Transitioning your toddler from a crib to a big kid bed is a significant milestone for most families. You might be wondering: When is it time? And how do we make the transition?

Moving your toddler from a crib to a bed is important for your child’s development, as well as for their safety, says Dr. Pilar Bradshaw at Eugene Pediatric Associates.

“It’s the right time to transfer to a big kid bed when your child is at risk of crawling and falling out of their crib,” she says.

Patience and repetition
Making the switch to a bed requires patience on the part of parents and a lot of repetition to help a child learn how to manage their newfound freedom.

“If they choose—and every one of them does—to get out of their bed and come out of their room to find you, make sure they’re going to be safe,” Dr. Bradshaw says. “So, if you have stairs that are near their room, put a gate across it. If you have a bathroom, shut the door at night so they can’t wander into the bathroom and fall into the toilet when you’re asleep.”

When it comes to safety, also make sure their room is free of hazards. You may need to install a safety gate across their bedroom door, as well, to keep them from roaming during the night.

Steps to take
The American Academy of Pediatrics suggests the following steps:

  • After completing the usual bedtime routine and tucking your child in for the night, tell them to stay in bed until you come for them.
  • If they get out of bed, calmly and quietly lead them back and tell them they must stay in their bed.
  • While the child is in bed, tell your child what a good sleeper they are being for being there, then leave the room.
  • Tell them that you will come and check on them during the night—for some children that’s comforting.

Dr. Bradshaw says you will likely have to repeat the pattern of sending a child to bed dozens of times before your child stays there for the night, but persistence is worth it in the long run.

“When they come and find you, calmly take them back to their bed, over and over and over until they learn it’s actually a rule that they have to stay in there.”

Be firm about the transition
The transition from crib to bed could be a struggle over several nights. It helps to reward children with praise when they stay in bed. Be firm once the transition is made, or you’ll only create more problems, Dr. Bradshaw says.

“The minute that you give up and you just let them ‘Oh, yeah, go ahead and sleep in our bed,’ that’s where they’re gonna be every night, so you need to set up a really good, healthy pattern of staying in their room when you switch to that big kid bed.”

Dr. Bradshaw also suggests that if you are able, make big transitions like this when your child’s life is stable. For example, if you’re expecting a new baby and you want to use the crib for your new arrival crib, transition your toddler to a big kid bed a few months before the baby arrives.