a toddler bed is an important milestone — for both you and your child. If you’re a little apprehensive about the move, you’re not alone. It’s common to have questions and concerns about this big transition. Not only are many parents and caregivers wondering when exactly to make the move to a toddler bed, but they may also be looking for guidance.

If you’re wondering about the signs that a child is ready, how to pick out the best toddler bed, or what to know about making the transition as stress-free as possible, read on.

Here, we’ll go over everything you need to know about when to make the transition, to ease the adjustment to a toddler bed, and what to do when challenges come up along the way. So, if you want to know how to make sure your child stays in their big kid bed all night long, we’ve got you covered.

When is the proper time to switch to a toddler bed?

When it comes to the timing for the transition from crib to “big kid” bed, it’s important to look at your child’s readiness signs rather than set an arbitrary date on the calendar. In other words, although there is an age range when children are ready to move to a toddler bed, the exact age for a toddler bed varies from one child to another.

Dr. Alexis Monique Javier, a pediatrician with Children’s Memorial Hermann Pediatrics, explains that toddlers are ready to make the crib-to-toddler bed transition when the railing of their crib is lower than their upper chest, and they are able to climb out of their cribs. “They should really transition to a toddler bed if they're able to climb out to prevent injuries that occur if they were to get out,” Javier says. “There is no amount of monitoring or other tactics/techniques/devices that will prevent this from happening since a parent or caregiver cannot watch their child 24-seven." The timeline for when this happens is different for each child, but it usually occurs sometime between ages 18 months and 3, according to Javier.

The Academy of American Pediatrics (AAP) agrees with these guidelines, reporting that your child should move from a crib to a toddler bed when they are able to climb out of the crib, as that capability increases the likelihood that they will experience a fall that could cause injuries.

The AAP recommends that you move your child when:

  • They are about 35 inches tall.
  • The height of the crib’s side rail is less than three-fourths of your child’s height — this ends up being about nipple level.

Signs your child is ready for a toddler bed

In addition to the physical signs, there are also developmental signs and behavioral cues to look for when it comes to making the transition out of the crib.

Dr. Jon Simon, primary care physician and pediatrician with Mercy Personal Physicians at Hunt Valley, says a child is usually ready to make the switch when they “shows signs of independence in other areas of life.” For example, they should “have some experience with limit-setting and rule-following, though perfection at this skill is not required,” Simon explains. This is necessary because once your child is in a toddler bed, they’ll have the freedom to roam around their room. So, being able to understand basic rules and boundaries from Mom, Dad, and other caregivers is important.

Your child may also generally show interest in big kid beds or even grown-up beds. Many toddlers start to notice that parents and siblings don’t sleep in cribs and will want to be more like a “big kid.” In particular, some kids with older siblings will ask to have a big bed just like their sibling, Simon notes.

Signs your toddler is not ready for a bed

The timeline for moving a toddler out of a crib varies from one child to another, and there isn’t a rush to move a child who doesn’t seem emotionally or developmentally ready unless they meet the height requirements above. “If the child is still sleeping comfortably and safely in their crib without risk of climbing or falling, that might be a sign that your child is not ready,” says Javier.

Jade Wu, Ph.D., a behavioral sleep medicine psychologist and advisor who is a parent to two young children, cautions parents about making the switch from crib to toddler bed if a child has recently gone through a sleep transition. “If your child has just recently started independently sleeping through the night or just came out of a sleep regression or other major developmental leap, this may not be the best time to transition to a bed,” Wu recommends. “Too many changes happening at once can confuse the child and make them more prone to a big sleep regression.”

Of course, once you do make the switch, it doesn’t have to be permanent. If you make the move and it doesn’t go well, you can always revert back to the crib for a while. “If this is negatively affecting your child's quality of life, then he or she might not be ready for the transition,” she advises. “This is completely normal and okay,” Javier says. If you’ve tried to make the transition, but it’s not going well, it’s okay to move your child back to the crib and try again in a few months.

