If your toddler has recently turned into a crib-escape artist, you might be wondering whether it’s time to transition them to a big-kid bed.
Honestly, probs not.
Unless your child is over age 3 (or climbing wholly unsafely), transitioning as a direct response to climbing is not your first solution! Toddlers under 3 usually don’t have the cognitive maturity to understand invisible boundaries or the impulse control to stay safely in their bed once they’re all tucked in. Older toddlers are better able to grasp the boundaries, rules, and limits that accompany the freedom that comes along with a big-kid bed. So, if you’re looking for ways to keep your toddler sleeping safely in their crib until they’re old enough to handle the freedom of a big bed, here are my top tips.
1. Turn the crib around
If you have a traditional-style crib with a lower front and higher back, you can turn the crib to face the opposite direction so the shorter side is against the wall. If you can scoot the crib into the corner of the bedroom so two sides are against walls, this is even better. Not only are there fewer exit points, but this maneuver can also trick your toddler into assuming that they aren’t able to get out anymore (and maybe they won’t even try!)
2. Lower the mattress (safely) to the lowest setting/all the way to the floor
If your mattress is not already on the lowest setting, make sure you put it there. That being said, many toddlers are still tall enough to hoist themselves out of the crib, so I’d explore dropping the mattress safely to the floor.
Please be mindful that there are no gaps between the mattress and the bottom rail of the crib. We don’t want limbs to get pinched or stuck! I’ve had families who have built a platform and bolted it to the bottom of the crib to solve this.
3. Remove objects in/around the crib that your child could use as leverage
Nearby/attached changing tables, dressers, or even large toys or stuffed animals in the crib can provide your toddler with extra leverage to hoist themselves up and out of the crib. Assess the space within and directly surrounding the crib to make sure that it’s free from any potential climbing assists.
4. Don’t ditch the sleep sack
A sleep sack or wearable blanket can be a helpful climbing deterrent because toddlers have a harder time lifting their leg high enough to get over the top bar. If you have a toddler who is adept at removing their sleep sack, putting it on them backwards and/or inside out can be helpful. If you have a super agile toddler, you might look into investing in some “crib pants” like Little Grounders.
5. Try a toddler clock
A toddler (or “Ok to Wake”) clock can be a helpful boundary-setting tool that gives your toddler a tangible representation of when they need to stay in their bed. You can even build in rewards each morning for great bedtime and overnight behavior.
For more information on toddler clocks and how to introduce one, check out this blog post.
6. Assess your sleep routines, habits, & responses
Crib climbing can be a normal boundary-pushing behavior for toddlers. It can help to take a deeper dive into this behavior to see if there are any tweaks that you can make to help your child feel confident and successful in their crib. Does their schedule need to be adjusted? Do we need to add in more activity during the day? Are there more opportunities for 1:1 time to help fill their cup during daytime hours? Are our responses (positive or negative) to crib-climbing encouraging the behavior to continue? Going deeper into the root cause(s) behind certain behaviors can help you solve acute sleep struggles from the ground up!
If your child is climbing unsafely and you’ve exhausted all of these tips, you may have to make the move early. Make sure to set up their room safely and thoughtfully prepare for the transition. Making the move to a big-kid bed too soon can cause more sleep struggles, but having a plan in place can make it just a little bit easier.
If you find yourself stuck, lost, or overwhelmed either pre- or post- crib-to-bed transition, please reach out. I’m your biggest ally in keeping your little one in their crib until college!