This article was written by Barb Warner, a pediatric nurse at the St. Louis Children's Hospital Answer Line.

I’m here to tell you, moving a toddler from a crib to a regular bed is not that difficult. It’s keeping them there that is trying!

When my first born, Andrew, was 2 years old and his sister Lizzie was on the way, my husband, Jim, and I were in “GO” mode, ready for the swap. I humbly assumed that I as a nurse, with knowledge of child developmental issues, and Jim as an engineer, with his charts and graphs at the ready for any nighttime maneuvers we may encounter, were set! In the end, we were reduced to lots of frustration and many tears during Andrew’s transition from crib to bed.

So what gives me any expertise in writing this article? I am no expert, but I have listened and learned. You see, with four children…we were outnumbered. Learning grew from sheer desperation. We took some great parenting classes, read highly recommended books and have since successfully transitioned three additional children from crib to bed.

Let me pass along the keys to success:

  • Your child’s readiness
  • Patience
  • Allowing plenty of adjustment time

Don’t Rush It
When thinking about moving your child to a big bed, really consider your child’s readiness. If your little one sleeps well in his crib and is happy and content, don’t rock the boat. Most moves are made between 1-1/2 years to 3-1/2 years of age. As a parent, it is exciting for us to witness these milestones, but consider what may be on the other side:

  • Yo-Yo syndrome or Room Hopping: A child frequently in and out of bed
  • Early Morning Risers: Do you like the Dora Explorer song? How about at 5 a.m. into your right ear?
  • Potential Injuries: The yo-yoers and hoppers may be at risk while gadding about the home unsupervised before you awaken

When to Make Your Move
I have been in your shoes. You’re thinking the easier route may be to drag your feet a little longer - wait until he goes off to college and let them worry about it. Fear not, it can be done with a little patience. Here are a few signals to watch for that now may be the right time.

  • Climbers: If he’s climbed over and out more than once with fully raised rails, it’s time. When the crib rail reaches a toddler’s nipple line - climber or not - it’s time to switch because climbing is much easier.
  • Change of Address: If he’s asking to move, he’s ready.
  • Pink or Blue? Baby #2!: That’s right, it is the most pressing reason for change. Remember though, this change may not be welcome nor wanted by your toddler. Think about it. This new baby comes waltzing into his home, occupying his mom and dad’s time and affection. Now this baby is stealing his bed! Unacceptable! It’s best to ease into this one. Begin the move 2 to 3 months before the baby’s arrival, or wait and begin 3 to 4 months after arrival when she is still small and still sleeping in a bassinet.
  • Toilet Training: Daytime training and dryness comes first; night time dryness is something that takes longer to develop in a toddler. But when it happens, easy access to the bathroom is a must and cribs won’t do.

Anywhere I Rest My Head
Any type of bed is fine, really. When choosing a new bed, you have many options. Actual toddler beds are small, low to the ground and have guard rails built in. Many come in fun shapes and designs. Going straight to an adult size bed is another choice, but be sure to protect all sides from potential falls. A mattress on the floor may sound crazy, but this works for toddlers as well. A bed mattress, futon or old faithful, the crib mattress, placed directly onto the floor is both practical and comfortable. Avoid having bunk beds in the home until your child is 6 years of age. You see, even if your plan is for him to quietly sleep in the lower bunk, his temptation to climb to the top usually gets the best of him. And let’s face it…. it’s fun to climb around and build forts out of bunk beds. But eventually the little one falls out, hits his head, the fun is over and no one remembers how it happened.

To transition, remove the crib and position your choice in that vacant spot. Falling asleep and waking to familiar sites in his room makes the move easier. Use the same bedding (sheets, blankets) from the crib for awhile, even if too small. This also breeds comfort and familiarity.

Some other helpful thoughts:

  • Celebrate the new move! Extreme Makeover? Maybe some new fun sheets, wall hangings and stuffed animals, and make a big deal out of it!
  • Gradual Introduction: Keep the crib in the room along with the new bed. Use the new bed for naps and winding down at night (bedtime story, back rub, etc.), but then move to the crib for sleeping.

It’s really up to you and your child how to make this move since you know him or her best. Just remember…patience. Give it time so this milestone will be another one remembered fondly.


Expert Advice