How to make the transition from crib to big kid bed

Katrina Taibinger, Sleep Consultant  |   6 Aug 2023

Wondering when to switch your little one over to sleeping in a bed of their own?  Curious about how to make the transition from crib to big kid bed?

Many readers at The Ribbon Box worry about when it’s the right time. We’ve partnered with Certified Pediatric Sleep Consultant and Founder of Sleep Through Your NightsKatrina Taibinger to get her expert tips on transitioning from cot to big bed. 

As a certified sleep consultant, Katrina Taibinger works with families throughout Ontario and internationally, helping create healthy routines around sleep.

Keep reading for advice on making the bed switch for your toddler.

One of the most common questions I get asked as a baby sleep consultant is, “When should we move my toddler into a big kid bed?”

My favorite answer to this is, “Later,” and there are a couple of reasons why I say that.

Number one is because there are so many other priorities when it comes to your baby’s sleep. Establishing a bedtime routine, teaching independent sleep skills, getting your baby accustomed to a schedule, are all things that should take place before you worry about transitioning from crib to bed.

Believe me, it’s going to be a lot easier to make the switch once you’ve got a good, skilled sleeper on your hands.

Moving to a big kid bed isn’t a developmental stage for a predetermined age

The other reason I tell parents to wait as long as they can is because, unless you’ve got a new baby on the way and need to make some space in that crib, there’s just no reason to push it.

Toddlers will inevitably notice that they sleep in a different bed than their parents, or their older siblings, and will ask why. Once they’ve shown some interest, and feel like they want to make the switch, I’m all for it. But don’t look at it as some kind of developmental stage that your child should reach at a predetermined age. Transition your child from crib to big kid bed when they’re ready.

They’ll get there when they get there, and there’s no harm if it’s later rather than sooner.

Safety disclaimer

I should actually throw in a little disclaimer here. If your little one has started the “escape artist” routine, and is climbing out of their crib in a dangerous way, there’s potentially some harm if they fall on their way out. However, if they’ve got the skills to get out of the crib safely, (and some kids I know are exceptional at climbing out of their cribs) then, again, I once again recommend sticking with the crib.

transition from crib to big kid bed sleep coach

Switching beds won’t improve behaviour

One of the biggest reasons I see for parents moving their kids from a crib to a big kid bed is because they’re hoping it will solve some existing sleep issues. Maybe baby has a habit of wanting to climb into bed with Mom and Dad, or they’re suddenly waking up and demanding a glass of milk in the middle of the night.

It’s easy to think a big kid bed would help them feel more grown up. Maybe it would give them a feeling of security and comfort.

It will not. Full stop.

In all my time as a consultant, and with all of the other consultants I network with, to my knowledge, none of us have ever seen bad sleep behavior solved by transitioning baby from crib to big bed.

Wandering Baby Syndrome

Now, I recognize that some parents just want an age (even if it’s just a guideline), so I would say 2½ years old is probably the earliest you want to make the crib to bed switch.

But again! That’s just a guideline, and later is better.

Now that I’ve told you to wait as long as possible, what if you’ve waited and now are ready to make the transition?

The first thing you might notice is how quickly and easily your little one makes the switch. Your little one climbs into the new bed, loves the cool print on the new sheets, and sleeps happily straight through the night.

Maybe you’re in the clear! Or perhaps not…

There’s typically a honeymoon period with the big kid bed. Kids initially think they’re great but then, after a couple of weeks, they start to wake up and leave their room in the middle of the night, asking to get into bed with Mom and Dad.

You may be tempted to allow your child to hop in, but I strongly suggest you put an early and absolute ban on bed sharing at this point. If your child starts leaving their room in the night, walk them back, tell them it’s not allowed, and let them know what the consequence will be if they do it again.

The best deterrent I know for WBS, or Wandering Baby Syndrome, is to close the bedroom door all the way, and keep it closed for a full minute on the first offence. If baby leaves the room again, make it two minutes. Then five, and so on.

Again, regardless of how sweet the request is, or how easy it might be to just flip back your comforter and let your little one climb aboard, don’t give in. You really need to make it clear that it’s not allowed, or you’ll be dealing with nighttime roaming for months.

Related article: Getting a better night’s sleep (as an adult!)

Following these tips for making the transition from crib to big kid bed can help develop a healthy sleep routine for your kids and ensure you get a good night’s sleep, too.

Book a free discovery call with Katrina here to learn how to help your baby sleep through the night, and follow sleep Through Your Nights on Instagram here.

At The Ribbon Box, we’re here to support you through the highs and lows of pregnancy and parenthood. Join the community to stay up to date, and get practical support and handy tips just like these delivered straight to your inbox each week.

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