How to Make a Smooth Transition from Crib to Bed

Saying goodbye to the crib and hello to the big bed doesn't have to be so hard. Ensure an easy switch by following these tips.

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Illustration by Paul Dotey

Nicola Gillis knew that it was time to transition her daughter, Alexa, into a bed when the then 16-month-old made an acrobatic attempt to climb out of her crib. “We caught her with one leg slung over the top rail,” says Gillis. The fact that the Toronto mom was five-and-a-half months pregnant with her second child was just added motivation to get the move underway.

How to Make the Switch From Crib to Bed
Wendy Hall, RN, PhD, a pediatric sleep expert at the University of British Columbia School of Nursing, says that the optimal time to make the switch from a crib to a bed is between the ages of two and three-and-a-half years old, when children are able to comprehend the responsibilities associated with their new freedom. However, if you see that your child is able to get one leg over their crib rail sooner, says Tracey Ruiz, The Sleep Doula founder, “then it’s time to move forward with the transition.”

Regardless of when the move happens, follow these tips to ensure the process is as stress-free as possible.

  • Safety First. Toddler beds are definitely not a necessity. If you’re nervous about putting your child into a regular bed with guardrails, a mattress on the floor is a great alternative, says Dr. Hall. For younger children, Debbie Fazio, a national sleep consultant and a parenting coach at Precious Moments Babeez in Toronto recommends installing a baby gate in their bedroom doorway as well. She suggests parents think of the entire room as their child’s crib: ensure the windows have safety locks, cords for drapes and blinds are tied up out of your child’s reach and that lamps can’t be pulled down, electrical sockets are covered and all furniture is properly secured to the walls.
  • Make it a Big Deal. It’s important to get your child excited about her new space. Dr. Hall advises incorporating a story about a toddler moving from a crib into a big-kid bed into your nighttime ritual before the transition begins and talk about moving her bedtime toys to a new home. Taking your child to pick out the bed or sheets is another great way to psych her up for the change.
  • Routines Matter. Try to stick to the same routines you already have in place, says Ruiz. You’re setting a precedent at the beginning, so remaining firm and keeping your end goal in mind is key. For example, if you decide to lie down in bed with your child on the first night, know that she’s going to expect the same thing on night two, says Ruiz. If you are a co-sleeping family attempting to move your child into her own bed, putting a mattress on the floor of your room to start might be a solution.
  • Set Realistic Expectations. Ruiz stresses that it takes 10 to 14 days for a new habit to be formed. Many children wake up throughout the night and try to roam or call out to their parents for comfort during the transition. Dr. Hall recommends implementing a rewards system to help solve these issues. For example, you might give your child a sticker every time she stays in her room for the night. Once she has a certain number of stickers, you could take her on a special outing or buy her a toy.

Read More: 6 Things You Need to Know About Sleep Training


Too Much, Too Soon
If your child is having persistent temper tantrums or is falling out of the bed, the switch to a big bed may have come too early. If you do not think your child is quite ready to move to a bed, make sure the mattress in the crib is at the lowest setting, which should keep her from climbing out and is the safest spot for her. If the crib isn’t an option and the bed isn’t working or the situation seems to be getting worse, it may be time to seek help from a sleep expert.

Stay the Course
For the Gillis family, the transition is off to a relatively smooth start. Alexa, now 18 months, protests from her bed briefly each night, however, a few settling words and another tuck-in later,  and she’s off to sleep. Thankfully, Gillis’ family has a couple more months before their second child is born to work through any issues. Dr. Hall stresses the importance of this, cautioning parents not to move a child out of her crib too close to when a new baby is coming. “It’s best to either do it a couple of months before the new baby arrives or a few months after he’s born in order to ensure there are no feelings of resentment.”

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