When to Transition from a Crib to Toddler Bed

When to transition from a crib to a toddler bed is a popular question without a straight answer. There’s no “right” or “wrong” answer to it. There is no specific recommended age for transitioning to a toddler bed.

You can transition to your own bed at 1 (as most Montessori parents do actually), you can transition to a toddler bed at 2, or even not until 4.

I could tell you a story of “this is how it went with us”, but that wouldn’t be very helpful because like I always say: every child is different and every parent also has a different level of comfort regarding their kids’ freedom. And, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.

Every opinion here is researched. For this article I surveyed a ton of parents from different countries to get a grasp on cultural customs as well and what’s considered “normal” in different parts of the world.

Especially since the US has a lot of strange rules regarding babies and toddlers and sleeping – if you don’t believe me, I explained it into a different post on toddler pajamas.

Traditional toddler bed

When It’s Time to Transition from the Crib Into Toddler Bed

I transitioned my toddler at 14 months and never looked back. It’s so convenient for travel as well. Another mom from Busy Toddler described her process of switching at 18 months. It can be done “early”, but it doesn’t have to be.

In the US, about 90% of 18-month-olds sleep in a crib, but that gradually drops to about 80% at 2 years and 40% by 3 years of age. In Europe, most 2.5-year-olds are already in their own “big kid” beds.

The same thing goes for potty training or pacifiers. In the US if you dare to potty train your 2-year-old, parents and caregivers will most likely talk you out of it by saying “they’re definitely not ready”, “wait till they’re 3.5 at least” and so on. In Europe, most kids are potty trained by 2-2.5, otherwise, they won’t be able to attend many public nurseries and if you don’t train your child by 3 you’re the weird one.

Pacifiers are the same thing – no one really uses them past 18 months in Europe, they’re not even approved for use later. In the US it’s a normal occurrence to see a child with a binky at the age of 3 or even 4.

As a European living in the US I’m always interested in differences so I kept surveying child psychologists and parents on both continents and my conclusion is that US parents are being scared by health care providers, a bunch of regulations and baby gear marketing people think that everything is a risk.

Pillow is considered a risk, the blanket is considered dangerous, crib bumpers are bad, loosely fit pajamas are a threat, a child being left alone in a safe room for 5 minutes is a hazard, and most toys are choking hazard apparently.

I’m not surprised that a vast majority of parents want to keep treat their toddlers like babies for a very long time – which, according to psychologists is not great in the long run, because all toddlers want is to feel in control and have a choice.

Parents should listen to their instincts, but not rely on the prompts of fear, which is often inadequately huge. Remember that children are usually more independent than we think.

We got a bit off-topic here, but these mindsets play a HUGE role in terms of when to let your child sleep in their own bed in their own room.

I kept reading opinions like “switching too early will screw up your child’s bedtime boundaries and sometimes the feelings of security when they have no railings around them”.

On the other hand, many say that “sleeping in parents bed or even in a crib for too long can turn into a habit that will be very frustrating and hard to break”. Personally, I agree with this one, because most kids have separation issues if they’re co-sleeping for too long.

Generally speaking, ask yourself some questions:

  • is your toddler seems like she’s plotting her first crib escape or climbing over the railings? It’s time to move out immediately.
  • is your toddler 2 and no climbing yet? Start a conversation about transitioning to a toddler bed. The more your child sees this new adventure as something safe and entirely normal, the quicker they’ll adjust to it.
  • are you potty training? If so, cribs are no longer working since they keep a child confined without an opportunity to use a toilet at night.
  • is your toddler all over the crib, rolls around and keeps hitting the railing? Time to move to a larger space.

P.S. A sleepsack is not a way to solve the climbing issue and it’s going to help with that. It can actually make things worse as a crafty toddler can still climb out in a sleepsack and it can pose more risk than simply moving out of the crib. Not to mention an angry or potentially injured toddler.

Dylan planning his escape

When Not to Switch Out of the Crib

While there’s no universal timelines for when to switch out of the bed, there’s one rule of thumb that all psychologists tend to agree on: don’t move the toddler out of the crib around the time when the new baby shows us.

If you’re expecting and don’t want to buy a second crib (I don’t blame you, I wouldn’t want to either), considering switching it a few months before the sibling’s arrival or a few weeks before the baby is about to move out of the parents room.

Even the most independent toddler might have moments of “baby is stealing my stuff”, so if they see a baby using their most recent bed it might not go over very well. The same thing goes for hand-me-down toys of the older sibling.

Dylan not even 2.5 years old – a year since we moved him out of the crib and he can nap anywhere.

How to Transition into a Toddler Bed – Different Situations

Moving out of the crib doesn’t necessarily mean transitioning to a toddler bed.

  • It can mean removing a railing on a convertible crib.
  • It can using a floor bed.
  • It can mean going to a twin bed.
  • Or simply, it can mean just making the kid sleep in his own room (if you’ve been co-sleeping – whether in the same bed or room before).
Dylan – 12 months old with Poofy watching the sunset together when they climbed to the window.

