Is My Toddler Ready for a Big Kid Bed?

Moving your toddler from a crib to a bed can be a very exciting time. Who doesn’t love picking out new bedroom furniture and bedding? I know I sure do!  As exciting as this time may be, it is important that the transition is handled with care so that your toddler’s (and your) sleep isn’t negatively impacted. As as a sleep consultant, I talk to parents weekly who unknowingly rushed into the move and then find themselves dealing with bedtime battles and/or night wakings.

Don’t worry! This milestone can be and will be a positive experience for your family if timed correctly.  And, I want nothing more than for this to be a joyous occasion for your family. Today, I am going to share my “Big Kid Bed Readiness Checklist” so that you can make sure your kiddo is equipped to handle this big change.

First and foremost, ask yourself, is my child mature enough to handle the freedom?  My rule of thumb is to wait until he is 3 years old or older.  At the very least, wait until he is 2.5 years old - not any sooner.  Before then he lacks the impulse control and understanding necessary to refrain from getting out of bed at bedtime and overnight.  By moving him earlier, you are expecting him to exhibit behaviors he isn’t developmentally capable of carrying out.

The exception to the rule is if he is climbing out of his crib and it poses a safety concern. Even then, I would exhaust all attempts of keeping him from crib hopping before you resort to a bed. Tactics that I have found to be successful include:

  • Using a sleep sack so that he is unable to lift his leg to scale the rail.  You can even put it on backwards so he can’t take it off - take that!

  • Turning around the crib so the tall side is facing out.

  • Dropping the mattress to the lowest setting (I know this one is obvious, but if you're sleep deprived, you may not think of this).    

  • Using a two-way monitor to catch him in the act and let them know that you see him trying to sneak out.  I used this trick with my son and it nipped it in the bud right away.

Is there enough stability in my child’s life?  When a child experiences major life changes such as moving to a new home, gaining a new sibling or starting a new daycare/school, it is best to keep the rest of his routines as normal and predictable as possible to maintain a sense of security.  It goes without saying that this includes the bedtime routine. Too much change all at once can leave him feeling very insecure. Insecurity may lead to behaviors that are often misinterpreted as bad behavior, when in actuality a child is just really trying to determine where the boundaries lie and/or seeking attention.  

For example, if you move your child to a toddler bed when a new baby is welcomed to the family he may leave his room in the middle of the night to see if this is something he is allowed to do as well to receive attention from his parents - even if it is negative attention.  If you are expecting and your child is over 2.5 years old, I would recommend moving him to a bed around 8 weeks before your due date. That way, he is thoroughly adjusted to his new sleeping arrangement before the baby arrives. If he is under 2.5 years old, keep him in his crib, even if you were planning to use his crib for the new baby.  I know that it may not be cost effective to have two cribs, but a great option is to purchase a second hand crib. That is what we did when our second arrived and we liked the crib we found so much that our son slept in it until he was 3 years old and it was only $50!

Is my child currently sleeping well?  If your child is having a hard time falling and staying asleep in his crib, moving him to a toddler bed is likely to make the situation worse.  I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but I have seen this happen more times than I can count. Instead of moving him to a bed, address his current issues while he is still in the confines of a crib.  The physical barrier provides him a better sense of security and boundaries. Additionally, if your child is experiencing sleeping issues, chances are high that he is carrying sleep debt, which makes him cranky and not primed to handle change.  

I hope this checklist helps you to ensure that the move to the big kid bed is well timed. Once your kiddo is ready, the transition to a bed will be a fun experience for the entire family.  If you are still unsure if your child is ready for this milestone and would like to talk through your situation with an expert, please feel free to book a free 15 Minute Sleep Evaluation with me (schedule here).  I am happy to help!  I want this to be a joyous occasion for all.  Sweet Dreams!