The right time to transition a toddler from a crib to a bed can vary depending on the toddler. While there is no set age, there are signs that a toddler may be ready for the transition. These include the toddler outgrowing the crib or being able to climb out of it.
It can be a challenge to transition a toddler from a crib to a bed. The move may result in toddlers putting up a struggle at bedtime and climbing out of bed throughout the night.
This can negatively affect the amount and quality of sleep of both the toddler and the caregiver.
This article looks at when it is the right time to transition a toddler to a bed and signs a toddler is ready for the move. It also looks at how to help a toddler transition and safety tips and guidelines.
Each toddler is different, and a caregiver should take the maturity level and behavior of their toddler into consideration when deciding to transition them from a crib to a bed.
There is no specific age at which a toddler should move to a bed, although caregivers usually make the decision when the toddler is between 18 months and 3 years old.
While some toddlers take to the transition nearer 18 months, others may need more time.
For some caregivers, the decision depends on the toddler’s safety rather than their age. Once a toddler is large and dextrous enough to climb out of the crib, a toddler or twin bed may be a safer option.
A caregiver may want to factor in a toddler’s size and age when considering the transition to a bed.
They should also consider a toddler’s individual needs and characteristics when deciding to transition to a bed.
They are big enough to escape the crib
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that a caregiver transition a toddler to a bed once the child reaches 35 inches (89 centimeters) in height.
This is because toddlers of this size are generally able to try to climb out of a crib, even when the mattress is at its lowest setting.
According to the AAP, falls are the most common injury in relation to cribs. A caregiver should lower the crib mattress as the baby grows to prevent them from being able to climb out for as long as possible.
It is best to use a crib with a manufacture date after June 2011, when new safety standards came into effect.
They may be old enough to transition to a bed
Some caregivers base their decision on whether to move a toddler to a bed on the toddler’s age.
A person should not attempt to transition a toddler to a bed before the age of 18 months. After this, a caregiver should base their decision on the size, physical capabilities, temperament, and maturity level of the toddler.
A 2019 study found that it may be beneficial to delay the transition from a crib to a bed until a child is 3 years old.
The study found that overall, toddlers who slept in cribs:
- went to bed earlier
- fell asleep more quickly
- woke fewer times during the night
- slept for longer stretches
- had fewer sleep problems
- showed less bedtime resistance
According to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, children aged 1–2 years should sleep 11–14 hours per 24 hours, including naps.
Sleeping for the recommended hours increases the chances of better health outcomes for toddlers, which include improved:
- mental and physical health
- quality of life
- emotional regulation
Allowing a toddler to sleep in a crib until the age of 3 years may benefit their sleep and overall health outcomes.
When not to make the transition
A person should avoid transitioning a toddler to a bed too early.
Before the age of 18 months, toddlers should sleep in a crib to ensure their safety.
After 18 months, a caregiver will need to decide if the toddler is emotionally, mentally, and physically ready to transition to a bed.
Although many toddlers wander from their new bed or put up a struggle at bedtime, toddlers who seem very upset, have tantrums or are very fearful after the transition may not be ready yet.
For some toddlers, the transition to a bed can be disruptive, and caregivers may need to manage the move. Steps that may help a toddler transition to a bed include:
- Maintaining the bedtime routine: After moving to a bed, caregivers should try to maintain the same bedtime routine as before. They should tell the toddler to remain in bed unless they need to go to the bathroom and calmly lead them back to bed if they get out. It may help for the caregiver to provide reassurance and tell the toddler they will check on them throughout the night.
- Remaining calm: Caregivers may need to repeatedly lead the toddler back to their bed throughout the night. However, they should avoid making the process exciting or upsetting, as this can lead to toddlers repeating the behavior for attention. Rather, caregivers should make the routine quiet and boring to discourage wandering.
- Rewarding staying in bed: Caregivers should praise a toddler for remaining in their bed. However, they should avoid rewarding getting out of bed and should not let the toddler climb into the caregiver’s bed in the night or spend time with other family members who are still awake.
Because transitioning to a bed means the toddler can climb out and freely wander around, it is best for caregivers to address safety concerns.
These may include:
- Fall-proofing the bed: Some toddler beds include guard rails, which can help prevent falls. To further fall-proof a bed, a caregiver can push it into a corner so that at least two sides are against a wall and ensure the area around the bed is soft by adding plush rugs or pillows.
- Clearing the area: A caregiver should ensure the room is free of toys and objects on the floor and that any hard or pointed corners or objects are padded. The toddler may wander from their bed in the dark, so the area should be free of tripping or bumping hazards.
- Providing a night light: A light can help children see obstacles in the night if they do climb out of bed and can help them feel more secure.
- Installing stair gates: Caregivers should install gates to prevent toddlers from accessing stairs if they get out of bed.
The right time to transition a toddler from crib to bed depends on the toddler. Children grow and mature at different speeds, and some will be ready before others.
Caregivers should discuss the child’s developmental readiness for this transition with the pediatrician during a routine well visit.
Signs that a toddler is ready to move to a bed may include their size and age. Some researchers recommend delaying the transition until the toddler is 3 years of age to improve sleep and health outcomes.
Caregivers can help the transition by maintaining a bedtime routine, remaining calm, and rewarding staying in bed. They should ensure the bed is fall-proof, the area around it is clear of hazards, and stairs have gates.