The transition from a crib to a big kid bed comes with many challenges. If we do it too soon our toddlers aren’t developmentally ready and then it can result in many behavior challenges because of their newfound freedom. Because of this, I tend to suggest keeping toddlers in the crib as long as possible – somewhere after the age of 3, or even 4 if you can manage it.
Why hold off on transitioning to over 3 years old?
After the age of 3 toddlers are at an age where you can talk through the transition with them. You can let them know about the rules associated with being in a big kid bed and get them on board with the process.
Also, if you transition them before they are really ready, e.g. as a result of climbing out of the crib, it can potentially result in more behavioral issues. The move to the big kid bed can have the potential to feel like a consequence of climbing out. And oftentimes the climbing is not because they don’t want to sleep in their crib, but more to do with their curiosity about what Mom and Dad are doing at night and wishing they could spend more time playing instead of sleeping. Toddlers also go from a small cozy crib to a bigger spacious bed. This can be anxiety provoking for a toddler who wasn’t ready for the transition.
How to hold off on transitioning.
You might be thinking “but my toddler is climbing out of the crib, so I have to transition”. I generally suggest trying some strategies to keep them in the crib first.
Firstly, if your crib has a high side, you can turn the crib around so that the high side is on the outside – making it harder for them to climb out. It is also worth checking if your mattress is down on the lowest setting as well. This makes it harder for a toddler to lift their leg up high enough to climb. I hear moms suggest also putting the mattress on the floor, but I really don’t suggest doing this as it is unsafe. A sleep sack can also help make it harder to crib climb as well. I’ve worked with some toddler’s who manage to take off their sleep sack, so if this happens just put it on inside out and backward!
Along with these things, some work on actually addressing the behavior might be necessary. You have a few different options depending on your toddler’s level of safety when they climb out:
If they are not adept at climbing and may fall and hurt themselves then you can watch through a video monitor with the talkback function (if you have one) or a slightly open door and use a firm “No” when they lift their leg over. If you keep doing this they’ll stop putting their legs over the side.
If they are adept at climbing out and you are comfortable letting them get that far, you can keep returning them back to the crib silently. With consistency, they will begin to see that climbing out of the crib holds no appeal because nothing exciting happens once they are out. Just remember that if this is your chosen method, it is best to make sure the room is very safe, so they can’t hurt themselves in the dark. Also, removing lots of toys and books can make climbing out of bed less enticing.