How to pick a toddler bed

So, you’ve determined that it’s time to transition to a toddler bed — now what? Well, it’s time to find the best and most appropriate toddler bed for your child. Let's take a closer look at the different types of toddler beds, important safety features, and other considerations to keep in mind when shopping for one.

Toddler bed vs. big kid twin bed

If you’re not clear on the difference between a toddler bed and a twin bed, you aren’t alone. Many parents and caregivers aren’t sure about the differences between the two and don’t know which to purchase for their child.

In a nutshell, a toddler bed is “simply a bed with a small mattress that is lower to the ground than an adult bed so that children cannot fall from [a high] height,” Simon explains. Most toddler beds use a crib mattress, making them smaller than a regular twin bed. In addition, toddler beds often have safety rails to prevent falls, Simon says.

Dr. Chester Wu, a sleep medicine doctor and psychiatrist, says that toddler bed mattresses are usually only designed for children up to 50 pounds, so one main disadvantage of using a toddler bed is that your child may outgrow it faster than you would like. At the same time, your child may be used to the size of the crib-size mattress, so the transition from crib to toddler bed may be smoother than a transition from crib to twin-size mattress. Additionally, some cribs convert to a toddler bed, helping ease the newness for kids.

When looking into a bed for your child, Chester Wu says safety should be your top concern. If you are looking to purchase a twin bed, “safety rails would be the number one thing to look for so they don’t roll out of bed,” he says. If you are buying a toddler bed, the safety rail aspect will already be taken care of, as “toddler beds are required to have side rails at least 5 inches taller than the top of the mattress,” Chester Wu explains. In addition to the rule that guardrails are required on all toddler beds, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) also requires that all spindle/slats on toddler beds undergo strength testing and that warning labels about strangulation and entrapment dangers be present on toddler beds.

How to keep a toddler in bed when transitioning from a crib

One of the biggest challenges parents and caregivers face when it comes to the crib-to-toddler-bed transition is that once your child is in a toddler bed, they can easily get out of bed. Many parents find themselves with a wandering toddler during this transition, which translates to very little sleep for everyone.

How to stop this from happening? Jade Wu’s advice is to take a preventative approach and to only transition from crib to toddler bed in the first place when your child is truly ready. “The best advice I have for parents is to hold off the transition as long as possible because kids who are in a ‘real’ bed too young can have trouble adjusting to the freedom of being able to get out of bed at night, and this could bring about a prolonged sleep regression that will not be fun for anybody in the household,” she says.

However, as Jade Wu notes, there may come a time when your toddler needs to transition to a toddler bed because the crib is no longer safe, yet they still aren’t there yet developmentally or emotionally. In this case, a problem-solving approach is necessary.

“If the child is frequently getting up and leaving the room, you can install a child-proof cover for the inside of the doorknob so they can't leave the room, along with a set number of bedtime ‘tickets’ they can use to call you overnight,” she suggests. “If the child is scared of the new bedroom environment, you can spend more time playing in there during the day and play there in the dark with flashlights.” Adding a night-light or glow-in-dark stickers may also help, she says.

Chester Wu has some additional advice for how to prevent your child from venturing out of bed:

  • Stick to the same bedtime routine you had when your child slept in a crib.
  • Consider using light/sound machines that have “okay to wake” cues, such as a light that changes to green or plays specific music that means it’s fine for your toddler to get out of bed.
  • Make sure your child has some low-stimulus entertainment to keep them occupied if they do wake up, such as books or stuffed animals.

The AAP suggests that if your child wanders out of bed in the middle of the night, you should gently walk them back to bed and remind them that they must stay in bed. They also advise that you try not to get angry with your child — this often only makes them get out of bed more.

Finally, keep it positive! On nights that your child stays in bed all night, offer them encouragement. “Be patient and positive with your toddler, and offer praise/positive reinforcement for good sleep habits,” Simon recommends.

