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Published on August 25, 2020

toddler standing next to crib

Moving From Crib to Bed Is a Really Big Step

When a child makes the transition from a crib to a bed it is truly a milestone in their life as well as yours. Although there is no recommended age for this, typically it is between the first and third birthdays. Some of the most common reasons for the move are a new sibling is expected, child has learned how to climb out of the crib, or the child asks for a bed.

Once a child reaches 35 inches in height they should sleep in a bed rather than a crib. Children who wake at night and wander are at risk for serious injury. Be sure that stairs are secured with gates both at the top and bottom. You’ll need to consider their physical and emotional development. Are they showing independence in other areas? Is your child sleeping well in their crib for naps and or at night?

Big-Bed Options

A wide variety of bed options are available. A toddler bed offers a small, child sized, low to the ground bed which may include safety rails. Another alternative is to put just the new bed mattress on the floor; this offers the idea of a big kid bed but prevents any painful falls. After about three weeks you can elevate the mattress onto the box spring and frame. Make sure to put up a railing on any and all open sides to protect from fall-outs.

Bunk beds should wait until your child is getting ready to start school, by age 6 it is considered safe for children to be in the top bunk.

One fun idea is to have the child shop with you to purchase new bedding for their “big” bed. A “blankie” or special object (lovey) can sometimes make the bedtime transition easier. Some children may prefer having a night light, others will not.

Transitions to a bed may cause any existing sleep difficulties to become worse. The most common complaint is that the child will not stay in bed.

Stick to a Bedtime Routine

A bedtime routine is one way to help establish better sleep habits. This can include a healthy bedtime snack, tooth brushing, praying, reading a book, or just talking quietly about the day’s events. When it is time for you to leave your child in the bedroom you should stress the importance of staying in bed and reassure them that you will return when it is time to get up. If your child cries or get out of bed, remain calm.

Return your child to their bed offering reassurances and reminding gently to stay quietly in bed. It might be several times during those first few weeks that your child will cry or get out of bed. Each time you should stick to the bedtime routine and established rules.

If a child is rewarded for whining and crying or allowed to rejoin the family, he or she is more likely to repeat this behavior. If you yell, threaten or spank, you run the risk of setting up a pattern of increased insecurity in the child. You want your child to develop a positive association with bedtime and to be self-sufficient.

Some children are early risers and they should not be out of bed when you are not available to supervise them. There are lighted alarm clocks available that show either sleep or awake time by color. Consider having a basket of books in the child’s room so that they can engage in this quiet activity while waiting for the green light to start their day.

The key to success is to be patient and allow your child time to adjust to the change. Enjoy the journey and take time to stop and appreciate each stage of development that your child goes through – some milestones are once in a lifetime.

By Twila Perkinson, Family Life Educator and Child Life Specialist, Avera McKennan Hospital & University Health Center

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