Dear Chris: the move to a toddler bed

My daughter is 2 1/2 and we’ve got another little girl arriving in 16
days (not that I’m counting or anything). The girls will share a room, and I was wondering what suggestions you have about moving a toddler from a crib to a bed. We haven’t done it yet, as potty training took all the concentration we could muster.

Here are my concerns about the bed: safety (I panic at the thought of my little girl being able to roam the house at night. What if I can’t hear her?) and the transition of the new baby coming.

Any advice you could give would be greatly appreciated!


Well Ryann, first off congratulations! And you might have already had that baby since I am rather slow in answering my mailbag lately.

My first question would be, Why do you want to move your 2.5 yr old over? Is she climbing out of the crib? Or do you just want the crib free for the baby?

I like to keep my children in cribs for as long as possible. I have found that it just feels more confining to them and they are not as apt to get out.

Once they are able to climb out I typically lower on side of the crib so that it is more like a bed rail than anything. And, I know it sounds counter intuitive, I teach them how to climb out safely.

With so many changes happening in her life right now…potty training, a new baby etc I think I would keep the comfort of the crib for awhile longer. If it is at all possible.

When you buy the big bed make sure to get a side rail, or bed guard,whatever the technical name for those things are. Those will prevent your child from falling out of bed in the middle of the night. Though I have one child who is far too old to still be falling out of bed, yet he does with an alarming frequency. But, he never wakes up. Sometimes we hear a huge bang and go running in only to find him sound asleep on the floor. Other times we don’t hear a thing but see him asleep on the floor in the morning.

All of my children have gone through a period of “testing” the new big bed. Usually this is a couple of weeks after the initial bed set up, after you have been lulled into believing the adjustment period is over, when it suddenly occurs to them, “Hey, I can get up out of this bed whenever I want!” And then they do. I have found that dealing with this by being firm and putting them back in their bed with no fanfare stops it.

With the new freedom that a bed offers, you will need to re-childproof the bedroom. Most of us think that our children’s rooms are childproof, but now you need to look at them from an unsupervised child point of view. This age has always seemed like the most dangerous to me. They are able to do so much, yet lack any real cause and effect thinking.

Are dressers and bookcases that are large secured to the walls in the event that your child decides to scale them? Are the cords to lamps tucked behind the furniture to prevent them being pulled down on top of the child? Outlets covered up? Lamps high enough so that little hands can’t reach the lightbulbs? A friend of mine just had her child burn herself on a warm mist vaporizer that was in her bedroom.

After you do all that, you may want to put a baby gate up again across their bedroom door. At least until you know if they are going to be the sort of child who wanders in the middle of the night. All of mine prefer to come harass me in the wee hours of the night rather than go anywhere else in the house.

And when you put your child in the big kid bed for the first time prepare to have your heart break a little looking at them so small in the great big bed.

17 Responses to “Dear Chris: the move to a toddler bed”

  1. Amanda Says:

    I have to second the recommendation to let a kid have his/her crib as long as possible. I think that it’s sort of like potty training…they’ll let you know when they’re ready (and if they’re not you’ll be paying for it every night!). Our oldest, Josie, was about 3.5 before she switched — first to her crib mattress on the floor, then to a twin bed with bed rail, then a pool noodle under the sheet, now just a twin bed. We actually used it as an incentive for another behavioral issue (e.g. “once you can do xyz by yourself we’ll know you’re big enough for a big girl bed”) and I think that this (along with the slightly more developed impulse control of a 3 1/2 year old relative to a year earlier) kept her from EVER getting up by herself. Ever (except for getting up to pee, and even then she doesn’t bother us). She was 31 months when her brother was born and he slept happily in an excellent quality crib I bought off craigslist for $20 (though I would’ve spent 10 times that!!!) after he wasn’t comfortable in the pack ‘n’ play.

    Seriously. DON’T DO IT!

  2. Jennifer Says:

    Thanks for this. I was thinking about switching him after we caught him trying to climb out, but his father gave him a stern talking to and he hasn’t tried it again yet. So we will wait.

  3. Tamatha Says:

    Until I can count on my little ones not roaming the house (although they’ve never done this-they run straight to me at night), I put a little windchime (2-3 inches) on the top of their door. At bedtime their door remains open just a crack, so when the door opens I hear the little chime and know someone’s out of their room. Although of course it’s not needed, my big kids still like the ‘magical’ effect and keep the chimes on their door, as well. None of them have rammed their door back and forth for the music (knock on wood) so this has worked really well for us.

  4. Jena Says:

    I agree with your comments! We have 5, and we tried not to make any big changes before a baby came.
    By the way, on the ad (blog her ad network), a blog with 52 is 25 uses the “F” word. I just wondered if you knew. I am not trying to be critical, but it would concern me if it were my blog.

  5. Brigitte Says:

    We just let our 2.5 year old into her “big girl bed” for the first time Wednesday night. I thought she could have waited a bit, but both she and hubby were excited about it, and the crib is just a borrowed crib that we have to return sometime. She’s done well two nights straight, I’m crossing my fingers!

  6. Lori Says:

    My son switched when he was still quite young –18 months. But, we had both beds set up in the room and he would switch between the two until he was comfortable with not using the crib. Sometimes he would switch in the middle of the night. I think that process helped him get used to the bigger bed easily. I also used the baby gate at his door.

  7. Sherry Says:

    My son never climbed out of the crib, but would stand there and squawk until someone would come and got him out. Since I have a low tolerance for mornings, he moved into a twin bed when he was 15 months old. I put a baby gate on his door to keep him from wandering out of his room and possibly falling down the stairs. It worked great for both of us. He had no problem sleeping in the big bed with the safety rail and could get up when he wanted and play to his heart’s content and I got a few extra, well-needed minutes of sleep.

