Feeling at a loss for when to take the leap from crib to bed? Not sure if your little one will ever be ready, or you for that matter? Here’s my simple checklist to know whether it may be time to toss those bars away.
So I had this grandiose plan to journal a whole week, step-by-step, when we decided to transition my daughter from her crib to a toddler bed. I thought, what a perfect, real-time sequence of events that parents could really benefit from.
But then, I went to my evening dance class and when I came home, my daughter was fast asleep in her “crib”. Sans bars. Just like that, the band aid had been ripped off.
No big deal
I asked my husband how she reacted and he said, casually, “she was stoked. It’s no big deal”. And he was right. She slept the whole night without any issue, woke the next morning and waited for us to come get her (like she does every morning), and repeat for all naps and nights to follow. That’s it, transition done.
Oh and did I mention she’s just shy of 20 months old?!
Most parents I talk to hold off at all cost from removing that security blanket (theirs, not their toddler’s) out from under them. They can’t fathom having to worry about a wandering toddler seeking them out all night long. And I totally get that. It’s so nice to know they are contained, safe, and escape-free.
That said, I fare on the side of “the sooner the better”. These are a few signs that you may be ready to ditch that crib:
Bedtime occurs with little resistance
You may be laughing and thinking “yeah right, like THAT’s ever going to happen”. If this is the case, keep that crib going and work on building up that positive bedtime association. Have the sleep space filled with positive emotions and warmth.
Ex. Let your little one spend time in the space when they awaken (if not crying out). My daughter spends 20-30 minutes in her bed upon waking each morning, happily chatting to herself and her stuffies.
Ex. Make it a space they can turn to for emotional regulation or comfort items. We have a “soother stays in your room rule”. So my kids have often taken themselves to their rooms for a little quiet downtime.
Ex. Avoid using their room and bedtime as a disciplinary space. Remove “if you don’t ________, you’re going straight to bed” from your vocabulary.
If you do hit a significant stretch where bedtime seems like a breeze and your toddler is content to stay in her bed for extended periods, use this as an opportunity for transition. Consider removing those bars.
You’ve considered all the safety precautions
Switching from a crib to a bed means that your little one is no longer contained in their sleep space. With the potential to wander, make sure you consider where they may go without your close watch.
Is all of their furniture secured to the wall?
Do you have a bed rail or a soft surface in case they fall?
Are all plugs covered and curtain pulls out of reach?
Do you have gates near stairways?
Are your cupboards in the bathroom secured?
These may seem standard, but sleep time is often a time when you are not on constant watch duty, meaning if your toddler does wander, you want to ensure that they cannot hurt themselves.
I actually recommend putting a baby gate at the door of your toddler’s room (you can find ones in which the door can still close) or at the top of the stairs. This is that extra line of security that will give you some additional peace of mind.
Your toddler isn’t trying to escape the crib
Many parents actually wait until their toddler is literally hoisting themselves over the top rails to pull the plug and remove the crib bars. If you are in this boat, fear not – there are lots of ways to reinforce staying in bed down the road.
BUT, I recommend catching this behaviour before it begins by just removing the bars in advance. Remember, 18 months to 3 years is the time when serious FOMO sets in, and your little one will inevitably go through periods where they will do everything to resist bedtime and be close to you. It will be much harder to introduce the crib-to-bed shift if they are already trying everything to avoid staying in their sleep space.
We transitioned our kids at 18 months and 20 months because, frankly, they didn’t know any better – it didn’t really occur to them to come looking for us. In fact, it took my son a whole year before he started getting out of his bed on his own. And at that point, we could focus on that aspect of his sleep world in isolation.
You don’t have another huge transition on the horizon
Part of the reason we decided to transition my son to his toddler bed when we did was because I was pregnant with our second. I knew that there was going to be a LOT of change in his world, so I wanted to space out the transitions as much as possible. I also knew that I was not going to buy a second crib (they were set to be 27 months apart in age), so that meant getting him used to a new bed before my daughter arrived.
So when I was only about 2 months pregnant, we removed the crib bars but kept everything else the same. Same bed, same room, same routine. Nearly five months later, we transitioned him to his new room – he understood this to be a VERY special thing and quickly started referring to the nursery as the “baby’s room”. We brought his old toddler bed into the room at first so he could get used to the new space with some familiarity.
And then a few weeks later, we introduced his new big boy bed. Again, we reinforced this as a very special and exciting thing, and he was over the moon. This was all two months before my daughter was set to arrive, and she would be sleeping with us for the first while anyways. This gave him ample time to adjust to these changes, without a new baby sister to also get used to.
That’s it! No fancy timing. No prescriptive schedule. Just a few ways to ease the transition and make the bed-for-crib swap a ballet, not a battle.