When Is the Right Time to Switch to a Toddler Bed?

Updated October 18, 2020

Your little one’s transition to a toddler bed can feel like a momentous occasion, signaling a new chapter in their childhood. But the move can also raise considerable trepidation for parents and toddlers alike. Cribs are havens of safety and comfort, so moving on naturally prompts a little anxiety.

More importantly, how will you know when your kid is ready to make the leap from crib to bed? Is there a standard age when this shift occurs or should you look for specific signs in your child’s development and behavior? These questions belong to a classic category of parenting conundrums: You know the transition should eventually occur but worry about pushing the move too soon.

Even if you do feel fairly certain that your toddler is ready to retire their crib, you’ll face an entirely different set of decisions. What should you look for in a toddler bed? To ensure a comfortable conversion to big-kid sleeping, you’ll need to balance safety concerns with a design that appeals to your toddler. From size to style, there are plenty of variables to consider.

Thankfully, there’s no need to stress over the timing of your toddler’s departure from the crib – or which bed they’ll eventually sleep in. In this article, we’ll help you decide whether your child is ready for a toddler bed, aggregating expert insights to guide your decision. From there, we’ll show you what to consider when shopping for one so you can pick a bed that your little one will love.

You might be interested in: The Best Toddler Beds

The Toddler Bed Transition: How to Decide if the Time Is Right

little girl under the covers with flashlight

Every toddler has distinct needs and preferences, so every family will navigate the crib-to-bed process differently. Rather than adhering to some fixed timeline, you’ll need to gauge your toddler’s behavior and feelings to make a sound decision. Here are some important factors to consider when determining a timeline for the move to a big-kid bed.

There’s no single standard

Generally speaking, children transition from cribs to toddler beds between the ages of 18 months and 3 and a half years old. Some experts identify age 3 as the sweet spot, cautioning that toddlers shouldn’t be forced into beds too soon. But each toddler develops differently, so there’s no sense in imposing an arbitrary deadline on their crib departure. 

One common rule of thumb concerns height: If your toddler is already 3 feet tall, it’s probably time to move beyond the crib. That’s roughly the average height for 3-year-olds, but that’s also the height at which the sides of your toddler’s crib will be approximately chest-level.

Once your child can stand head and shoulders above the sides of their crib, they may be tempted to try to hoist themselves out. This alarming realization brings us to our next point …

Escape attempts are a sign

If your kid is constantly trying to climb out of the crib, a toddler bed may be in order. These attempts demonstrate an encouraging degree of physical development, but they also pose real safety risks.

Sure, rambunctious toddlers can be pretty cute – at that age, it’s OK to be incorrigible. But just imagine if your little one fell to the floor while attempting to escape. Even a fall from just a few feet can result in injury.

If your child continually tries to leave the crib, a toddler bed is the safest solution. Even if they don’t sleep easier, you certainly will.

A consistent sleep routine is required

Almost every toddler has days when excess energy spoils their sleep schedule, but a relatively steady sleep routine will be an important prerequisite for the toddler bed transition.

As in many areas of your child’s life, too much change at once can be counterproductive. When your toddler does move to a bed, a consistent bedtime schedule will provide a helpful baseline of stability.

Conversely, if your kid isn’t heading to bed at the same time each night, another major change will only exacerbate their irregular bedtime rhythms. Accordingly, the toddler bed can wait until you hammer out bedtime.

Balance the move with other big milestones

In a similar vein, don’t try to introduce too many big-kid requirements simultaneously. As veteran parents know all too well, another key transition at this stage is potty training. If your toddler is still working on using the toilet consistently, keep them focused on mastering that new behavior. Once they have it down, you can discuss moving from crib to bed.

Likewise, you may want to delay the transition if you’ve recently added a new member to the family. A new sibling is a significant change for a toddler to process, so it’s a good idea to keep everything else consistent in those early months. By the same token, if you’re expecting, plan the move to a toddler bed well in advance of your due date.

Consider your child’s feelings

Toddlers can be demanding, and you can’t oblige their every request. But if your child specifically asks for a big-kid bed, you’d do well to take their appeal seriously.

After all, the switch will need to take place at some point. If your toddler interprets the change as a wish they’ve been granted, they’re far more likely to embrace the transition. 

You can even exert some bargaining power, making a behavioral deal. So you want a big-kid bed, do you? Well, big kids help their parents pick up their toys.

Make certain their space is safe

If all indicators suggest that your toddler is ready to move to a bed, you’ll first need to make some adjustments to your home environment. A toddler bed offers a greater degree of freedom – and all the potential hazards that come with it. 

sleeping child

Before the transition takes place, you’ll need to scour their room for potential sources of trouble, such as cords or objects with sharp edges. While your child will ideally sleep like an angel, they may be inclined to hop out of bed and test some boundaries. When they set out for unsanctioned exploration, make sure they won’t encounter anything dangerous before you can escort them back to bed.

