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How to prepare your child for a big kid bed, according to a pediatrician

It's only a matter of time before the great baby escape occurs.
Adorable baby girl standing in her crib and pointing away with fingers
d3sign / Getty Images

Remember how a barefoot and agitated Bruce Willis flung himself off the top of the Nakatomi Plaza in "Die Hard"? That’s exactly what I picture when I think about my 2-year-old attempting to rappel out of his crib. Obviously there are way less fireballs and helicopters involved, but for this mom, the amount of danger is on par.

Has he officially begun to climb out his crib? No, not yet, but it’s only a matter of time. All of my mom friends have warned me that the great baby escape is inevitable and that the big kid bed is on the horizon. And the experts agree.

“If the child is climbing out of the crib, which obviously becomes a safety issue, then it is time to start thinking about the transition,” says Dr. Leyla Akanli, pediatrician at Ascension St. Vincent in Indianapolis.

When should a child begin to transition from a crib to a bed?

According to Dr. Akanli and the American Academy of Pediatrics, transitioning from the crib to a bed normally occurs between the ages of 18 months and 3 years old.

“Transitioning from crib to bed is a big step for the child and for family life,” says Dr. Akanli. “It needs to be done in a timely manner, with positive reinforcement, assuring safety is first and foremost.”

How do you prepare your child for this milestone?

As excited as you may be for this major leap in your child’s development, Dr. Akanli recommends taking slow, measured steps as you transition your toddler from crib to bed. It is also recommended to enjoy the fun of this time and have your child be an active participant in the process.

“Give them a choice on their next bed and where it should be,” suggests Dr. Akanli. “You can also give them a choice of the goodies they take with them to their new bed such as bedsheets, [a] pillow case or stuffed animals.”

Change is a big deal for kids, so make a big deal out of this major development! “Have a party!,” suggests Dr. Akanli. “Have the parents and grandparents be involved, so that the child sees this as a positive thing and thus be more open to the transition.”

Can this transition be done during other pivotal moments in a child’s life?

While your toddler may seem to be into a million different things, they are not experts when it comes to multitasking.

“Don’t do too many things at once,” advises Dr. Akanli. For example, don’t start potty training and crib transitioning at the same time. Major changes in a child’s world, such as the start of preschool or the intro of a new babysitter, could also have an impact on a child’s response to the bed transition.

Another dramatic life change that should not be mixed with the crib to bed transition is the arrival of a new baby. Beyond safety, the second most common reason a child transitions from crib to bed is usually because another baby needs the vacancy.

“If you are going to transition your child from crib to bed, do so two to three months before the new baby arrives,” recommends Dr. Akanli. “You don’t want the child to associate the transition with the arrival of the new baby and for them to consider the new baby to be taking his or her place.”

How can you keep your child safe in their new sleeping arrangement?

Once your child makes the move from crib to bed, it opens up a whole new world of fun and adventure. It also opens up a whole new set of considerations and concerns for Mom and Dad.

“When this transition occurs, parents need to realize that they need to do a whole different set of safety checks in the household,” says Dr. Akanli.

Check to make sure that the new bed is as close to the ground as possible, that guard rails are in place and that shelves, bookcases and drawers are secured. “Perform a sweep around the environment for hazards such as pointy corners [and] electrical outlets, and make sure windows do not pose a danger with the bed’s position,” recommends Dr. Akanli.

Despite your best efforts, your child is bound to tumble out of the bed from time to time. As with any crash, you always want for your little one to be braced for a soft landing. Be sure the area around your child’s bed is free of clutter and that you have something soft and cushiony in place to help soften the fall. “Pillows are perfect for this,” recommends Dr. Akanli.

Should their sleep routine change during this time?

While their sleeping arrangements may seem very new and different to your toddler, their bedtime routine and schedule should look and feel very much the same.

“There is a new bed, but sleep routine and sleep habits do not change,” says Dr. Akanli. “We need to keep the bedtime routine consistent. Set bedtimes and wake up times. We do not try to create new sleep hygiene routines while trying to transition. This could be more confusing to the child, and it’s going to completely disturb the overall sleep hygiene and quality.”

In most cases, if the sleep routine remains consistent, the new bed should not disrupt your child’s sleep. But if your child seems to be struggling and sleep isn’t what it used to be, it may be time to take a step back and reevaluate.

“It takes a certain amount of cognitive development for a child to understand that a bed has imaginary boundaries, and that he or she must stay in it,” says Dr. Akanli. “So if you have a child who was once a great sleeper, who starts taking a long time to go to sleep, is getting out of bed many times or is wandering around the house despite keeping the bedtime routine consistent, that means that child is not ready for that transition. Parents should step back, pause and even consider bringing the crib back and trying again at a later date when they feel the child might be ready,” recommends Dr. Aknali.

With that perspective in mind, we've found some items that may help in making this transition a little less of a nightmare and more of a dream.

Best products to transition from a crib to a bed

1. Dunkelberger Toddler Solid Wood Bed by Andover Mills™ Baby & Kids

Low to the floor and high in quality and durability, this toddler bed can be easily assembled and features a removal safety guard rail. It’s recommended for kids ages 18 months to five years old.

2. Delta Children Turbo Race Car Twin Bed

The experts said to make the process fun, so what’s more fun than a bed that looks like a race car? This bed is designed with realistic details and made with durable plastic that can endure plenty of tossing and turning. It's also low to the ground for your child's safety.

3. Dream On Me Brookside Toddler Bed

This is another great low to the floor option that also gets some serious raves from parents and safety critics. Made with sturdy and durable New Zealand pinewood, this toddler bed features two wooden safety rails, includes center legs for enhanced stability and is available in six colorful finishes.

4. Sweet JoJo Designs Watercolor Collection Toddler Bedding

This toddler bedding set is all about being pretty, stylish and cozy. This designer bedding features a hand-painted watercolor print that will be sure to wow your little artist in residence. The machine-washable set includes a lightweight comforter, a pillow case, a sham, a flat sheet and a fitted sheet.

5. BabyDreamBedding Construction Duvet Cover Set

This bedding set is precious and perfect for the truck enthusiast in your home. It includes everything from bedsheets and pillowcases to a duvet cover, all made from cozy and soft organic cotton. You can also add a personalized touch for your little crane truck operator!

6. Regalo Easy Step Walk Thru Gate

Keep them contained until you are ready to release them into the wild with this handy pressure mount baby gate. It’s not only easy to install, but it’s also sophisticated enough to outsmart a toddler.

7. Regalo Swingdown Bed Rail

Limit tumbles and tears with this easy-to-install bed rail. This rail pivots easily down and out of your child’s ways as they climb in and out of bed. Best of all, no tools are required to set it up and it’s suitable from twin to queen size beds.

8. "Sesame Street: Big Enough For Bed"

If Elmo says it so, then it must be true — at least according to my son. This sweet board book duals as a bedtime story, and acts as a how-to manual for the big kid bed transition.

9. Baby Dream Machine Sleep Device + Sniffles Relief Essential Oil

Your child’s bedroom will go from ten to zen in no time with this award-winning sleep device. This cute new bedtime pal works as a night light, sound machine, humidifier and diffuser — all in one! It also looks pretty darn snazzy on their nightstand.

10. Sweet Dreams Bed Rail

I love when adorable and practical meet, and here they are together in one affordable bed rail. This rail comes with a decorative cover that includes an inside pocket — perfect for the safekeeping of bedtime stories, stuffed animals and that last sip of water. It's designed to fit bed sizes from twin to king, and no tools are required to set it up.

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