Transitioning From a Crib to a Bed

Transitioning from a crib to a bed is one of the most stressful transitions of the toddler years. Even the most relaxed parent can’t help but worry whether their child will ever sleep again or what they will do with their newfound freedom to wander the house in the middle of the night. Fortunately for all of us, the research can provide some guidance.

When Do You Make the Transition From Crib to Bed?

Many parents wonder when is the best time to make the switch from a crib to a toddler bed. Of course, this is determined by many factors unique to your child and your family, but you still might want to know what is the “normal” timing for this transition.

Research finds that

  • 37 percent of toddlers aged 18 to 22 months have transitioned from crib to bed.
  • 66 percent of toddlers aged 24 to 29 months have transitioned from crib to bed.
  • 87 percent of toddlers aged 30 to 36 months have transitioned from crib to bed.

Although parents should always make this decision in light of what is best for their child and family, a recent study suggested that there may be advantages to waiting until the child is at least 3 years old. This study found that toddlers aged 18 to 36 months who are still sleeping in a crib show an earlier bedtime, take less time to fall asleep, wake up less frequently at night, sleep longer stretches at night, sleep for a longer time overall at night, and show decreased bedtime resistance and sleep problems. The researchers found that toddlers in a crib slept 29 minutes longer on average per night than toddlers in a bed. Of course, this study is correlational, so we don’t know if the toddlers who switched to beds later were just better sleepers to begin with. However, an extra 29 minutes of sleep per night still makes these data very compelling.

However, the age at which you make the transition from crib to bed may also depend on your child’s size. To avoid falling out of a crib, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends parents move children out of the crib when they are 35 inches or when the side rail is less than three-quarters of their height.

How Do You Make This Transition?

The following tips may make this difficult transition a little easier:

  1. Consider safety. Safety should always be the most important deciding factor in moving your child to a toddler bed. Does your child exceed the weight or height limit for their crib? Is your child climbing out of the crib? If so, it may be time for a toddler bed—whether you or they are ready for it. You also want to make their toddler bed as safe as possible by using bed bumpers or putting the mattress on the floor. You also want to make sure that their room (and the rest of the house) is baby-proofed including gates at the top of the stairs and furniture secured to walls. The American Academy of Pediatrics also recommends no pillows until age 2 and no bunk beds until age 6, and that you keep beds away from windows, drapery, or electrical cords. You may also want a video monitor and/or a baby gate on their door to further ensure safety.
  2. Consider your child’s developmental level and temperament. Do they have the self-regulation abilities to stay in their bed? Will they follow the rules you set for their toddler bed, such as coming to get you in the morning when they wake up, or will they wander the house without you? Are they really ready for all of the responsibility that sleeping in a bed versus a crib brings?
  3. Try not to let a new baby make the decision for you. A transition to a baby sibling is a huge change for a child—giving up their crib at this time as well may be too many changes at once for a young child. They may also resent their baby sibling for “taking” their crib. Instead, you may want to find an affordable or used (but safe) bassinet and/or second crib for your newborn. It may seem like an unnecessary expense, but it may be worth it in the end.
  4. Make a gradual transition if possible. Make the transition a little easier for both you and your child by making it more gradual. First, move their crib mattress to the ground, then replace it with a bed mattress on the floor, and, finally, a bed mattress on a bed frame.
  5. Explain expectations very clearly. These expectations will be different for every family but explain in as much detail as possible what you expect them to do after you put them to bed, when they wake up at night, and in the morning.
  6. Keep the same bedtime routine. Research finds that bedtime routines help children to fall asleep more quickly and have fewer nighttime awakenings. You will need all the help you can get with this transition, so make sure your bedtime routine is as predictable and consistent as possible.
  7. If they keep getting out of bed, then try using a “bedtime pass.” A “bedtime pass” is a piece of paper or a token that allows children one “free” trip out of their room or one “free” parent visit to satisfy a quick request (such as getting a drink of water or one last hug). You can easily make a pass yourself or, even better, make it with your child. After using their pass once, children are required to give it to their parents until the following night. Parents then tell the child they will ignore any additional requests. If the child leaves their room after using the pass, parents gently lead the child back to their bedroom, with minimal talking or eye contact.