Dr. Sarah Mitchell
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When Should I Move My Toddler Out of the Crib?

I was wandering through Ikea the other day and my 2 year old was so excited to see the toddler beds.  She climbed in and out of all 12 display beds.  At each one, she pulled the covers up over herself, said “sleepytime”, and then closed her eyes.  It was adorable.  A fleeting thought crossed my mind…. “maybe she’s ready to move into a toddler bed”. And then I gave myself a shake and said “NO WAY”!

When should my toddler out of the crib and into a big bed?

It is so tempting to want to move our children into their next stage of life, and the children’s toddler beds are so darn cute! Not to mention the beautiful linens from Ikea and Pottery Barn that tempt us into that toddler bed stage.

We may even take these signs of “bed play’ as readiness for moving into a toddler bed.  Rest assured, they are not really ready until they can understand consequences and rewards, which occurs around 2.5 years of age or later. Moving your child any earlier will be setting yourself up for a game of “jack in the box”, where they are up and out of bed multiple times per night.

Parents often move their children out of the crib because they need the crib for a younger sibling who is on the way.  In this scenario I suggest either placing the baby in a pack and play, and keeping the toddler in the crib as long as possible. Another option is to buy a used second hand crib for the interim period where both children will be in the crib.  You are going to be tired with a newborn, you don’t need to be battling with a toddler at the same time.  Keep it simple.


The other common impetus for moving toddler out of the crib is the ability to climb out of the crib. This is very concerning and if the child can climb out and you have exhausted all attempts to keep them in the crib, then you must move them on.

My number one suggestion to keep that child in a sleep sack as long as possible.  The sleep sack inhibits your child from throwing a leg up over the bars for a longer period of time, thus keeping them in the crib. I’m a HUGE fan of sleep sacks from 4 months onwards.

I often hear from parents who say their kids don’t like the sleep sack.  That is unfortunate, but you are in charge of their health and well being and a sleep sack enables the child to be comfortable at night and keep them safe in their crib. There are lots of things that kids won’t like but we make them do because it is good for them.  These things include eating vegetables, changing diapers, washing hands. Let’s remember who is in charge.

So if your child is older than 2.5 years of age, and while wearing a sleep sack can now climb out of the crib, then it is time to move to a bed.  You can move your child to a toddler bed, a twin bed or even a double bed.  A toddler bed has the benefit of being close to the ground and usually comes with rails, but will have a short life span.  A twin bed will be higher from the ground, but can easily adapt to a bed rail and will last your child longer.  A double bed will have the same benefits as a twin bed, and may even last your child well into the teen ears, if you have the space for it.

How do you make the move?  There are lots of different ways to introduce the bed, depending on your child’s temperament and attachment to the crib.  Here are some suggestions:

1.  A day or two before the move, make a big deal about how grown up your child is now and how it is time for him/her to graduate to a big boy bed.

2.  Invest in a Gro Clock or something similar which shows the moon at bedtime, and the sun at morning time.  When the boundaries of the crib come down, the clock helps your child understand new boundaries associated with his/her room.  Use the clock in partnership with a rewards chart.

3.  Set up a rewards chart with columns for “staying in bed at bedtime, staying in bed through the night, and staying in bed until the sun comes up.”  Put stickers on the columns in the morning and provide lots of praise.  Perhaps you have a small outing or toy as a reward after 3-4 days.

4.  Childproof your child’s room.  Obviously there will be some exploring going on in the night either at bedtime or in the morning.

5.  Be prepared for a delayed response.  There’s often a 3 week backlash that occurs.  Often a child may not realize he or she can get out of the bed for a few weeks.  Once they discover it then the “jack in the box” starts to occur.

In summary, don’t be in a rush to move your child out of the crib.  It will make your life easier the longer that you can keep them in the crib.

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