When Should a Toddler Move to a Big Kid Bed?

toddler bed toddler sleep Nov 10, 2022
Transitioning your toddler to a toddler bed can be an exciting time. But, transitioning too early can cause sleep disruptions. Here’s how to know when your toddler is ready to transition to a big kid bed.

Transitioning your toddler into a “big-kid bed” can be an exciting time for your little one! It can be fun to create a new space for them, as well as give them a new sense of independence. However, transitioning to a toddler bed too early can cause more harm than good. Waiting until you know your child is for sure ready for this big change will lead to the best success possible!

If you have a toddler that could benefit from learning to sleep independently, or you would like some guidance on other common sleep issues in babies 18 months - 3 years old, check out my Toddler Sleep Guide!

Here are the most common signs your toddler may be ready to make the switch to a toddler bed! 

3 Signs Your Toddler is Ready for a Toddler Bed

Restful sleep is essential for your little one and plays a large role in memory, generalization, and word learning [1]. If your toddler sleeps well in the crib, but you are worried that transitioning to a toddler bed will cause a sleep regression, you are not alone! 

This transition is an inevitable stage of childhood, and if your child is showing signs that they are ready for a “big-kid” bed, it may be time to make the switch soon. Most toddlers are developmentally ready to transition to a toddler bed when they are 2.5 - 3 years old. However, some may need to transition as soon as 18 months (for safety reasons!) 

While each child is different, and it’s most important to do what is best for your child and family, these signs are the most common things to watch for when determining if your little one is ready. 

  1. The sleep situation has become dangerous 

If your toddler has attempted to climb out of their crib, it is no longer a safe sleeping space for them. Climbing out of the crib is an injury risk and even making an attempt means it's time for a toddler bed, even if they're not yet developmentally ready to make this shift - because safety is the priority here. However, if your little one has not attempted to climb out of the crib, remember to ensure that their crib is at the lowest position possible and have them wear a sleep sack for bed as a way to try to prevent a climb-out attempt. 

2.  They’ve reached the manufacturer-recommended limits 

Every manufacturer gives recommendations on safe limits for height and weight associated with their crib. Make sure to check these recommendations to determine whether your little one has reached EITHER the height or weight limit. If this is the case, you’ll want to make the transition to a toddler bed as soon as possible, even if they don’t meet the third and final sign which I’ve listed below (which is not ideal, but the safest option). 

3.  They’re showing signs of developmental readiness

The last sign that your little one is ready to make the move (and this is most important in terms of having a successful move when it comes to being the least disruptive to sleep, specifically) is that they are developmentally ready. One indication that they may be developmentally ready is that they are asking to move to a big kid's bed! As mentioned earlier, transitioning to a bigger bed is a normal part of childhood, and eventually, your little one may begin asking for one. They may not ever try climbing out of their crib, and they may sleep great in there! If they do begin asking for one though (and they sleep well), it may be time to consider it. 

But before making the move too soon, I recommend ensuring that your child can understand the concept of rewards and consequences. This will help you determine their capacity to understand that they have to stay in their room throughout the night and things like the use of an “ok to wake” light (something like The Nanit Sound +  Light Duo that allows a light to turn on in the morning at a certain time to let the child know it’s "officially morning" and they can leave their room to come into yours!). This does not guarantee that they WILL stay in their room or follow the light trick. But, you want to ensure they can at least understand the concept of it, so that over time with consistency and practice they will get the hang. 

A few reasons NOT to make the move too soon

While each child is different, and it’s most important to do what is best for your child and family, these signs are the most common things to watch for when determining if your little one is ready. 

  1. They have reached a specific age

Because all children develop at their own rates and have their own personalities, there is simply isn’t one specific age that works for all children to make this switch. Some kids may climb out of the crib, some may not. Some may reach the manufacturer's limits on the crib at age 2, and some might not until age 4. The same goes for signs of developmental readiness. The signs listed above are there to ensure your child is safe, and/or that they are mentally and emotionally ready to be successful with this transition. 

