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Family First: When is it time for your toddler to ditch the crib?

Most experts recommend waiting until after your child turns three

HARTFORD, Conn — Like a lot of developmental milestones, the answer will vary widely from child to child, so how to know when it’s right for your child?

According to behavioral sleep psychologist Dr. Lynelle Schneeberg, the Director of the Behavioral Sleep Medicine Program at Connecticut Children’s Medical Center, your child may be the one to decide that – not you.  In either case, she said you should not be in a hurry.   

“Stick it out as long as you possibly can, because, A, kids love that little snug feeling, you know you might find them in other snug little places,” she said, “and the other reason is it’s really safe in the crib, the crib is a very safe environment.”

She said most experts recommend waiting until after your child turns three, however, if you’re worried that keeping your child in longer in will hamper his or her development, Dr. Schneeberg said there is a whole list of reasons not to worry. 

“There’s a great study that was published in the Journals of Medicine in 2018 and they collected data on about 2,000 kids and toddlers from their parents and they figured out that staying in the crib until age three leads to all of the things you would hope for with your child’s sleep,” Dr. Schneeberg said.

Those benefits include: 

  • Earlier bedtimes
  • Quicker sleep onset
  • Fewer night wakings
  • Longer stretches of time asleep
  • Increased total sleep
  • Less resistance about bedtime

Dr. Schneeberg shared some tricks on how to keep a one or two-year-old in the crib longer if they’re able to climb out.  One idea is to lower the mattress all the way to the lowest setting, or even to the floor, to make it harder to climb out.  She also suggested using sleepwear that restricts a toddler’s ability to spread his or her legs, to make climbing harder.

So, back to the top question – when is the right time for your child?  Dr. Schneeberg said to let your child take the lead and to look for cues.  She said, in some ways, it’s easier to talk about when is not the right time, like when your child is potty training, or if another baby is on the way, and you want to make the move in order to free up space.

Also, Dr. Schneeberg said you want to make sure your child can self-soothe before you start making the transition.

“If they can’t quite self-soothe when they move into a big-kid bed, they’re going to come looking for you, a lot more easily than they could from the crib,” she said.

Dr. Schneeberg recently wrote an article for the New York Times with tips on how to make the transition safe and smooth, with an emphasis on safe. 

“Once your child starts to sleep in a big kid bed you have to re-childproof, I think, so they can roam,” she said.