We measure our children's lives in milestones, and we know when those important moments usually occur: standing, walking, talking, or even moving from a crib to a bed. Our kids, on the other hand, are perfectly happy to develop at their own pace. When it comes to transitioning out of a crib, there are signs your toddler may not be ready for a bed, despite what you may have heard or read in the parenting books.
Children are generally ready to make the move to a bed between ages 2 and 3, though it's not unusual for children to stay in their crib past that age, explains Andrew Bernstein, MD, FAAP, Clinical Assistant Professor of Pediatrics at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. He tells Romper that a lot of factors come into play when it comes to switching to the big-kid bed. Some of it has to do with the child's developmental readiness: "The younger a child is when changing out of a crib, the more important it is to make sure they can’t hurt themselves getting in or out of a bed that’s too high," he says.
But the home environment plays a part, too: If there are hazards in the bedroom, such as furniture that isn't anchored to the wall or a nursery door that's easy for a child to open, parents should avoid ditching the crib until the dangers are dealt with. To avoid injury with the toddler bed itself, "a child's first bed should be low to the ground, or it could even be just the mattress from the crib placed on the floor," says Dr. Bernstein.
Are you debating making the transition? Before you go shopping, take a look at these signs that a child needs to stay in their crib a little longer.
1They're Not Coordinated Enough
In order to make the change to a bed, a child has to have the strength and balance to climb in and out independently, Dr. Bernstein explains. Your 2 1/2-year-old may be a good runner, but they may still need a few more months to develop the upper-body coordination necessary to use a toddler bed. "Children with special physical or developmental challenges may also need to stay in a crib for longer than is the norm," Bernstein adds.
2They're Just Not Interested
Some children are less than eager to move on to a toddler bed, even if they're approaching or passing their third birthday. As Mother.ly put it, "[T]o them, the four walls of their crib are familiar friends." Trying to nudge them out of the security of a crib before they feel ready could result in an unnecessary power struggle.
3They Like To Test Limits
Putting a child into a toddler bed is one thing; having them stay there all night is another issue altogether. If your child is the I'm-doing-it-because-mom-said-no type, or if they're likely to take advantage of their newfound freedom, you might want to wait a month or two longer. Dr. Bernstein says, "It's useful if the transition to a bed happens when a child is motivated to be a 'big kid' and stay in bed, rather than jumping right out of bed and roaming the bedroom."
Instead of buying a bed right away, spend some time instilling good sleep habits and telling your child that they can switch to the big-kid bed when they're ready to stay in it all night. Using a sleep trainer alarm clock (like this one) can help; these devices can be set to the wake-up time of your choice, and use lights, smiley-face images or other visual cues to let children know that it's okay to get out of bed.
4There's A Baby On The Way
What if the change in your family is a new baby? Then it depends on your individual situation. The National Sleep Foundation advised parents to keep the older child in the crib if there's less than a two-year age gap between them and the new baby. Even older children may be reluctant to give up their crib to their little sibling; in that case, it may be best to let them stay in the crib a while longer while the baby uses a bassinet. That will give you time to ease your child into the idea of moving to a bed. The foundation suggested having your child take their naps in the toddler bed, or reading to them in the bed and then letting them sleep in their crib until they're comfortable giving up the bars for good.
5There's A Major Family Change Going On
Planning to move? Returning to work? Switching day care providers? Going through a divorce? Any kind of family upheaval is hard enough on a toddler without bringing a crib transition into the picture. "Making too many changes at once can push a potentially tolerable set of transitions into one big overwhelming mess," says Bernstein. Wait until things have settled down at home and your child is back on a predictable daily routine that includes a set bedtime.