Fifteen-month-old Will climbed out of his crib while his mom, Sue, was doing sleep training. “He was okay,” she said, “but I got completely spooked because I suddenly heard his crying getting closer and closer!”

Your choice when it comes to your little bug’s bedtime spot will have a lot to do with her new physical skills.

It’s fun to watch her go from standing to walking to running…but it’s not so much fun when she starts vaulting—commando-style—over the railing. So, you’ll want to make the transition to the bed before she masters the art of crib escape.

Saying good-bye to your child’s crib is a big milestone, but a bittersweet one. (Some parents just can’t bear letting go, and they keep this precious souvenir of their baby’s early days around long past high school!) Over 90% of 18-month-olds sleep in a crib, but that gradually drops to about 80% at 2 years and 40% by 3 years of age (see graph below).

crib to toddler bed

Since you never know what your night your intrepid tot will make that first crib escape, after the first birthday it’s wise to put the mattress all the way down and make sure he doesn’t have toys or bumpers to climb on. The top of the crib rail should be above his collarbones. And always have a soft rug or carpeting on the floor of the room (with a nonslip undermat), because falls from that height can result in serious injuries.

When you’re ready to make the switch, remember that tired, cranky toddlers are especially rigid and hate change. So, get your child used to the new bed by making it a routine place for quiet play or massage and napping during the day, times when she’ll be more flexible.

Your tot will have an easier time with the transition when you continue other familiar sleep cues (like loveys, white noise, your bedtime routine, lullabies and lavender).

To boost her enthusiasm about the switch:

  • Make up little stories or read books about sleeping in bed.
  • Gossip during the day about what a good job she’s doing.
  • Take her shopping to pick out special sheets.
  • Make a special Beddy-Bye book that you can peruse together every day with pictures of family members (and your dog!) asleep in their beds.

If you’re pregnant, it’s usually best to move your toddler out of the crib a few months before the baby arrives (assuming your first child is old enough to be out of the crib). If it is already after the birth, you might keep your tot in the crib a while longer. But beware: if you move your toddler to a bed and the next week move the baby into her old crib, your tot may feel jealous—like you gave her beloved possession to the new intruder!

Once in a bed, your toddler can pop out anytime she wants. So, you need to (1) childproof the room really well (including electric outlets, curtain cords and sharp corners), and (2) keep her from roaming outside the room at night.

Use a gate to keep her in her room. If she climbs over it, you may need to spend a little time training her to stay in the room or even close the door. Say something like, “Honey, this is Mr. Gate! Mr. Gate will help you stay in the room…so at bedtime after we sing and read and say night-night…then we’ll close Mr. Gate…and he will help you stay safe and happy in your room all night.”

If your little gymnast climbs over the gate, you may need to close the door and put a doorknob cover on the inside of the door to her room.

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