If you have a toddler you might be wondering when to transition them to a toddler bed. The most common sleep challenge toddler parents face is when they transition their toddler to a toddler bed too early and their toddler doesn’t understand how to stay in bed and it can be rough if they are resisting bedtime for over an hour or more! So it’s best to wait until your child is ready and has a good grasp on communication and incentive to make this transition easier. Let’s talk about the best time to transition to a toddler bed and how you can make the process easier and more fun for your child.

When is the best time to transition my child to a toddler bed?

I highly encourage you to wait until your child is as close to age 3 as possible before moving them to a toddler bed, but if you have a child under age 3 who is relentlessly climbing out of their crib, you may need to make the transition sooner for their safety. A 3-year-old is more likely to understand the purpose of their new bed and impulse control is beginning to develop, so they have a better grasp on fighting the urge to climb out of bed.

You may also see these signs of readiness:

  • Climbing out of the crib despite using a sleep sack and lowering the mattress.
  • Your toddler has outgrown the height and weight limits on the crib, so the crib may now be a safety risk.
  • It has become difficult for your toddler to sleep in the crib comfortably or it is difficult to lift them in and out.

How do I prepare to transition my child to a toddler bed?

  1. Involve them in the process. Talk to them about what will be happening and how exciting it is they are becoming a big girl/boy!
  2. Let them pick out their new bedding, a set of new big kid pajamas and maybe a new lovey if they like having one
  3. Have the toddler bed set-up prior to the transition if possible. This can give them the opportunity to play and explore with the new bed before we introduce it for sleep. This is a great time to role play with your child! Pretend to put their dolls or toys to sleep and going through the motions of saying goodnight, turning off the lights, and leaving the room, have them try it too!
  4. Set a date to transition them into the toddler be and circle it on the calendar. Talk about the change the closer the date gets – “3 more days until you move into your big kid bed!”, “2 more days until you move into your big kid bed!”, etc.
  5. Once you move into the big kid bed, make sure you set the new boundaries from night one.

How do I set clear boundaries once my child is in a toddler bed?

With a newfound freedom of being able to climb easily out of bed, you might notice your toddler is getting up and turning on the lights, playing with their toys instead of sleeping, or opening their door and coming out of their room repeatedly. What can you do to set some boundaries at bedtime?

  • Remove distractions like toys from the room if your child is fighting their sleep and playing instead of sleeping.
  • Provide a nightlight if they are afraid of the dark, but try unscrewing their lightbulb for the night or putting a cover over their light switch to prevent them from turning on the light which can lead to them staying up later.
  • Install a Door Monkey or a safety door knob cover to prevent them from coming out of the room. You can even use a baby gate if neither of the other safety options work for your specific door knob type.
  • If they climb out of bed, do a walk-back. Hold their hand, walk them back to their bed, and repeat your goodnight phrase and remind them why sleep and staying in bed is important.
  • Be consistent!

Helpful tools and strategies to help you navigate the toddler bed transition

  • Sticker chart – This can be a fun way for them to feel instantly rewarded and proud in the morning. You can make it look like a game and even establish that after X nights they can pick out something new for their room or a new toy.
  • Toddler OK To Wake Clock – When a child wakes at 5am and tricks their body into thinking it’s awake, they won’t understand you simply telling them it’s not actually morning time! So this is where a toddler clock comes in extremely handy! Our favorite is MELLA (Code: Sleepyhead for 10% off) as she has a cute face and in addition to changing a color upon your desirable wakeup, she closes her eyes when she’s sleeping and opens them when it’s “morning time” or “get out of bed time”. There’s also the ability to have a yellow color 30-minutes prior to your desired wake up time to help them implement quiet play time and then this way they also know it’s almost time for their bodies to get out of bed. This is just another tool to help your toddler understand you’re trying to make this change easier on them! 

If you find yourself struggling with the toddler bed transition, checkout our Toddler Bootcamp Sleep Guide and 1:1 sleep training support packages or read up on our blog post How to Keep Your Toddler in their Bed