2.  You’re having another baby and want the crib for them

This may be a surprising one for many parents! And if you have made this choice in the past or already plan to, that’s ok! It’s not “wrong” or “bad” by any means. I simply recommend determining whether your toddler is ready to make the move based on their needs, in order to have the most success! It also doesn’t mean that you can’t have success moving them earlier than when you see these signs - it’s just common to have increased toddler sleep issues when the move is made before the signs of readiness occur. If you DO have another baby on the way and you’re wondering my advice, I say push it as long as possible in your house! Newborns can sleep for 3-6 months in a bassinet, depending on their size. This gives more time for your toddler to stay in the crib. And IF it’s possible to get a second crib for both children to be in cribs at the same time based on the space in your home and your budget - yes, I do recommend that as the most ideal option. You can then sell one of the cribs or donate it once your toddler is truly ready to make the move. But again, if this isn’t possible in your home - that’s OK. You can always adjust advice to fit your needs!

Tips for Transitioning to a Toddler Bed

If you’ve decided that your little one is ready to transition to a toddler bed, here are 3 things you can do to make it a smooth transition for both of you!

  1. Include them in prepping for the transition

Including your child in setting up their new big bed can help them feel excited about this change. Letting them help you pick out their new bedding can be a great way to do this! Maybe you have a sticker chart or paper chain for the week leading up to the transition. And each day you add a sticker OR take away one of the circles on the chain to visually represent the number of days left until they move to their big kid bed. Regardless of your tactic, prepping verbally in advance is hugely important in increasing success - talking through what it will look like, feel like, boundaries, etc. Role-play is also an awesome way to prep for this big change! 

2.  Keep your same bedtime routine

When it’s time for bed, keep your bedtime routine and time the same as if they were going to sleep in their crib. A consistent bedtime routine can help your child know that sleep is coming, and even help them sleep more soundly [2]. Keep as many elements of bedtime as consistent as you can, so that the only element that has changed is the bed style. Try your best not to have multiple large changes at once, even outside of bedtime. For example, I don’t recommend making this shift within the same month your child starts preschool or simultaneously starting potty training, etc. 

3.  Have a “reward” system in place 

If your child responds well to reward systems, you can reward them during this transition for positive behaviors. I personally recommend rewards that are more intrinsic in value, as opposed to physical items. The reason for this is that many children will either not be motivated by the physical item when it comes down to staying in their room in the moment, OR it will stop working once they realize they no longer care about that thing. I suggest focusing on enthusiastic praise and encouraging them to acknowledge their “big kid” behavior and to be proud of themselves, too! This could be a fun dance party when they wake up to recognize and celebrate what they accomplished (as an example). 

Or, to use something like a NEW extra 10-minutes of special time before bed where they can choose whatever quiet activity (like reading books, snuggling, or a puppet show) they want with your undivided attention. And remember, this is extra time above and beyond what you would normally dedicate ni the bedtime routine. Or, if your child really responds well to physical rewards, I recommend keeping it to something simple and ongoing like a sticker chart that leads to one prize at the end of a week or a month, as opposed to a present or prize every single night. 

If your toddler’s nighttime sleep is not where you’d like it to be, i.e. they have frequent night wakings or have a sleep association (they NEED something in order to fall asleep and stay asleep), switching to a toddler bed is not likely to be the answer to your child’s sleep needs. Oftentimes, switching to a toddler bed can amplify any sleep issues your little one may have since they will be able to get out of bed easily. 

And an extremely important note for moving your toddler to a big kid bed is to ensure their room and the house is toddler-proofed and safe! Now that they will be more mobile and easily able to exit their bed or room, it’s essential to double-check for safety (like loose cords, furniture mounted to walls, gates locked by stair access, etc.).

If your child is showing signs that they are ready to transition but you are worried about their current sleep habits, please know that you are not alone and that I am here to help. Check out my Toddler Sleep Course for some extra support and guidance on helping your little one learn how to sleep independently.


[1] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5017299/ 

[2] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6587181/

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