As a first-time mom, I had no idea when to transition my son from a crib to a toddler bed. We moved when he was 15 months old, so I figured making then change then would be ideal, but I was honestly clueless about how long babies sleep in cribs. So clueless in fact, that I did not realize that he wasn't actually ready to transition out of a crib and battled with him for months to get him to stay in a toddler bed.
If you don't want to end up pleading with your 1-year-old to stay put when he just wants to get out of bed each night and roam the halls, learn from my mistake. My son was not ready to sleep in anything other than a crib, but I missed the signs because I didn't know how long babies sleep in cribs.
"The typical age span for the crib is 4 months to 3 years," Dana Stone, infant and toddler sleep consultant with Rest Assured Consulting tells Romper. "This transition has a lot to do with mental maturity. Children under the age of 3 tend to have a hard time understanding the concept of 'stay in bed.'"
This is exactly where I went wrong. My son was not capable of understanding "stay in bed" at 15 months of age. I was able to chalk it up to inexperience and tried to keep my younger son in a crib longer, but then the dreaded climbing phase started around age 2.
If you haven't yet dealt with a baby who attempts to climb out of their crib, count yourself blessed. It is not a fun experience. In fact, it can be terrifying. I slept with one eye open when my youngest started his daredevil tactics and began hiking his little leg over the side of his crib every time he got the chance.
"I will sometimes see parents start to make the transition when the kid starts to climb out of the crib or trying to convince them to stay in their own bed through the night in their fancy big boy or big girl bed, and more often than not, this doesn't work out," Stone tells Romper.
This didn't work for me either. At age 2, my younger son could not be convinced that his new big boy bed was worth sleeping in. My boys are living proof that transitioning out of a crib before age 3 when a child is able to understand the concept of following directions is a difficult task.
"There are a few signs that you want to check for before making the transition, including that your child understands and complies with instructions," Tonja Bizor, certified Sleep Sense consultant and owner of Tonja B's Sleep Consulting tells Romper. "Of course we all know that kids and listening don’t go hand-in-hand, but they need to have that underlying skill of following directions. One mistake that a lot of parents make is transitioning their 2-year-old to a toddler/regular bed because their child refuses to sleep in a crib. 100% of the time, if your child refuses the crib, they will also refuse the bed."
Another sign that your child might be ready to make the transition has to do with potty training. "If a child does need to get out of bed in the night to use the restroom, it is very difficult to do this from a crib," Stone says.
Preparation is key to ensuring success when transitioning your child out of a crib. Stone says that parents should be able to discuss the transition with their child, and should do so during daytime hours away from bedtime to engage in role play to help your child understand what is expected.
"Definitely a large portion of the transition is the preparation. Preparing your child with talks about the move and rewards for remaining in bed until morning," Bizor tells Romper. "There are clocks for toddlers that show when it’s time to get out of bed in the event the child wakes up before morning. Behavior charts are great visual aids for young toddlers."
As long as your child is well-prepared and you stay consistent in your methodology, experts agree that transitioning from a crib around age 3 can go smoothly.
"As with any transition, consistency is key," Stone says. "If the rules change often, it is hard for children to understand what we truly expect from them."
Dana Stone, infant and toddler sleep consultant with Rest Assured Consulting
Tonja Bizor, certified Sleep Sense consultant and owner of Tonja B's Sleep Consulting