There are so many momentous “firsts” in a child’s early development, such as sitting up on their own for the first time, taking their first steps, and saying their first words. Transitioning a child from a crib to a bed is another “first” that, like these other milestones, can be both exciting and emotionally draining for parents and children. Doctors and childcare experts seem to agree that there is no right age or perfect way to make the move. Some parents wait longer until their child is well over three years old to move them from the crib, hoping to delay the inevitable for as long as they can. At some point, though, parents need to come to terms with the fact that their child is ready for more space and independence and is, simply put, growing up.

Transitioning a child from a crib can be challenging for all parties involved. For the parents, it can be emotionally difficult to see their little ones officially move out of the “baby” stage, even when they have been walking and talking for a few years. Children can be filled with pride and excitement over having their own “big” beds, but they can also be easily overwhelmed and scared. It is a big move – a big change – and parents should not forget that these are still young children. The freedom of not being confined to a crib can get the best of children. At bedtime, many keep getting out of their beds and exploring the world outside of their rooms only to be returned time and time again back to their beds. There is really no telling how the transition process will go until it actually starts.

What can parents do to try and make the move from a crib to a bed as smooth as possible? Here are a few recommendations that may help parents keep their sanity and keep their children better rested and safe throughout the course of this change:

  1. Timing Is Key: Generally, parents make the move when their child is between 3 and 4 years old, but again this varies based on the family and child. When a child is repeatedly climbing out of their crib, creating a potentially unsafe situation, it is probably time to put the crib away. Some toddlers ask to make the move; wanting to sleep in big beds like their parents and older siblings. If a child is asking to move and it seems appropriate, it may be best for the parents to try the transition sooner rather than later.
  1. All Beds Are Not Created Equal: Parents may find the transition easier using a smaller, cozier toddler bed, versus a standard twin bed. It may be helpful to place the new bed in the exact same spot where the old crib was so that the child can have a familiar view and perspective. Getting a child involved in picking out the bed and the bed linens may also help them look forward to the change and feel more comfortable with it. Be sure to move all toys and stuffed animals from the old crib into the new bed. Anything a parent can do to create a recognizable setting in the new bed will help.
  1. Safety First: When a child is no longer in a crib and not literally surrounded by protective bars, parents should be extra vigilant when it comes to child proofing their bed and the surrounding space. All medications and creams, as well as sharp and/or hot objects should be kept out of reach. Also, railings can be easily added to toddler and twin beds to keep a child from falling out. This is a small thing that can be done for peace of mind and, of course, to protect the child.
  1. One Thing at a Time: Let a child focus on one major transition at a time. If a child is in the midst of potty training, for example, most experts and researchers recommend not undertaking a crib to bed transition on top of this. This rule does not just apply to children. Parents should look closely at their own situations and see what is practical and what they can realistically handle. If a family is expecting another child, it is recommended to start moving their toddler to a bed at least two months in advance of the due date. If this is not possible, it will probably be best to wait until a few months after the birth – again parents need to remember to do one thing at a time in order to minimize their own stress and maximize success on all fronts!
  1. Early to Bed: It can be helpful to put a child to bed 30 minutes earlier when they are transitioning to a bed. Given the fact that many children will keep getting out of bed once put to bed in the early days of this process, this extra time may just be the important buffer they need to stay healthy and rested.
  1. Patient, but Firm: One of the most challenging parts of this whole process is often just having the child stay in their new bed. Parents should try their best to be understanding and recognize that this is all new and different for their children and, perhaps, a bit scary too. They should be prepared with lots of extra hugs and kisses and soft voices to help keep the little ones calm, and give them the emotional support they need. When they do keep getting up and out of their beds, parents should be consistent and firm when addressing them. Children need to be reminded that it is bedtime and they need to go back to their bed and STAY in their bed. Even if parents have to repeat this phrasing over and over, eventually it will take hold and things will get easier all the way around.

Before and during the big move, parents are encouraged to keep talking to their children – check in on their feelings, ask them how they think it is going, and see if they have any ideas that would make their new sleeping setup better. Children can have great suggestions – ones that adults may never have thought of – and these are the type of ideas that can lead to more restful nights, faster. At the end of the day (no pun intended), this is a goal that is in everyone’s best interest.

About the Author:

Gladys Ruiz is the Director of Little Children Schoolhousein Brookline, MA. After more than 10 years working in Early Childhood Education, Gladys opened the Little Children Schoolhouse to provide a nurturing, loving environment—an extension of her student’s home and family life—in Brookline. Pre-K, Preschool and Daycare programs for toddlers and infants include extra activities, such as weekly music, yoga, cooking, science activities, and field trips. Both full day and part-time enrollment are available.