Timing the Switch
If your child climbs out of his crib -- or if the top of the side rail is even with the middle of his chest when he stands -- make your move. "Toddlers who can hoist themselves over the rail can easily fall and fracture a bone," says Paula Elbirt, M.D., director of pediatric medical education at Brooklyn Medical Center. Also swap if your child's too big for the space: he can't roll over comfortably, or he bumps against the crib slats as he sleeps.
If he hasn't physically outgrown his crib, there's no need to push him out -- even if his friends have traded up or if you're expecting a baby. And the longer you wait, the longer you'll delay midnight visits to your room. "Ideally, your toddler should be showing signs of independence in other areas, like toilet training and dressing, before going to a bigger bed," says Dr. Elbirt.
If you decide to use your child's crib for a new sibling, make the switch at least two months before or after the baby's born so your toddler won't feel displaced. If he's not pushing the size limit, delay the change if you've just begun toilet training, moved to a new house, or have other transitions under way.
Once it's time to trade in the crib, you can switch your child to a toddler bed -- a frame that fits a crib mattress -- or go straight to a twin. If you choose a regular bed, your child will only have to make one adjustment and you can avoid the expense of an intermediate step, but some kids feel more secure in the smaller version.
Whichever you select, you may want to start with the mattress right on the floor, so your child can get in and out easily and there's no risk of falling. When you add the bed frame, place it in a corner of the room and use a rail on the open side so it's cozy and safe.
Help get your child excited about the new sleeping arrangement by letting him pick his own sheets or comforter, but don't discard his old crib accoutrements. Put his blankets and stuffed animals in the big bed; include the crib mirror and busy box if he still enjoys them. And stick to his regular bedtime routine, such as reading books or playing music. If he balks, and you have the room, take it slowly for a few weeks: naps in the big bed, nights in the crib.