Transitioning from Crib to Big Kid Bed: When & How to Make the Move


Crib to Big Kid Bed | Central Mass MomCongratulations, your little one just turned one! They are officially a toddler. Time for a big kid bed! NOPE! Don’t ditch that crib yet. My advice? Stay in that crib for as long as you possibly can! The older they are when you make the move, the better they can understand the rules. If they will stay in the crib at age 3, keep it up! There is nothing wrong with staying in a crib. But what are the signs that we need to make the move? And how do we do it without installing motion sensor security to know when they leave the bed?

When to Transition to a Big Kid Bed

The easy answer is when THEY are ready. Not when you are ready. And definitely not just because you don’t want to have to purchase another crib for a new sibling on the way. They will already have a lot of feelings about a new sibling without adding in a conflict of the new addition stealing their bed.

The crib is no longer safe.

This is a big reason to make the move. If your child is constantly climbing out of their crib, it might be time. However, make sure you have exhausted all your options with your crib! Make sure that the mattress is as low as it can go safely. If you have a crib with a back that is higher, turn it around. Keep your kiddo in a sleep sack, if possible. If they are still able to get out, it definitely is time.

They ask about a big bed.

This may not happen, especially if they never get a chance to see other kids in big kid beds. However, if they are able to tell you that they want a big bed and they continue to ask or talk about it, it’s time to at least list out the pro and cons of making the transition at this time.

They are developmentally ready.

Transitioning too soon can cause a lot of sleep disturbances for children and their parents. If your child cannot understand the need to stay in bed or be able to comprehend the rules for bedtime, it probably isn’t a good time to make the switch.

How to Transition to a Big Kid Bed

Talk about it

In the wise words of Daniel Tiger’s mom, “When we do something new, let’s talk about what we’ll do.” Just taking out the crib and surprising them with a new bed might seem like a great idea, but this can cause a lot of stress for a young child. Before making the switch, make sure you are clear about what is going to happen. Take the time to say good-bye to the crib and hello to the new bed. Stay happy and positive, but understand this could be emotional for your child.

Social Stories

Social stories are a great tool to talk about what is expected of our children. You can use your child’s favorite stuffed animals to act out expectations. Try having your child help make a book with the story, so they can read it over and over to help solidify the exceptions. Have fun drawing or taking pictures and decorating a book together.

Let Them Choose

You don’t need to let them choose every single detail but let them have some say in their new space. Consider letting them pick out new sheets, blanket, or a special pillow for their big kid bed. Letting them have a chance to choose will help entice them to sleep there. As Olaf says in Frozen 2, “We’re calling this, controlling what you can when things feel out of control”. *Side note: Don’t overload the bed or make it “too fun”, it is a place for ONLY sleeping, not playing.

Reasonable Rules and Expectations

It is really important to make sure that any rules and expectations are tailored to the abilities of your child. You also need to expect that the first few nights will be awful. If/when they aren’t, then it will be a pleasant surprise. Just remember to stay consistent with your rules!

Toddler Clocks

Clocks can be used to help give visual clues to kids about when certain rules apply. If you have a clock that can do different colors, consider setting programs to signal getting ready for bed, going into bed, and when they are allowed to get out of bed.

Bed Time Pass

It might be really hard for your child to stay in their big kid bed all night. They want to explore and they are toddlers (or preschoolers) that like to push boundaries. Consider using a bed-time pass. This allows them to get out of bed just once at night to use the potty, get a hug, sip of water, etc.

Behavior Charts or Jars

You can use a sticker chart that has parts of your bedtime routine and includes going to bed on time, staying in bed all night, only getting out of bed when the clock turns purple, etc. These can help kids stay on track.

For some kids, the chart doesn’t work. I like to use a behavior jar. You start off with 5 or 10 pom poms in a jar. Every time your child has an undesirable behavior, you take away a pom-pom. The goal is to have all the pom-poms left over by morning. Now, they can earn back their lost pom-poms if they do other desirable behaviors. If they have all their pom-poms by morning, they get a reward.

Keep in mind this can be an incredibly emotional event for children. If other major events or changes are happening, it is a bad time to change their sleep environment. Have patience and stay consistent because this can take some time to work through.


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