Oh mama, the toddler bed transition is a bittersweet milestone for most parents.

Yes, it marks a major development for your growing little one. But it can be a headache while everyone adjusts to your toddler’s increased freedom.

I am a certified pediatric sleep consultant, and I have for you my top tips, do’s, and don’ts for making the transition seamless.

toddler girl in a bed
Photo by Sean Foster on Unsplash

Talk to them about the change.

Though your toddler is just a tiny human, they have big feelings and understand so much more than we often credit them for. Chat with your child for a few days, or at the very least, the day you plan to make the transition. Show them the toddler or big kid bed. Explain how their bedtime routine will go and how it will end with them getting to sleep in a big kid bed. The better prepared they are for the change, the more likely you are to be successful.

Get your child’s buy-in.

You know your child best, and if you can get them excited for their new bed, it will help smooth the transition. Let them select something new: bedding, a stuffy, or a soft blanket. Let them help choose elements of your bedtime routine. Let them choose their pajamas. The more choice they have, the more empowered they will feel and usually, the more cooperative they will be.

Stick to your routine.

Chances are that up to now, you have been using a bedtime routine that worked for your family. The only thing that needs to change is that your child will sleep in a bed rather than a crib. Keep the routine familiar through the toddler bed transition!

As toddlers, the routine is even more important than it was when they were a baby. I often recommend families create a visual routine that your child can follow along with. You can download a simple one right here that you and your child can color, cut, and paste. Then, your toddler can follow along each night and check off the steps one at a time.

Toddler-proof the room.

With freedom comes some new risks! Be sure the bedroom is thoroughly toddler-proofed:

  • Mount all furniture to the walls
  • Secure anything on shelves or in closets that could fall
  • Cover outlets
  • Keep cords from window blinds secure
  • Clear all clutter from the floors that your child may trip on
  • If toys are too stimulating, consider removing them during the transition
  • Some families choose to use a toddler lock or baby gate on the door

Consider rewards.

This is not ideal for every child. If you have a little one who is strongly motivated by a small reward in the morning, this may be helpful for getting them, both to go to sleep and to stay asleep in their bed for the night. Here is a great list of non-food rewards if you would like to avoid candy for your two-year-old at 6 am.

Be consistent.

Your consistency is essential, both at bedtime and in the middle of the night. You don’t have to leave your child to cry or lock the door behind you, but if you want your toddler to sleep in their bed, the only way to do that is to make them sleep in their bed. Put them back if they get up, tuck them in, give a kiss, and repeat as many times as necessary. You may not even make it out of the room before you have to go back again. That’s OK! Just repeat, repeat, repeat.

Use positive language.

This is so important and so often overlooked. At every turn, be careful to speak using positive words. For example:

  • Instead of “Mommy is leaving after your lullaby,” try “Mommy will stay for the whole song!”
  • Instead of “You only get to read two stories,” try “We get to pick one more book out tonight! Which would you like to read before you sleep?”
  • Rather than “You don’t get a reward if you get out of bed,” say “You’ll earn your reward after you sleep in your bed tonight!”
  • Instead of “I’m leaving in five minutes,” try “Mommy can stay for a few more minutes. Would five minutes or seven minutes be better? Would you like to set a timer with me?” and let your child press start on the timer.

These are really small changes but can make a huge difference in the way your toddler responds to the transition. This tip works in tons of other parenting situations, as well!

Consider tools like a toddler clock.

I personally love and recommend the Hatch as an OK to Wake tool for toddlers, but any make and model will do the job. Sometimes, one of the best things you can do with toddlers is to externalize the rules so that it isn’t Mommy and Daddy making them stay in bed. The clock says it’s time to be in bed, and that’s that. There is much less room for negotiation when the rule is a fact and separate from the parents involved.

Do not:

Natural wood Montessori-style toddler bed with pillows, small blanket. Toys sit on shelves mounted high above the bed.Rush the toddler bed transition.

I strongly recommend you not rush your little one into a toddler bed any earlier than necessary. If they are climbing out of the crib consistently, reached the maximum height and weight for your crib’s manufacturer’s recommendations, or you need the crib for a new sibling, then you don’t have much choice. That said, I would not recommend making the change just because they have reached a certain age or “seem” ready. The crib is your friend, mom!

Feel like you must lock the door or leave them to cry.

I want to drive this home. You do not ever have to leave your child to cry, and you do not have to lock them in their bedroom. You can respond to every single cry if you would like to. If you’re comfortable with a toddler lock, use one. If you’re not, don’t. Parent the way you know best.

Tackle too many changes at once.

If you are about to PCS or just PCS’ed; if the new baby sibling was just born; if your toddler just started a new school; if your service member just deployed or just returned, it may be best to wait a little while to add in the toddler bed transition. If you can delay until life is calm, do so! We can’t always control this, but if it is possible, wait!

Start new habits you don’t want to continue.

As a sleep consultant, my job is simply to help parents and children all sleep their best and in a way that everyone is happy with. This means that if you want to lay with your child until they fall asleep and this works for you, then do that. If you’d rather not start that habit, then don’t start it now. Begin with your end in mind. If you’d like your child to fall asleep in their big kid bed after a bedtime routine, then set that expectation and your child will rise to meet it. If you don’t mind them occasionally coming to your bed, then there is no reason to take them back to their bed in the middle of the night. If you or your partner would prefer to not have kids in your bed in the long-run, then it is probably best not to start allowing it now.

The move from a crib to a big kid bed is a fun one, and there is something special about seeing your growing child suddenly look so big. But the change sure can be a doozy for some families.

Follow the ideas here, and the toddler bed transition should be a breeze!

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Mary is an Army wife of 7 years, mother to three wild boys, and owner of a small business helping other moms as a sleep consultant and potty training coach (yes- it is a thing!) called Mother Together. She is originally from Gettysburg, PA, has an undergraduate degree in education from American University in Washington, DC, and taught middle school before following love into the adventure that is a military marriage. Mary proudly considers herself the millennial everymom: rocks the side part, overuses the laugh crying emoji, looks forward to a daily glass of wine, and will probably be buried in skinny jeans. Her hobbies and interests include exploring local businesses and restaurants, camping when the weather is just right, knitting, coffee, and casual amounts of moderate exercise to create balance to her love of cooking. Mary is perpetually seeking new binge-worthy shows and audiobooks, so feel free to connect and share your interests!

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