Do you have an escape artist in your house? Or do you wake up to a little one poking you in the cheek? If the answer is yes, then it might be time to move your toddler into their “big kid bed.” Determining when your child is ready isn’t always easy, but there are some things you can do to help the process along. 

Remember, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach to parenting. We’re not here to tell you how you should do things, merely suggest some options that could work. The adjustment can be tricky, but you can use these tips and tricks to help settle your little one into their new bed. 

When Is It Time For A “Big Kid Bed”?

Most experts recommend that around three is the ideal age to transition to a big kid bed. Research shows that waiting until your child is three is associated with healthier sleeping habits –– earlier bedtime, longer time asleep and less resistance to bedtime. Before the age of three, children don’t have the discipline to stay in their beds.

“To move from crib to a bed your toddler can get in and out of, you will want to make sure they can follow some directions and have some impulse control. For example, if you tell them to stop touching the trash can, will they stop even if they want to? Or will they do it anyway? Imaginary boundaries are more difficult to follow,” says Nicole Johnson, President/Lead Sleep Consultant of The Baby Sleep Site.

Every Kid Is Different, Here’s How To Know When It’s Time

Experts suggest that waiting until as close to three as possible is beneficial for their bedtime compliance. That doesn’t mean every child will need to wait that long or that it might not take a little longer. There is no right or wrong, only guidelines you can use to decide when your child is ready. That said, there are some shared factors that you should keep in mind when choosing. 

Your Child’s Size 

“The recommendation of the American Academy of Pediatrics is to move your toddler from a bed to a crib once your child is 35 inches (89 centimeters) tall,” says Varda Meyers Epstein, Parenting Expert and writer at Kars4Kids

When your child is about 35 inches tall, they can start crawling out of their cribs, even if you have the mattress set to the lowest position and the guard rails up to their highest setting. When they are tall enough to get their leg over the railing, the jailbreak begins. 

Some people suggest putting something –– like a blanket or clothes –– across the bar so they can’t get their legs around the bar. While it is a way to slow the need for a new bed, it could open up the opportunity for your child to get hurt when trying to climb out of bed. When the crib rail height is less than three-quarters of your child’s height, they likely can climb out of the crib. For reference, that’s approximately nipple height

If You’re Expecting A New Baby

When your child is on the cusp of moving to a toddler bed, having a new baby on the way may tip the scales. The last thing you want to do is buy another crib! Bringing a new baby home is a big adjustment for a toddler, so you don’t want the two events to overlap. 

“Timing is very important. If you’re moving your toddler into a bed because there is another baby on the way, do it 6-8 weeks before the new arrival. That way, the move is not associated with the arrival of a new sibling,” says Paula McLaren, Norland Nurse NNEB RSH and owner of Teething to Tantrums.

It’s best to start the transition to a toddler bed at least two to three months before the baby arrives if your toddler is ready to move. That way, your toddler is well adjusted to their new bed and won’t view the baby as taking over “their” crib. Keep in mind that infants will sleep in bassinets for several months, so you will have months to plan the transition if your child isn’t yet old enough to move.

Things To Consider During The Move

Big Kid Bed Options

When it comes time to buy your toddler a new bed, you’ll be happy to know you’ll have multiple options. You can choose to buy a toddler bed, which uses the same size mattress as a crib in most cases. The cool part (for your toddler) is that the frame can come in the shape of things like race cars, castles or pirate ships. 

Pros and cons of investing in a toddler bed

Pros: Cons:
You can use the mattress from their crib.
Generally, they are pretty affordable.
Cool bed frame options are available. 
It is low to the ground, which is perfect for toddlers. 
Your toddler will eventually outgrow the bed.
Most only have a 50-pound weight limit. 

Your other option is to jump straight into a twin bed with safety rails. Some twin frames are too high for toddlers to climb on, so make sure you think about your child’s needs when you’re buying. 

Pros and cons of investing in a twin bed

Pros: Cons:
Twin beds have a longer life since they can last all the way to when they leave the nest. 
There are kid-friendly attachments like guardrails or headboards available. 
Considerably more expensive than a toddler bed. 
Can be too high off the ground. 

We can’t ignore the fact that sometimes beds can be expensive. And you might not be able to shoulder the cost of a new bed in addition to all other expenses. Thankfully, there are some ways to achieve the same thing without having to invest right away. You can choose any of these options or make the changes in steps, so the bed grows as your child adjusts. Making slow changes is a good idea if your child is having a hard time adjusting.

Ways to introduce your child to a bed without investing in a new bed:

  1. Put their crib mattress on the floor
  2. Change it out for a twin mattress
  3. Then add a bedframe
  4. Finally, add a box spring. This final step allows the bed to grow alongside your child. 

Toddler Proofing Their Bedroom

Transitioning from a crib does introduce a whole other issue you didn’t previously have to worry about –– the rest of their bedroom. For the most part, your child’s room is already safe. But now it’s time to look over the room from a toddler’s perspective. 

