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Transitioning from a Crib to a Bed

My 3 year old LOVES his crib, and I am pretty sure he would sleep there until he was teenager if I let him. However, last month because of our kids’ ages and sleep quarters, we decided it was time to transfer him into a new room with his brother into a big boy bed. Ideally, I would have liked to have had him stay there until he was 4 years old, but as many of you know it isn’t always that simple. If your little one loves the crib and is content being in there for sleep, I typically recommend holding off on transitioning them to a bed until 3-3.5 years old. At this age, a child’s ability to understand the responsibilities of a bed is more advanced and the transition usually goes more smoothly. However, if it has become an unsafe situation where they are trying to crawl out of the crib, or you are needing to swap sleep spaces due to other circumstances, then it is time to make the transition. So, what is the best way to do this so that your little one’s sleep does not regress? Here are some tips that can help make the transition successful:


  • A couple weeks before this transition, read a couple books about moving into a big bed and talk with your child about how it is important to stay in bed all night long and talk with him about your expectations. Keep this simple and at his level of understanding. 
  • Try not to do it while potty training, moving, major travel or during any other significant change.
  • If there is a new sibling on the way and your child is ready, it works best to move into a big bed with at least 6 weeks before the new baby arrives. If there isn’t enough time to do that or your child is too young to move to a bed, it is better to borrow or purchase a crib or use a bassinet for the new baby until your child is ready for the transition into a bed.
  • Get him excited about the idea of him being in a big bed. Make him feel special for moving into a big bed. Let him pick out the bed and bedding if possible so there is some ownership over the move.
  • Below are some books that I recommend looking into reading to your child while you are making the transition. Pick one or two and begin reading them at bedtime a couple weeks before the transition. 

My Own Bed- Anna Grossnickle Hines

I Sleep In My Own Bed- Glenn Wright

Your Own Big Bed- Rita Bergstein

Big Enough For A Bed (Sesame Street) - Apple Jordan


Setting Up The Space

  • I recommend using a regular sized bed instead of a toddler bed. This seems to make the transition easier.  I also recommend using a bed frame or at least box springs.  Don’t put a mattress on the floor.  Make sure the frame is low enough or use a bed rail, and find a place to put it that is not by a window.
  • Give him a digital clock and tell him what number to look for so he knows when it is morning time. Then tell him he will know when it is morning and time to get up when the clock says 7. I usually suggest setting the clock so “morning” is at 7am, 7 is an easier number to recognize and cover the minutes up with duct tape so only the hour is showing.  If your child isn’t able to recognize numbers, I recommend these sleep clocks that use colors or pictures to indicate when it is morning time.
    • Hatch Baby Clock
    • OK to wake Clock
    • Little Hippo Mella Clock

Consistency and Boundaries

Toddlers’ thinking is very black and white, so if there is any grey areas around the rules and boundaries of their sleep, they will more than likely push those to the limits.

  • Have a consistent bedtime routine - Be sure your child is very comfortable with a regular bedtime routine that is followed every night.
  • Make sure he is falling asleep at bedtime within 20 minutes before you make the change to a bed. If he is not, then you probably need to move bedtime later or shorten up his nap.  Too long to fall asleep at bedtime in a big bed can cause issues.
  • Make a bedtime routine chart with pictures next to each step and hang it in the room. Review it before you begin the bedtime routine. 
  • Keeping the sleep rule sand expectations few and simple will help him understand the rules better. For example his rules might be: 1. He is laying down 2. Laying quietly 3. Stays in bed until morning time.
  • For the first 1-2 weeks, if he gets out of bed, quietly with little interaction walk him back to his bed, EVERY TIME. The only talking should be telling him his clock does not say its wake up time, he needs to stay in his bed.  The younger the child is, the more you will need to do this so that he understands the rules.
  • There is almost always a honeymoon phase in the beginning that can last anywhere from 2 weeks to a month where there is no issue at all. Then there usually is some testing of the boundaries after that point.  This can last several weeks before it subsides; the more consistent you are the faster it will end.     
  • Give lots of positive praise for being in a big bed and sleeping in his bed all night.

This is a transition, if prepared for and handled well, can go very smoothly for everyone.  It is also a transition that can cause major bedtime/night time problems if there is a lack of consistency and understanding of what is expected.  So, stick with it and help your little one make a successful transition to the slumbers of a big bed. 


About the author

Amanda Medley

Why didn’t we try this sooner?! As we speak he is sound asleep in his crib – and has been since 7:15 pm.

Karianne Wanggaard

Sleep Well Sleep Specialists

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