Crib to Big Kid Bed: The Right Time to Transition

The transition from crib to big kid bed is one of the biggest sleep changes your child will go through. Deciding to change your child's sleep environment is a decision that should involve a lot of planning and preparation. Parents always want to know when is the right time to make the switch? The easy answer: wait as long as possible.

Many parents make the mistake of thinking that when a child begins to climb out of the crib, they must need a big kid bed. This is simply not true. Climbing is a physical milestone and it is only natural for children to practice this new skill when they are alone in their cribs. It is very much like when babies first learn to roll and spend a few restless nights constantly rolling over or those new standers who pull up on their crib bars, but can't get themselves down. Trying to climb out of a crib is not a child's way of telling you they want a big kid bed. In fact, if they are not old enough to understand they must stay in their crib, they most certainly are not old enough for a big kid bed which they could step out of and roam the house alone at night.

So how can you keep these escape artists in their cribs? Here are a few tried and true suggestions...

  • Put the child in a sleep sack which will restrict leg movements. If they can get out of the sleep sack, put it on backwards so they don't have access to the zipper.
  • Most cribs have height options for the mattress. Make sure your crib mattress is on the lowest possible setting.
  • Keep the crib free from toys or anything that can be used to boost the child up.
  • If one side of the crib is a solid piece of wood, put that side out so the slatted side, which is easier to climb, in on the wall. 
  • If one side of the crib is higher than the others, rotate the crib so the highest side faces out.
  • Watch your child on a video monitor. Anytime they start to climb, walk into the room, firmly say "no", and put them back down over and over. Be consistent even if you have to do this 100 times the first few nights. 

Another reason kids are often put in beds before they are ready is when a new sibling will be arriving in the family and the baby needs the crib. When at all possible, please do not take your child's crib away for a new baby. Cribs are safe, secure places for toddlers and many children get scared and frustrated when their safe space is taken away. The addition of a new baby is very stressful on siblings and you do not want your child to view this baby as coming in and taking over his or her crib in addition to monopolizing a lot of mommy and daddy's time.

That being said, I do understand cribs are expensive and it is not always feasible to purchase a second one. If it is an option to temporarily borrow one from a friend or family member, that is a great solution. Otherwise, if you must use your toddler's crib for new baby, transition your older child out of the crib at least three months prior to the arrival of the new sibling. This is to ensure your child will not correlate his new brother or sister with the loss of his crib.

So when is the right time for this transition? Three years of age is ideal. You want to make sure that your child is old enough to understand that a big kid bed comes with big kid rules. Upon the arrival of the new bed, sit down with your child and make some family bedtime rules. Make sure to cover when it's appropriate to leave the bed like to use the bathroom and when it's inappropriate like to get toys. If your child does get up when they are not supposed to, silently walk them back to bed. Try not to speak or even make eye contact. You do not want them to get rewarded with social interactions for getting up.