How Do You Transition From a Crib to a Toddler Bed?

Lots of parents wonder how to get their kids to transition from a crib to a toddler bed. It usually happens around the age of two, but sometimes a bit later.

I’m going to provide a series of tips to help you get your toddler adjusted to a bed rather than a crib. But before I do, let’s talk about why your toddler might resist this transition. It’s pretty simple. People tend to resist change. Once we are comfortable with something the way it is, we don’t like to change it. Toddler behavior tends to align with this basic rule of life.

Change will be accepted by a person when:

  1. The new action / behavior is clearly superior;
  2. The old behavior / action is unavailable and the new one is the best available option;
  3. Change is forced upon them until it becomes a new habit.

Obviously option #1 is the best approach to use with children because it creates no disruption. It’s like offering a child a chocolate cookie for dessert instead of a stick of celery. They will go for it instantly with no hesitation. To get a toddler into a toddler bed, your goal should be to associate lots of positive attributes to the bed.

In the case of switching to a toddler bed, Options 2 and 3 on the above list are essentially the same. You are taking away choice (i.e. you are taking away the crib) and the next best solution is the toddler bed. Specifically, you are taking away the crib without getting agreement from your child. This can cause your child to be upset, but eventually he or she will get over it and the toddler bed becomes a new pattern.

So how can parents get toddlers to willingly switch to a toddler bed? Here are a bunch of ideas for you to try out:

  • Go shopping with your toddler. If you can get him to pick out his own bed, chances are that he will pick something he likes (people rarely pick stuff that they hate, right?). This will immediately boost your chances of getting your toddler to actually enjoy sleeping in the toddler bed.
  • Setup the toddler bed in your child’s room. Leave it there for a week or more before you take away the crib. If space is an issue, maybe this isn’t something you can do, but if you put the bed there, the child will start to see it as normal. Just introduce it as another piece of furniture and perhaps don’t even mention that you’ll be taking the crib away. If you get huge resistance and are unable to get your child to willingly change to the new bed, you may just have to remove the crib by surprise.
  • Play quiet games on the new bed with your toddler. Those toddler wooden puzzles and shape matching games are great things to do on the new bed together. Read books together. Snuggle together and tickle your toddler into laughter. This will ‘anchor’ positive feelings to the new bed very quickly. Anchoring is something I teach in my Talking to Toddlers Audio Course, which all parents should consider for dealing with difficult toddlers.
  • Actually tell your toddler that they have a choice as to where they will sleep at night (or at nap time). Then make the bed appealing by offering a “big boy/girl pillow” for when they are in the new bed. Or simply create a reward scenario where the toddler gets stickers for having a nap in the new bed. At this point it should be offered as a choice, not a forced issue. You want to get your toddler to decide, on his or her own, to sleep in this new bed.

If these tricks still don’t work, then you have to resort to taking away the option of a crib altogether. But remember – you don’t need to rush this! You might bring on a screaming fit if your child suddenly finds his crib gone, and a toddler bed in its place. That’s why I think introducing the bed by the crib side makes for an easier transition.

When and if you have to take away the crib, I highly recommend the “it’s broken” excuse. With our first daughter, we were not only moving her into a big girl bed, but also into a new bedroom! We told her the crib was broken. We took the mattress out and put it on the floor of her new room beside her new bed. We let her choose where to sleep. She picked the mattress on the floor, but was curious about the new bed. We let her play on the new bed and lie down on it if she felt like it. We read books together on the new bed. Whenever she asked about her crib we told her it was broken. No arguments.

Within 2 weeks she was sleeping in her new bed. The clincher was this: we took her to the pet store and showed her all of the fish. We bought a small aquarium kit with some pretty (but cheap) tropical fish. We placed the aquarium on her dresser, which could only be seen if she lied in her new bed, not from the mattress on the floor. We cuddled on the new bed at night with the aquarium light on. She loved watching the fish as she fell asleep. It worked perfectly.

If you want to be able to understand how to solve these kinds of problems, check out the Talking To Toddlers Audio Course.

Enjoy your children,
Chris Thompson

SEE ALSO: This audio lesson will forever change the way you interact with your kids

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One Response to How Do You Transition From a Crib to a Toddler Bed?

  1. Mary January 11, 2009 at 8:04 pm #

    Chris – great post. BTW just listened to the first few lessons of your course. Outstanding stuff. We’re already getting great results, but won’t rush through the rest until we do the homework for each lesson as you suggested.

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