  8. Kendra Says:

    I have 2 more questions to add. Once in the big bed, how do you continue naps? It’s a constant struggle to keep him in his bed/room. 2nd, I often find my son in the livingroom with the tv on in mornings and sometimes in the middle of the night, the baby gate doesn’t work…..any other suggestions besides using a rope to tye his door shut?

  9. Jen @ amazing trips Says:

    Oh … this is my biggest challenge right now.

    We have a new baby on the way also - and we’re planning to transition our 2.5-yo triplets to toddler beds so that I wouldn’t have to buy a fourth (gasp!) crib.

    All three of our kids are still in cribs and it has been very, very difficult, since all three of them are extremely proficient at climbing out and scaling every piece of furniture in their room. I’m not as concerned about their safety as I am their lack of sleep (and - my resulting frustration because they are nightmarish to be around w/o sufficient sleep). Bed time which use to be firm at 7 PM, has been pushed back to 9, with a wake-up time of 8 AM and nap time that once started at noon, usually doesn’t start until … let’s see, what time is it now… 2:30 PM.

    We’re planning to transition our son to a toddler bed & our girls to a double bed, once the conversion kits for their crib arrive in the next month. (Freeing up one crib for the new baby). If anything, I think they’ll be more apt to STAY in a “big” bed because of the sheer novelty. We had considered crib tents - but I couldn’t justify the expense, since our kids will be out of their cribs within the next year, anyway. Besides, I’ve heard of kids who can escape from their crib tents, too.

    We have an elongate baby gate across the front of the kid’s room which they CANNOT get open or over. (if you google elongate, don’t be quickly discouraged by penis enlargement products). Alternatively, one of my friends put a screen door on her son’s door - that she can lock from the outside. That way, she can hear him - but he can’t get out.

    I try to get our kids THOROUGHLY exhausted before nap & bed time so that there isn’t much hopping around, once they go down. I am also trying to get them up earlier in the day so that they are more tired when naptime rolls around. Once the new baby arrives, if they are still driving me crazy, I’m either going to fashion up some velcro pajamas and sheets … or, I might just consider Benadryl. (For me, not them).

  10. Elizabeth Says:

    If you have falling out problems, try putting the mattress on the floor. Other advantages include no monsters under the bed or lost toys, either. Disadvantage - hard for old mommy bones to sit on the edge.

    All of our bedrooms are on the second floor, so I used the baby gate at the top of the stairs so kids could come to me but nowhere else, really. When we moved in, the lock on the “baby’s room” was on the outside, which I found disturbing. We moved it right away. But, we did use the door knob covers that make the bathroom door hard to open, to keep the babies out at night. We left a potty in the room. The water scared me.

    Kendra - Can you get some kind of timer plug so that the TV won’t turn on until you turn it on or put in a code? I’ll bet there’s something like that out on the big wide internet. Those are tough questions you have!

  11. Suzanne (JoyfulChaos) Says:

    oh, so true with the heartbreak. i cry a little just thinking back over my first 3.

  12. shannon Says:

    I actually do it a little differently - just something for people to think about.

    we moved all our kids between 18-21 months. at least 6 months before the new baby comes. Now, none of my children were kids who tried to crawl out fo their cribs. And yes, they looked pitifully tiny in that BIG TWIN BED. but they also seemed to be too young to want to crawl out or they were conditioned early enough - I dont know. it worked for my 4 and i just successfully did it with my nephew as well ( he’s 17 months)

    we always put the twin bed against a wall and a bed rail on the other side. we generally put a body pillow along the length of the wall as a way to make the ebd feel smaller for the child, a precaution to ramming into the wall while sleeping, and a soft place to read books :-)

    we have tried the baby gates in the door way - we also used to have screen doors on the baby room so the cats couldnt get in - that worked well. ive done the wind chimes on door I needed to be alerted to.

    As for naps…… Ive spent some time sitting on the floor in front of the room while reminding them to NOT get out of their room during transition periods. being firm and consistent generally works for most things. I think having them in a regular bed long before they even start to think to give up naps helped. I also looked at kids and tried to determine when they were transitioning from nap time to quiet time. they had to stay in their room playing quietly - often falling asleep on the floor.

  13. Tabetha Says:

    When it came time to make the transition with mine, they either went to a toddler bed with a rail all the way across or to a mattress on the floor. The transitions went well with my first 3. We are about to find out with number 4. Good luck!

  14. Anat Says:

    I moved my son to a toddler bed when he was 2.5 yrs old because the timing was convenient for my friend who lent us a bed. (The alternative was to buy a bed at a later date). Now, 4 month later, I’m sorry we moved him so soon. He never used to climb out of his crib, but of course he does get out of his bed when he doesn’t feel like going to sleep, which has been happening too frequently lately. Who knows, he may have been climbing out by now anyways, but with my next child, if there is one, I will definitely postpone the transition as much as possible.
    As for naps - a big THANK YOU to Shannon for the tip about enabling a transition from nap time to quiet time. I desparately need MY quiet time in the middle of the day, and your way seems to be working beautifully. Daniel is now fast asleep on the floor, and I’m a happy mom.

  15. Mama Bear Says:

    Perfect answer! I was so sad to move my youngest out of her crib. The others didn’t bother me, but the youngest really got to me. But she has always been fearless, so it came much sooner than expected for her. The move went well, and the only sad person was me.

  16. Sarah Says:

    This was a great post on SUCH a difficult topic! Who knew coming into parenting that this question would haunt my nights and absorb quiet times - haha! Thanks!

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