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  • Writer's pictureMary Cantwell

The Big Kid Bed: When is your toddler or preschooler ready?

Updated: Jan 10

Toddler parents experiencing sleep disruptions while still in the crib listen up! The best advice I give to toddler parents experiencing sleep problems while still in the crib is to KEEP them in the crib. Our first logical thought is that moving them will help solve the issues or they must be ready for a big kid bed, but it is typically the complete opposite. If your child can’t understand the sleep rules in their safe space (the crib), then removing their safe spaces makes things go a bit haywire. Before moving to the big kid bed, I recommend working on sleep in the crib and then move to a big kid bed.


Now to the big question! When is your toddler or preschooler most likely ready to move to the big kid bed? The idea can bring on all the feels with a side of nervousness. The questions that might start marching through the brain: How do we do it? Are they ready? Am I? What is the best age? Should I go straight to the bed or to a toddler bed?


When to move and signs of readiness

There are a three key pieces that we want to look at to gauge if your child is ready to make the move to the big kid bed (by the way a toddler bed is a big kid bed!).


Three Signs of Readiness:

1) Age:

I recommend waiting as close to three years old to make the move from the crib to the bed (some 2.5-year-old may be ready!)


2) Asking for the big kid bed:

If your child is actively asking own their own for a big kid bed and when they can have one, they are fully capable of managing the expectations that come with it


3) Follow simple directions:

If they can follow multi step directions well, they have the capability to understand how to move to a big kid bed and the rules/expectations around it. If they haven’t reached this milestone yet, I would recommend pausing (even a few months makes a difference!) as it makes the transition much harder. An example of simple multi step direction is to ask your child to go to the refrigerator to grab an apple sauce squeeze pouch and go sit to eat it at the table.


As mentioned above, if possible, wait to three years old to make the transition. If you answered yes to all of these, then you can look to move to the big kid if you are ready!


Toddler bed or Regular size Bed

I recommend moving straight to a regular size bed and the reason is that it is one less transition we need to make in the future. That being said, a Toddler or Regular Bed are both options. Whichever you choose, I recommend putting the bed in the same place as the crib was. This will help with them feeling comfortable, safe, and confident in their new sleep space since its familiar to where they always slept in their room. In addition, add guard/safety rails to the side so they don't roll out of the bed.


Visual Sleep Chart

Kids are visual learners at this age. Walk into any preschool classroom and we will see visual routine charts for everything during the day (morning, recess, lunch, end of day routine). We will want to apply this concept to the sleep routine by creating a Sleep Jobs Chart. We will want to have the essential parts of your routine such as bath, pajamas, books and add in two additional pieces that will be part of your new bedtime routine like the Ok To Wake Clock (see example below).


sleep routine chart

I recommend taking pictures of your child doing each step of the routine to add to the chart and place it in their room on the back of the door or near their bed. Before we shut the lights off, go over each step already completed and review the remaining steps for overnight. In the morning review what they did well and what they need to work on.


The Ok To Wake Clock

To help them remind their body to stay in their bed, a lighted visual Ok To Wake Clock is key. An Ok To Wake C lock is a visual cue for children to know that a particular color “tells” us it’s nighttime (recommend red or orange for overnight or can leave it dark/off), another color “tells” the child its morning time (recommend green) and to get up to start the day.


For kids on the younger end of moving to the big kid bed, I would keep the clock light off with no color for sleep time and have it turn a color for morning wake up time. The more straight forward and less steps to master the faster it "clicks".


Game plan for middle of the night wakes

If we experience wakes in the middle of the night or even at the beginning of the night, we want to make it as uneventful as possible. Go ahead walk them back to the room with minimal interaction, pat the mattress to get back in bed and have a night mantra we say such “It’s night night time, I love you”. This may require multiple walk backs until the wake becomes boring and over time the wake up will subside since there is no engagement during them.


This is a big moment and a developmental milestone for our children (and for us!). Utilizing all the tips above with consistency and an age-appropriate schedule this will be your new normal soon enough. If you would like support during this transition, let’s set up a Discovery Call so that you can ask questions on how I serve families and I can get more information on what is happening sleep wise.

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