Transitioning your toddler to a big kid bed

As soon as my toddler (my middle child Emma Kate) attempted to lift her leg over the side of her crib, we knew we were in trouble. I wasn’t really ready to move her, but she was. We already had her “big girl bed” set up and waiting for her; I prayed it would be as easy a transition for her as it was for big sister. Could lightening really strike twice?

I am pretty sure my oldest made the easiest transition to her big kid bed of all time. We made a big deal out of the big move — lots of pomp and circumstance. She was so excited. We crossed our fingers and closed the bedroom door. I fully expected to have to spend the first couple of months sleeping right next to her. But not a peep. She slept all night long with no issue. And then repeated this performance day after day. She was about 2 at the time. And yes, I realize how lucky we are.

How do you know your toddler is ready for a “big kid bed”?

There really are no hard and fast rules, but here are a few signs that it might be time to make the big move. Is your child three feet tall? Does she regularly make a jailbreak from her crib, or ask for a big girl bed? Mama, brace yourself. It may be time to make a transition. But remember, every kid is different.

If you decide that it is in fact time to make the move, you have two options. You can either move your toddler into a mini-bed — think low to the ground for safety reasons — or you can put her in a full-sized bed with safety rails. (We chose the second option.) Whatever you choose, the bed should be sturdy. Toddlers are notoriously rambunctious creatures. I can guarantee you there will be wiggling, rolling around, and jumping taking place. For this exact reason, the bed design (the headboard and footboard) should be simple — free of ornamentation, cutouts and protrusions. Unless you fancy a midnight trip or two to the emergency room.

I think my child is ready to make the move. Now what?

Safety first! Set the bed up away from windows, blind cords, and window coverings (drapes). These are fall and strangulation hazards. The headboard should be flush against a wall, with plenty of space on either side of the bed (so that your child doesn’t get stuck). Place a soft rug, blankets, and/or pillows around the perimeter of the bed to protect your toddler from the hard floor in the event that she falls out of the bed.

Time the transition right. Lots of other life changes taking place? Like a new baby brother or sister, toilet training, a new school or big move? This may not be the time. A convertible crib (one where the front panel is removable) might be a good option — this can be a less drastic change.

A few more helpful tips to consider. 

  • Age and subject-matter appropriate books are always a great way to introduce something new to a child. Pick up a few books about sleeping in a big kid bed and read them with your toddler. Point out that the characters “are just like you.” Emphasize that moving to a big kid bed is brave. Make it a big deal.
  • Get your little in on the action. Make the move a momentous occasion. Let your child pick out special bedding and/or stuffed animals for her new bed. Most kids will get a kick out of this process.
  • Newsflash: your toddler may get up and go exploring at night. Especially if she is anything like my Emma Kate. There is nothing scarier than waking up to a toddler standing over you. This is probably a good time to re-evaluate your child-proofing measures. Any furniture in her room should be secure — consider securing dressers and other furniture to the wall to prevent climbing and/or pulling down of furniture. If your toddler sleeps upstairs, you may want to put up a safety gate. This will keep them safe, and might also allow you to catch a few extra winks. We put up a safety gate at the entrance to the top of our stairs, and another in front of the toddler’s bedroom door. Cleaning products, medications, and other hazardous items (like guns and knives) should be kept where children cannot get to them. Doors and windows should remain locked. We also had to hide toothpaste and chapstick. (Don’t ask).
  • It’s perfectly acceptable to ease into the big kid bed. Don’t feel like you have to make the move all at once — it’s okay to start small. Start with nap time if you have to. Consider keeping your toddler in the same room that she has always slept in, especially if a new baby is coming. You don’t want her to feel displaced.
  • Keep your bedtime routine the same. Kids do well with boundaries and routine. Why reinvent the wheel? Practice patience. And even more patience. Be consistent and firm. Make an exception once, and your toddler will never forget.
  • Praise your toddler for success. A sticker chart or small prizes can be good incentive. Refer to your toddler as a big girl or boy. Toddlers like this.

I promise your child will not leave for college in a crib. Eventually he or she will learn to sleep in his or her own bed. Hang in there mommies and daddies! Baby steps.

About the author…After three blissful years in the Treasure State, Jessica recently moved back to Houston, Texas with her hunky husband and her three precious little girls, Savannah Leigh, Emma Kate, and Brooklyn Olivia. Jessica is a small business owner with a degree in Broadcast Journalism, and a nerd-like love for political science. She is passionate about writing, marketing, social media management, and this wonderfully beautiful mess we call parenthood.