5 tips for easing the transition to a toddler bed

If you are finding the crib-to toddler-bed transition difficult or if you are wondering how to keep your toddler in bed, you aren’t the only one. We’ve all been there! Here are some expert-driven tips for making it through this change.

Keep things as similar as possible

Kids crave the familiar, so try to keep things as similar as possible as you move from crib to toddler bed. Jade Wu suggests keeping the same bedsheets, stuffed animals, night-lights, and anything else that reminds them of their crib. “Remember that what seems comfortable and nice to an adult might not feel important to a kid...let them keep their ratty old pillowcase if that's what they like!” Most of the time, you can even use the same crib mattress in the toddler bed frame. “You should also put their new bed in the same place as where their crib was in the room because a nighttime room can look very different from one angle vs another, and the big change can be scary to young kids,” she advises.

Prepare them for the transition

Doing a little preparation for the big transition can really help, Jade Wu says. This might look like reading a few books together about transitioning to a “big kid bed.” “There are several good toddler books on this topic, and it prepares them for the transition before it happens,” Jade Wu says. Some books to consider are "Big Enough for a Bed" (starring Elmo!) by Apple Jordan and "Big Kid Bed" by Leslie Patricelli.

Get to know the new bed

You might consider spending some time having your kiddo get to know their big kid bed. “Show them the new bed during the day and play on [or] around it so they can get familiar with it,” Jade Wu suggests.

Consider other options

If a toddler bed isn’t working for you or your child, you have options. “The easiest and most economical way to make the move is to take the mattress out of the crib and place it on the floor, or if space allows, placing a twin mattress on the floor,” Simon says.

Safety first

No matter when you end up making the transition and whatever bed set-up you go with, your number one priority should be ensuring it’s safe for your child. Not only should any elevated bed have safety rails so your child doesn’t fall out of bed, but now that your child can get out of bed, you’ll need to make sure that the room and house are safe for your child.

Some things to keep in mind, according to Javier:

  • Keep the bedroom free of any hanging curtains, wires, or cords.
  • Put a bell on the door of your child’s room so you can hear them if they leave the room.
  • Use baby monitors to track your child’s movements.
  • Put a gate on the top and bottom of stairs, if applicable.
  • Cover all electrical outlets.
  • Secure all furniture to the wall.
  • Pad any sharp corners.
  • Child-proof drawers.
  • Lock all windows.
  • Consider placing a soft rug or cushion on the floor next to the bed in case of falls.

Frequently asked questions about toddler bed transition

Why won’t my 2-year-old stay in their bed?

Every child is different in terms of being developmentally ready to sleep all night in a toddler bed. The age range to transition out of a crib is between 18 months and 3 years old, so your 2-year-old just may not be ready yet. It’s okay to go back to the crib for a few months and try again later.

How long do babies sleep in cribs?

There’s a range for how long babies sleep in cribs, and it’s fine to keep your baby in a crib as long as your child is happy. However, once your child can climb out of the crib, you’ll need to transition them to a toddler bed or a toddler or twin mattress on the floor.

Can a 1-year-old sleep in a toddler bed?

Babies under 12 months should sleep in a crib. Children are usually ready to transition to a toddler bed between 18 months and 3 years.

How can I ensure my child stays safe while sleeping in a toddler bed?

If your child’s bed is elevated off the floor, make sure there is a secure bed rail on the bed. Make sure the headboard of the bed is flush against the wall. Finally, make sure your child’s room is fully babyproofed.

The transition isn’t going well. What can I do?

It’s normal for the transition from crib to toddler bed to be bumpy. Be consistent with your bedtime routine, continue to bring your child back to bed if they wander, and offer them praise when they stay in bed all night. If you aren’t sure your child is ready for this transition, it’s okay to go back to the crib for a few months and then try again later, as long as your child isn’t able to get out of the crib.

How can I make the toddler bed transition smoother for my child?

Try to keep things as familiar as possible — use the same sheets, same stuffed animals, place the toddler bed in the same part of the room, and stick to the same bedtime routine you had before the transition.