You might be interested in: How to Keep Your Toddler in Their Own Bed

Choosing a Toddler Bed: Tips to Help You Pick

If you’ve decided that your toddler is ready to shift from a crib to a bed, you’ve still got some important choices to make. Our expertise lies in mattress recommendations, rather than the beds that hold them. Still, we can make some general suggestions to help you buy a toddler bed that will please and protect your child.

Toddler or twin: the first choice

Many parents assume that toddlers need a bed specifically designed with small children in mind. Accordingly, they limit their search to toddler beds, which typically fit mattresses sized for infants and young children. These beds offer kid-centric features, such as guardrails to prevent little sleepers from rolling onto the floor.

But with some relatively simple safety adjustments, twin-size beds can also work well for toddlers. By adding guardrails to the edges of a twin bed, for example, you can ensure a similar degree of protection against falls.

Why make the leap to a twin bed directly? The primary benefit is monetary: Your child will outgrow a toddler bed relatively quickly, whereas a twin can serve them for years to come. Accordingly, some parents avoid buying toddler beds that will quickly become obsolete.

Then again, toddler beds are often designed in ways that appeal to kids specifically (more on this later), whereas twin beds tend to be more staid. If you think a specific kid-friendly design will help ease your toddler’s transition, a toddler bed may be a justified expense.

Crib conversion considerations

Because children outgrow their cribs quickly, many manufacturers offer convertible models. With some basic tools and a little elbow grease, you can transform your crib into a toddler bed – no additional purchase necessary.

If you own one of these crib-to-bed convertibles, utilizing that value could make sense. After all, why make an unnecessary purchase? Still, we suggest that you inspect your crib’s condition and evaluate how sturdy it may be after you convert it to a toddler bed. Toddlers can put their beds through torture (jumping being a favorite activity), so make sure the convertible crib is still solid enough to survive the next stage of your child’s growth. 

Durable construction is a must

On that subject, prioritize sturdiness if you’re buying a new toddler bed as well. The last thing you need is the bed collapsing while your kid is horsing around.

Thankfully, most popular manufacturers are up to the task. In terms of materials, most brands use wood, plastic, or some hybrid of the two. There are rock-solid options of each kind, and some of them are quite affordable. 

Avoid sharp edges

While this rule seems self-explanatory, it’s worth emphasizing anyway. Most models steer clear of pointy parts, rounding edges to the greatest extent possible. Still, you might encounter sharp edges on your search, especially if you’re browsing twin beds that aren’t intended exclusively for toddlers.

If you fall in love with one of these products, all is not lost. A solid set of corner bumpers will keep your little one out of harm’s way.

Choose the right rails

Continuing in the spirit of safety, make sure that your toddler is protected by safety rails while they sleep. Many toddler beds come with built-in rails, but you’ll need to buy them yourself if you choose a twin bed instead. 

Some little ones toss and turn furiously throughout the night, frequently bumping up against the sides of their bed. If that’s the case, it might be smart to minimize the impact of this inadvertent contact. To do so, consider buying mesh safety rails rather than solid ones.

Try a theme or fun design

If a special shape, color, decoration, or design will increase your child’s willingness to go to bed, it’s a worthy investment. Moreover, a cool design can facilitate the bed transition: Who wants a crib when they can sleep in a princess bed or race car instead?

Sure, you may not care for bright pinks, garish reds, or Disney branding. But you won’t need to sleep in it, and your child will outgrow it soon enough. Sometimes, parenting is about picking your battles, so let your toddler assert their style.

Incorporate the most important opinion – your child’s

There’s one last tip for picking the perfect toddler bed: Let your child participate in the process. Whether you’re shopping online or in stores, invite their feedback and validate their opinions. While you can’t let them dictate the entire purchase decision (they may not comprehend the limits of your budget, for example), you can at least honor a few of their preferences along the way.

Getting your toddler involved will increase their excitement and sense of ownership. Once the bed shows up in their bedroom, they’ll be more likely to love it as something they selected.

You may want to read: Best Duvet for Toddler Beds

Supporting a Big Step

As we’ve suggested throughout this article, you’re the best authority on your child’s toddler bed transition. Having watched them grow, you’re well-prepared to gauge their needs and pick the perfect bed once they’re ready. We hope the guidance we’ve offered here will help you and your little one embrace this next step with enthusiasm.

Of course, don’t get discouraged if your toddler needs time to adjust to bed sleeping. Anxiety is a natural response to significant change, and no aspect of a toddler’s life is more significant than sleep. Once you’ve committed to a toddler bed, support them through any uncertainty. They’ll learn that they can rely on your patience and love as they navigate important transitions.

And if you need a mattress to match that new toddler bed, we’re here to help with a range of recommendations. From organic options to budget buys, we’ve got suggestions suited to the needs of any family.