Babyproofing the Toddler Room Before Transition to a Floor Bed

Regardless of when you’re transitioning one thing is certain: you need to make sure your bub’s room is babyproofed. This means:

  • all cupboards and bookshelfs and other furniture need to be attached to the wall
  • all drawers with baby items need locks (we learned this one the hard way when we found the whole carpet covered in baby powder 😉 )
  • if your kid can open the wardrobe, also make sure it’s stable enough in case he climbs on it

Doors… that’s a tricky one, because there are two opinions about it. If your child can open the door (mine was opening door knobs at 12 months and locks 2 months later), you need to think about what do you want to do about a possibility of escaping from the room.

Some “sleep specialists” will tell you to put a gate on the door to make sure the kid stays in there. Personally, we tried it for a while it it didn’t work as my crafty child can unlock them, but it solved nothing – he stood by the gate and kept yelling at us. We removed it fairly quickly.

Other “sleep specialists” will tell you to let the child roam free. Once we removed the gate we let Dylan roam free and it’s been… interesting. Some nights he stayed in his room, other nights he was going downstairs and turning Cocomelon on TV, other nights he wandered around our bedroom and trying to drag us out from bed.

Many parents say that their child will just wander into their bed and sleep, but it was never our case. If that’s your child then it’s easy – just put them back into their bed.

We ended up putting a doorknob blocker on Dylan’s door, got him a night light and getting him a GroClock. The last one has been a game-changer for early waking up times. He will just stay in his room reading until he sees the yellow and yells “it’s yellow time!” for us to get him.

Our current set-up

When Should I Give my Toddler a Pillow?

If your toddler doesn’t ask for a pillow, there’s no need. However, mine kept making pillows out of his stuffed animals all the time so we decided it’s time to give him a pillow.

I spent a day running around trying to get him a toddler pillow from buybuyBaby, just to bring it home and him hating it. To be honest… I tried it myself and I hated it too.

He wanted a “big boy pillow”, the same mommy and daddy use and slept with it ever since.

Dylan – 14 months old, in a convertible crib

Our Story of Transitioning into a Bed from a Crib

My first child Dylan was ready to move out of the crib very early on. We co-slept with him for about 3 months, mostly because we were living in Italy and traveling a lot, so bringing a bedside bassinet everywhere was never an option.

Instead, I got a Baby Delight to put on the bed. We never used a swaddle for the night sleep, just for daily naps. No fancy Halo, Snoo or other gadgets.

Then the baby moved to his own room and crib next door, only occasionally co-sleeping, when I traveled alone with him and hotels weren’t offering cribs (and I only traveled with a carry-on for me and baby).

He despised sleep sacks no matter of the brand and TOG so he’s always slept in footies and blanket.

Dylan has been an early crawler and climber, so we had to lower the crib pretty early on. Then, when we left him at grandparents at 8.5 months he basically kept standing up in his mesh pack and play.

Unintentionally, we tried out a floor mattress when he was 10 months old for a week, because we moved and Fedex lost our crib and only delivered the mattress. He had no issues, apart from occasional rolling off.

We went back to a crib for a bit longer (even though he kept throwing his binky out of it to make us come and get it for him), but when we traveled with him to Greece at 14 months he kept climbing out of every single pack and play or cribs we used. It was time to open up a crib.

I bought a convertible crib with the intensions to switch it to a toddler bed when the time comes. Today I can say that a convertible crib really didn’t work for us at all.

We switched him out of the convertible crib very early, because there was no railing and he kept rolling off. We could have bought a railing for it, but in the end it would have ended up being more money than just getting him a twin bed that would last for years to come.

We considered a floor bed and still have one in the storage, but one thing to take into consideration is that if the place you live is humid. If it is, then I will say that a floor bed might not be the best idea because the mattress could get moldy after a while.

First question that everyone always asks when you say you transitioned a toddler to a bed:

How to Make Your Toddler to Stay in Bed

Yes and no. Once in a bed, your toddler can pop out anytime she wants and it gives them a sense of freedom and allows to make a decision.

It’s a process you need to explain to them and make them understand that the bed is where we sleep or read a book before bedtime. You may find your toddler falling asleep on the floor at first, but then gently move them to bed.

Some sources will tell you to stop the transition if you find your toddler on the floor. I think this is the biggest BS, because you may have a rolling child that just needs a railing (even an adult could fall off the bed too) and the child also needs to learn how to transition. No one stops potty training after one accident, so you shouldn’t stop the transition to a bed either.

Some parents might not agree, but we believe that if the child isn’t sleepy then he’s just not sleepy. Dylan used to yell nonstop to get him out of the crib.

Once switched to a bed, after a month he just occupies himself if he’s not very tired. He usually just goes to his bookshelf and brings the book to bed to read before he falls asleep.

Most importantly, don’t expect any transition to happen overnight. There is no “average” length for how long it takes kids to transition. It will take 2-3 weeks regardless of the age. Same as potty training or anything else you need to teach your toddler to deal with.

Montessori floor bed

What to Do When Transition to a Toddler Bed Is Not Going Well

Some kids will be happy about switching to a bed, some will feel like they got evicted. If your child is upset at first it doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re not ready for it.

Treat sleeping in a bed like a reward. Explain to them that it’s so cool to have a big kid bed and if they behave they’ll get to have it all for themselves.

Another option, if you naturally have a budget for it, is to let the child pick a “fun bed”. There are so many toddler beds that come in different colors and shapes – it can be a car, choo-choo, boat, you can find pretty much anything.

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