When is it Right to Transition to a Toddler Bed?

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Sleeping toddler; When to Transition to a Toddler Bed

The transition to a toddler bed is a big deal. If you’re hesitant, we’ve got your back. Courtney Huston, ARNP, UnityPoint Health, gives her best advice to help keep everyone in the family sleeping soundly.

Sleep… What’s That?

Huston says sleep is very important to a child’s development. Sleep, or lack thereof, impacts emotional, physiological and mental functioning. Most toddlers and preschoolers need between 11 to 14 hours of sleep in a 24-hour period. 

“There is no right answer about what time toddlers/preschoolers should go to bed,” Huston says. “It all depends on home life and what works best for the family. The earlier kids get up in the morning, the earlier in the evening their bedtime needs to be.”

Remember, naps can impact how well a child goes to bed at night. When kids reduce naps to once daily, Huston advises keeping naps earlier in the day rather than later.

When to Transition to a Toddler Bed

Research suggests keeping kids in their cribs longer, even until the age of three, can be beneficial and improve sleep for the whole family. However, Huston says there is no right or wrong answer about when a toddler is ready to transition to a big-kid bed. It all depends on what feels right for your child and family. Here are three scenarios that might have you thinking about moving your child to a new bed.

  • New Baby’s Arrival. There’s another baby on the way who needs the crib. Huston says this could mean a transition to a bed sooner rather than later. She says sometimes daycares will move toddlers to cots or beds, which may allow for a smoother transition.
  • Potty Training. It’s important your child can get up during the night to use the bathroom by himself/herself. However, Huston says it’s not a good idea to start potty training, and transitioning to a new bed, at the same time since they are both developmental milestones. Doing too much at once may overwhelm kids, which can delay meeting both milestones and cause regression.
  • Crawling Out. Huston says safety always needs to be considered. If your child is crawling out of the crib, it might be time to transition to a toddler bed. Parents might first try lowering the crib mattress as low as it will go. Some cribs will even allow the mattress to be, literally, on the floor. But, if kids are still trying to escape, it is time to transition. If you don’t, Huston says the child might get hurt.

“My nephew tried to climb out of his crib and got his leg stuck in between the slats. He luckily did not fracture anything but refused to walk or use that leg for over a week!” Huston says. 

Using a Crib that Turns into a Toddler Bed

Huston says having a crib that transitions is fine, but it might be a good idea to skip the toddler bed and go straight to larger, standard options.

“I typically recommend skipping the toddler bed. Transitioning from a crib to any other type of bed is a big change, as would be the change from a toddler bed to a twin/full/queen. It will be a bigger headache to make two transitions, so I would suggest just moving kids into the size of bed they will be sleeping in long-term versus doing a short-term toddler bed,” Huston says.

You can also consider using bed rails to help protect a kid from falling out when first moving to a bed. However, there is a safety risk of falling between the rail and bed. Huston says they used pool noodles and placed them under the mattress pad and fitted sheet. It creates a little bump/barrier to keep kids from rolling out of bed without the concern of falling between the mattress and bed rail.

How to Keep a Toddler in Bed

So, you are making the transition to a big-kid bed. No turning back now, right? Read these sleep suggestions to help your family get more shuteye. 

  • Set a Bedtime Environment. Make sure it’s dark and only allow a dim night light, if necessary. Keep the room temperature between 68-72-degrees F and use a sound machine to drown out noise from outside of the bedroom.

  • Create a Bedtime Routine. Kids are creatures of habit. Make a bedtime routine and stick with it. It could be a bath, reading a book, listening to music and/or grabbing comfort items like stuffed animals, lovies or blankets.
  • Teach Kids to Fall Asleep, Independently. It’s a good idea to get your toddler/preschooler comfortable and leave the room while they are awake. While laying with them until they fall asleep is not wrong, be prepared to commit to months or even years of that habit. This habit came make bedtime routines seem very tedious and limit free time for parents.
  • Remain Consistent and Calm. If your child gets out of bed a lot, remain calm. Being stern and mad is not going to help anyone. Reinforce that it’s bedtime, they are loved, and you’ll see them in the morning. Keep the conversation to a minimum and walk him/her back to bed. Avoid too much affection and make each encounter during the night the same.
  • Try Rewards. If your child is motivated by rewards, feel free to offer one as a reason to stay in bed all night.
  • Avoid Sharing Beds. Huston doesn’t recommend getting into the habit of letting your child into your bed at night. It’s a habit that can take months, or even years, to break and can have a negative effect on sleep patterns and marriages. However, it’s a personal choice and is not wrong.
  • Talk with your Child’s Doctor. You can use melatonin, but make sure to discuss dosing with your child’s doctor. Night terrors, nightmares and sleepwalking are also not uncommon for this age group. Sometimes low iron levels can cause these types of sleep issues, which is an easy thing for doctors to identify.

“My oldest was a great crib sleeper. So, I really didn’t think we would have issues getting her in a big girl bed. Night one: we did our typical bedtime routine of getting into bed with all her comfort items. Good to go, right? WRONG! She was 2.5 years at the time, and she got out of bed 90 times that night. I know because I kept tally as my husband, and I camped out in the hallway. Each time she got out, we calmly put her back in bed, saying, ‘It’s time for bed, goodnight, love you.’ Sometimes she went to bed willingly, other times there were tears. Around midnight, my husband asked to go in and just lay with her so we could get some sleep. I told him to go to bed, I was invested in this. No turning back now. The next night, she got up around 50 times. The following night, it was about 35 times. Each night was less and less time out of bed. After that, she knew bedtime meant bedtime,” Huston says.