I am a big believer in NOT rushing the crib to bed transition. If it ain't broke don't fix it. I'd keep my children in the crib for as long as possible! We always do the transition because we have another baby on the way and will need the crib. In that scenario I recommend doing the transition during 2nd trimester of pregnancy. You don't want to throw too many changes onto your toddler at the same time and doing the switch mid-pregnancy gives the toddler plenty of time to fully adjust before their little baby brother or sister arrives.
I have transitioned all three of my kids from the crib to the bed with minimal issues (We just recently moved our current toddler so I don't have a post on that yet but you can read about my oldest child's transition here and my middle child's here!). The crucial concern parents have about moving to a big kid bed is: "will my child STAY PUT?!?!"
- Build Up the Big Kid Bed: This is my #1 tip about switching from the crib to a bed. TALK IT UP people! Make it a HUGE deal! If you have a new baby on the way also talk about how the crib will be for the new baby and how special it is that he or she is going be a big brother/sister etc. Get them excited for their new bed and they will LOVE it!
- Have Consistent Discipline: This is something you need to have in place prior to the transition. If you've been slacking a bit on a consistent discipline routine then get back on it and make sure your child knows that if they disobey Mommy or Daddy then there are consequences and make sure they know you will follow through with those consequences!
- Lay Down the Rules: Decide with your spouse what rules you want to enforce with the new bed and then communicate those to your child. No standing, no jumping, no getting out of bed etc. Give then clear expectations and explain the consequences if they choose to disobey.
- Clear the Room: Remove temptations! Make sure there aren't toys on the floor where your child will be tempted to get out of the bed and get them. Have a clean room so it's rather boring for them! Set them up for success!
- Keep Things Similar: Your child is comfortable in their crib so you want to shadow that experience as much as possible. If they are used to white noise, keep it. Black out curtains? Keep em. If they sleep with a lovey, be sure to bring him along for the big switch too!
- Watch and Respond: A video monitor is so crucial for this transition. You want to be able to watch your child like a hawk and RUN into their room the second they step foot out of the bed. You want to catch them in the act so they will understand they aren't supposed to get out. If they are out and playing and then you get onto them later they will not make the connection as well as if you get onto them the instant they step foot out of the bed.
- Be Stern, Be Firm, Follow Through: When the toddler gets out of the bed be firm with them in reminding them of the rules. Remind them also of the discipline action you will take if they choose to get out of the bed again. Then it's so important to actually follow through. I like to give that one time of me just getting onto my child so they understand fully what I'm expecting and what will happen if THEY choose to disobey. Then the second time? I follow through with the disciplinary action.
- Praise: Just as you built up the big kid bed, you gotta keep the excitement going! When they have stayed in the bed and it's time to get up SHOWER them with praise! Make them feel like the biggest big kid ever!
Like any transition it takes several days for a child to get use to their new sleep environment. Don't be surprised if it takes them longer to fall asleep (my recent child took over an hour at naps to finally fall asleep for several days when we transitioned) or if they are hesitant about things. Keep encouraging them and keep sticking to the plan and before you both know it the crib days will be a distant memory (or a current bed for a new baby as you start the whole process over again!).