Is it Time to Ditch the Crib?

Has your toddler’s sleep become unpredictable? Did they used to sleep relatively well and now it is shifting? Perhaps they’re standing in the crib, trying to crawl out, or simply crying their eyes out at bedtime. This is all completely normal for a toddler (18 months to 3 years) and we’re here to tell you why.

From a developmental standpoint, there is a whole lot of stuff going on in those little brains. Did you know that the human brain doubles in size in the first 3 years of life? This means that the amount of dendrite connections multiplies at an astronomical rate as they are acquiring new skills. These skill sets include everything from learning to roll, crawl, walk, run, chew, imitate, speak, sequence events, feel complex emotions, and so much more. Let’s take that into account when we’re working on sleep.

Ideally I like to keep toddlers in their crib until at least age 3 (that’s right!). The closer the child is to this age, the more cognitive development has taken place to understand reward or consequences that may come when handling problem behaviors at bedtime. An 18 month old simply does not have the capacity to understand delayed reinforcement such as “you can eat breakfast in bed with me if you stay in your bed all night” but a 3 year old can.

Let’s begin with all the reasons you SHOULDN’T transition your child from a crib to a toddler bed and then we’ll address when you should.

  • You’re having a new baby and you need the crib for them. This can be tricky because who wants to buy and keep 2 cribs when it makes more economical sense to buy another bed that your toddler will need soon anyway? No one. If your toddler will be 3 years old 6 months BEFORE the baby comes, then go ahead and transition them. Any younger (or closer to the due date) and you should hold off. The addition of a new sibling is extremely life changing for everyone, including your toddler, and you want to keep them as comfortable and calm as possible during the transition. I would instead recommend borrowing a hand me down crib or purchasing an inexpensive crib from Ikea or the like. All cribs on the market pass current safety standards, the more expensive ones simply have more bells and whistles than the others.

  • Your child is under the age of 2. This goes back to the undeveloped brain and ability to regulate themselves enough to stay in the bed or their room once they’ve realized they can get out.

  • Your child is refusing naps or delaying bedtime. These are normal developmental behaviors for the age group and can be addressed behaviorally or from a positive parenting perspective. I’m originally trained as a behaviorist and the idea that all behaviors happen for a reason is ingrained in me. Why is the child refusing naps? Could the timing be off, environment not set up, or exposure to screen time, feeling scared, feeling lonely, or missing out on time with parents? It could be a variety of factors so when I work with clients I always get to the root (or function) of the behavior.

  • You just feel like it’s time. Maybe your friends are all doing it or you’re just feeling ready for the next step. Even though you may be eager to make the transition your child may not be ready. This is a big change and can actually produce a lot of anxiety in your child. They are used to feeling secure with four walls around them and suddenly one of those walls is gone.

Now let’s talk about when you SHOULD transition into the big kid bed.

  • Your child is crawling out of the crib (regardless of age). If your toddler is able to crawl out of the crib, it’s time to make the shift. They can seriously injure themselves and nobody wants that. But first let me ask - have you tried…

    • Lowering the crib? It should have already been on the lowest setting, but some cribs will allow you to remove the bottom and place the mattress on the floor, extending another 6 inches or so of height to the sides of the crib.

    • Turning it around? If your crib has one side higher than the other you can try turning it so the lowest side is against the wall to deter them from crawling out.

    • Putting them in a sleep sack? You may have to put it on backwards so they can’t unzip it, but sometimes this can hinder them just enough so they can’t make it out of the crib.

    If you’ve tried those things and still no dice, then it’s time to make the transition.

  • You’re potty training and you want the child to have free access to the toilet. This makes perfect sense and feels only fair if they’re going to bed in their underwear. If you’re potty training and don’t want to transition out of the crib, the other option is to teach them to request a trip to the bathroom during the night.

  • They’re asking for one. If your child has consistently been asking for one for close to a month, then they may feel ready. This is usually the case when they’re around an older sibling and want to do everything they do. All children develop at different rates and some can be ready before others.

  • They’re 3 years old or older.

Struggling with your toddler’s sleep? We can help! We have private and group consultations, webinars, workshops, and live Q&A’s! Sleep should be simple and we can help you get there.