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Transitioning Toddler from Crib to Bed: Everything You Need to Know

Transitioning your toddler from a crib to a bed can be exciting for everyone.  Use these tips to make sure you know when to start the transition, what bed to use, and how to transition them.

text on image-nervous about transitioning your toddler from crib to bed-image of bed

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Are you thinking it’s time you moved your toddler from a crib to a big bed?

I will start by saying I know nothing about your unique situation, but my initial instinct is to tell you to keep your child in their crib as long as you possibly can.  (It may sound like fun to move your child to a toddler bed, but I can almost guarantee there will be a whole new set of challenges for both you and your child!)

Perhaps your child has started to climb out of their crib and you’re worried they will get hurt.  Here are two things you can try to help keep them in their crib just a little longer:

  1. If their crib is taller on one side (usually the side next to the wall), you can flip their crib around so the tall side faces out into the room.  One tip: I did try this for awhile, but it can be physically challenging to get your toddler into and out of bed.
  2. You could remove the “pseudo”-box springs thing that the mattress sets on and simply put their mattress on the floor, inside their crib. This will buy you at least a few inches.  Depending on the type of crib you have though, there may be a space between the top of the mattress and the bottom of the crib (creating a place where an arm and leg could get pinched.)  Just make sure if you try this, that it is safe.

If neither of these things works, you are probably right, it is time for them to sleep in a big kid bed.


So, what are your options?

You have a few options in regards to what they can sleep in.  For us, it was most logical to simply remove the front panel of the crib and create a “toddler bed.”  You also have the option of buying a true toddler bed frame, which most likely will fit your current crib mattress.

(I have seen some really nice toddler beds on clearance at Target for $20 or I’d suggest buying a used one – here’s a list of the best places to find used kids stuff.)

At our house, we are decided that we are not going to buy a separate toddler bed frame – ever.  Most kids will outgrow their crib mattress before they turn 5.  Therefore it seems silly to me, being a somewhat frugal mom, to buy a bed for them, and then buy another one in less than 2-3 years.  Especially considering the one we already have will work just fine.

So, my first suggestion would be to remove the front panel of the crib (by simply unscrewing it) and see how that goes.

I probably should also mention that most cribs have “toddler bed conversion kits” that can be bought separately.  It’s usually a board and a bed rail that matches your crib and can cost upwards of $100.  Again, me being a bit on the frugal and practical side, decided we were going to make do without the kit.  So far, it’s working for us with no problems.

Disclaimer:  The extra board would probably give the frame a little more stability.  Without the panel the crib is slightly wobbly, not dangerously wobbly, but a little.  Additionally, I haven’t worried about a bed rail because my son’s mattress is on the lowest setting, which means if he falls out of bed, it’s less than 10 inches.  If you are worried, you could buy a cheap bed rail to attach to their crib.  It doesn’t necessarily have to match.

(I’d suggest you use that extra $100 you’ve saved by not buying a toddler bed frame or a toddler bed conversion kit for their crib and instead buy a little wine.  You might need it for what’s coming next.)

Additionally, before you start the transition, you need to make sure their room is properly baby proofed.  That means outlets covered and all heavy things should be attached to the wall.  To see the clever way we baby proofed our kids’ rooms, you can check out this post!  The way we attached the dresser to the wall was a super clever hack!


Transitioning toddler from a crib to bed:

This process is tough, because it’s not a one-size fits all process.  Presently, I’ve done this conversion once with my very stubborn and very sensitive 3 year old.  We started the transition when he was 2 and a half years old.  He had started climbing out of his crib and we had tried both tricks I mentioned (turning his bed frame around and the mattress on the floor.)

I should mention, it is kind of creepy when you hear a noise upstairs, so you go to check what it is.  You turn on the light and see your toddler standing behind the gate at the top of the stairs for the first time.  It might take your breath away and give you a bit of a shock.  It’s okay to grab that wine now.

So we decided to start by removing the front panel to his crib at nap time, because if he got upset about it or couldn’t fall asleep, it would end after two hours, instead of stretching into all hours of the night.

When we started this, we’d go upstairs to start the nap time routine and the first thing we’d do is unscrew the panel with our son’s help – to make it special and make it seem like we were “rewarding him.”  He and his younger brother always got super excited when this happened and would *somewhat dangerously* jump on the bed.  (Not exactly the type of calm atmosphere you want to create before nap time.)

At the beginning of the nap time routine, our son would think this was super novel and exciting, but when it came to actually falling asleep, he would always want us to put the panel back on.  This became a bit of an excuse to delay bedtime for him, because he knew if he cried enough, I’d go fetch the panel and have to screw it back together.

We played the panel on/panel off game for 2 weekends in a row and then decided to wait a few more weeks before trying again.

A few weeks later, it went off without a hitch.  Perhaps our son was more tired that nap time or just matured enough that it didn’t bother him, but either way, it worked.  After that, bedtimes went off without a hitch.

Tip: A baby camera is super helpful during this transition, so you can make sure your toddler is going to sleep and is not getting into things in their room.


How to keep them in their toddler bed?

At some point, you will probably have to deal with this problem.

For the first 4-5 months, our son stayed in his toddler bed like it was a crib; he would not get out of the bed without us coming to get him.  It must’ve been some mentality that blocked him from getting out.

But in the last month (he’s presently just over 3 years old), he’s been coming out of his room, using every excuse in the book to stay up later; he needs to use the potty, he needs a band-aid, he wants us to rub his back, his night light batteries burned out, etc.  I have tried a number of things to keep him in his room, giving him a pep talk about staying in his room, telling him we are out of band-aids, ensuring he uses the potty before bed, etc, but the only thing that seems to work is sitting a couple of yards outside his door.  When he starts to open his bedroom door, I gently tell him he needs to go back to bed.  I think it might startle him that I’m out there, enough that he will go back to bed and typically fall asleep.

Now as I mentioned, every toddler is different and transitioning your toddler from a crib to a big bed will most likely not follow the same pattern as mine.  I will have to think about transitioning my nearly 2 year old to a big kid bed here in a few months and will follow the same advice I told you: keep them in their crib as long as possible and don’t buy a special toddler bed.

If you’ve already transitioned your child from their crib to a toddler bed, please share your best advice below!  How old were they when you transitioned them and what tips helped make the process easier?  Did your child get out of bed?

Good luck!  It is an exciting and sometimes exhausting process, but as they say, this too shall pass.  Now get out there and rock your busy mom life!




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