  • Make sure they can’t reach the windows. If there is no way around it, make sure the windows have guards and your toddler can’t pull down curtains. 
  • Secure all furniture to ensure it is not tippable.
  • Add sliding covers to outlets to protect tiny fingers. 
  • Put away toys at bedtime. Now that they are mobile, their toys will be a big distraction at bedtime. It’s a good idea to put them out of reach. That way, there are no temptations.  

Tips to make the transition go smoothly

Start By Taking The Walls Off Their Crib

A good way to acclimate your toddler with a bed without railings is to remove the bars from the crib slowly. This introduces them to the ability to get in and out of bed without actually moving. You should talk about this change to get them excited about this next step in their development. Make it exciting for them!

Don’t Rush It! Make Sure Your Child Is Ready

We mentioned age and height indications that you can use as benchmarks when your child is ready. Those are just guidelines –– every child is different. You’ll have to explore how ready your toddler is before you start the move. 

“If you try and move your toddler to a bed and they are not willing to stay in their bed after several nights of trying, then be prepared to put them back in a crib. Maybe they are just not ready, and you can try again in a few weeks,” says McLaren.

It’s a good idea to avoid moving their bed if they are already going through big life changes. We mentioned welcoming a new sibling; however, potty training and starting daycare would also fall under this category. You should expect an easy transition to a big kid bed, but compounding changes in their life will make the process even bumpier. 

Practice At Nap Time, So They Get Used To It

Moving to a big kid bed is a big deal for any child. And it can be pretty intimidating or scary at night. An excellent way to offset this is to add their new bed to their room and let them practice sleeping in it during nap time. It’s also a good idea to let them pick something out for their new bed –– like a stuffed animal or cool printed sheets. 

“Whatever tactic or method you try, always remember to stay calm. Moving to a bed can be a big deal for some children, and you need to look at it from their point of view –– It’s scary and exciting growing up! McLaren adds. 

Create a Healthy Bedtime Routine 

A nighttime routine for a child is essential –– sticking to it is even more critical. The routine helps with more than just healthy sleep habits; it also contributes to your child’s development. Studies show that a consistent routine plays a part in language development, attachment, behavioral regulation, and emotional regulation. 

The key to a routine is to do the same things in roughly the same way every night. It generally should start around 20 minutes before their bedtime. So what’s included under the admittedly broad term “bedtime routine?” Pretty much everything –– food, bathtime, storytime, lullabies or cuddling. 

Our team understands that changes in routine can be difficult for anyone, especially for a child. In an effort to make offer an empowering activity for children transitioning to their own bed, we’ve provided printable templates families can begin using tonight to co-create their child’s very own personalized bedtime routine. Creating a bedtime routine is a fun activity that can involve the whole family while arming your child with a renewed sense of independence and control during this adjustment period towards independent sleep. Simply print the routine templates, below, and allow your child to begin creating their own routine with the tiles provided, or use the blank tiles for more personalized routine elements.

In preparation for this activity, we recommend parents use safety scissors to pre-cut the tiles for their child and work alongside them to place their routine elements (up to 10) into the visual bedtime routine template using non-toxic glue or tape.

Download these resources, here:

Visual Bedtime Routine Template

Visual Bedtime Routine Tiles (A)

Visual Bedtime Routine Tiles (B)

To help commemorate your child’s achievement, we’ve even included a printable graduation certificate that can be personalized for your child after making the adjustment to a new bed:

Download this resource, here: Big Kid Bed “Graduation” Certificate

How to Help A Child with Behavioral Problems Transition Comfortably

ADHD –– There are no existing clinical guidelines for diagnosing ADHD in toddlers until they are four years old. That said, symptoms can appear earlier than that. To ensure your toddler is ready for bed, you should avoid sweetened cereals or juices. You’ll also want to keep a consistent nap time and pre-bedtime routine. 

Anxiety/Attachment –– Here’s the good thing, separation anxiety is normal and developmentally, it’s a good thing. That said, it can have a severe impact on how sleep training your toddler. When you’re transitioning your toddler to their new bed, it can be a scary time. The key is to stay calm and relaxed –– that attitude will help them feel that way too. You also shouldn’t try and slip away at night after they have fallen asleep. Instead, at bedtime, let them see you leave the room while still reassuring them you’re still there if they need you.

Autism –– Routine is the most important factor when easing your toddler with autism into their new bed. When in the new bed, they should wake up and go to sleep at the same time and continue with their regular bedtime routine. Nationwide Children’s suggests making a visual or object schedule for your child to follow along.

Sensory Processing Disorder  ––Approximately 5 – 16% of school ages children have SPD. Routine is extremely important for children with SPD. Their bedtime routine will be detailed and will include a lot of trial and error because toddlers can have difficulty identifying and articulating problems at a young age. 

Tips for SPD: 

  • Make sure bedding and pajamas don’t have any unwanted smells from scented detergent or fabric softener. 
  • Be intentional about the bedding your child uses. You don’t want the bedding to make your child too hot or cold. 
  • Consider a canopy bed or privacy tent to block out light and distractions. 

Too Long, Didn’t Read?

Deciding when your toddler is ready to move to their next bed isn’t an easy decision. And the process of transitioning can be even bumpier. Remember, a little positive reinforcement for good behavior goes a long way. It can be as simple as a dance party or a sticker. Whatever you find that works for your child!