If you’re a new parent, you might be wondering: what, exactly, is a toddler bed? How can they have specially designed beds? You have probably never seen one, or you only think you haven’t.
And I don’t blame you! Not so long ago, I didn’t even know toddlers had special beds. But the truth is, friends, toddler beds exist, and they can be surprisingly useful.
They’re designed to provide a smoother transition between a crib and a more grown-up twin-size bed. Toddlers live through a stage of intense change, and they aren’t always thrilled about all the shifts that come with growing up! Just like you walk them through potty training, slightly change their bedtime routine as they grow older, and gradually switch from baby food by introducing more and more regular ingredients, you can also make sure that the crib-to-bed-transition will be smooth and problem-free.
And anything you can do to make this phase in your little one’s life easier will go a long way.
What Is a Toddler Bed?
So, you probably still keep asking yourself, what is a toddler bed, exactly?
In the same way that a toddler is midway between a baby and a “big kid,” a toddler bed is halfway between a crib and a regular bed. Therefore, it responds to the unique needs your child has during this particular phase.
Most toddler beds are low to the ground, unlike a crib, which is elevated for easier access to the baby. While it is essential for you to have easy access to your child when they are still in a crib, it is crucial to identify the right moment when you should start giving them more and more independence. A lower bed will make it much easier for your toddler to learn how to get in and out of bed – with your assistance at the beginning, of course.
These transition beds also feature a tall headboard and footboard reminiscent of the familiar enclosure of a crib, a resemblance which is heightened by the common wing-like barriers that help keep your toddler from falling out of bed. Therefore, this solution is still much safer than a regular bed, but it also helps you both embrace the fact that your child is not that small and helpless anymore.
So, it’s not quite a regular bed, but it’s not quite a crib, either. Like your toddler, it’s somewhere in between.
Size is the Same
There’s this one similarity between a toddler bed and a crib that you might not expect and might seem a little bit strange at first. It certainly caught me by surprise! Believe it or not, the mattress in a crib is the same size as the mattress in a toddler bed.
Well, none of them have an exact standard size, but they tend to be the same dimensions because the legally-mandated minimum size in the U.S. is 27 ¼ inches wide by 51 ¼ inches long for both kinds of mattress. This means you could very easily use the mattress from your kid’s crib as the mattress for their new toddler bed! Big money-saver, right?
Well… maybe not. The thing is that the mattresses you most likely see in a crib need to be very firm for safety reasons. Your toddler might be comfortable keeping their firm crib mattress, but there’s a good chance they’ll want to enjoy a softer, more pillowy mattress now that they’re old enough to have it. It will also be more beneficial for their future to have something similar to what they will get in their normal bed when they’re older.
Fortunately, some crib mattresses are two-sided, offering a safety-conscious crib side and a softer, comfort-focused toddler side as well! So, you may want to take that into consideration if you still have time.
Personally, I think this is a great way to take advantage of the same-size feature of a crib and a toddler bed. As long as you can find a mattress you feel secure about, I’d say go for it!
A Comfortable Transition?
Like I’ve already mentioned, a toddler bed is fairly similar to a crib but shares some features with a big bed too. This is how you can make it easier for your kid to adjust after outgrowing the crib since it’s a relatively familiar sleeping environment that also prepares them for what’s ahead.
On the other hand, though, you will probably have to think about the temperament of your toddler. Any kind of life change can be a stressful one. It is especially true in the case of small children who may not see and understand the world as we do. And if your child is prone to vehemently resisting change (as toddlers often are), it’s possible that no amount of familiarity will make them feel better right away.
If the transition between beds seems likely to be a troublesome one with your child, you might be better off skipping the toddler bed and moving straight to a twin bed. It will reduce the number of changes, but it will also make this crib-to-bed transition bigger.
This is also certainly more cost-effective since your kid will only be able to sleep in a toddler bed for a limited period of time anyway. Plus, if your kid is a busy sleeper and might be prone to falling out of bed, you can find add-on toddler rails that will add an extra layer of safety.
The big thing to pay attention to here is your kid’s mood. After all, you are the one who knows your child best. If they’re okay with changes that come in smaller, incremental steps, a toddler bed can be a great stepping-stone on the route to a big kid bed! But, if they’re going to resist any and all change and you’d rather just get all the screaming done in one go, I’d have to recommend going straight to a twin bed.
Promotion or Punishment?
Another concern I have to bring up with regards to your child’s emotional state: are you trying to move them to a new bed because there’s a new baby on the way? If the answer is yes, you need to remain especially careful with how you manage the whole situation if you want to avoid unnecessary drama.
Trust me: having a younger sibling is always a big deal – an event that’s hard and unexpected for any toddler. You can spare yourself a lot of headaches by deliberately framing the transition for your kid – try to shape the way they think about moving to a new bed. You can even make this crib-to-bed transition an exciting, empowering event.
If it’s possible, you’ll want to make them feel like they’re getting promoted, not punished. If they’re excited to move into a new and different bed, it’ll make your life so much easier.
Remember that communication is the foundation of every healthy relationship, even if you still can’t really have an eloquent conversation with your toddler. Make sure they understand that it is not a punishment, nor any kind of degradation – present it as a promotion to a more “grown-up” stage of life. It may be helpful to point out that a toddler bed has many more similarities with the bed of their parents than the crib. You can even engage your child into shopping for their toddler bed – you don’t have to buy a car-shaped bed, but you might allow them to choose new pillows, sheets, or blankets. Then, spend some time on decorating the new bed together; let your kid bring their favorite stuffed animals. This will get your child excited about their new environment.
But above all, stay patient. No change is easy, especially for your little one, so don’t expect any miracles. Let your toddler surprise if they make the transition quickly and smoothly, but don’t assume this is how it will go.
We (as well as most parents) can talk all day about “terrible toddlers,” but in some ways, having a toddler is much easier than having an infant!
For one thing, part of what can make toddlers such a terror is the same thing that helps parents sleep easier at night: they have much better motor control than they did when they were younger. So, while they don’t require your assistance with some basic activities, they may put their energy and skills into mischief.
However, this also means that toddlers can rescue themselves in ways infants can’t! For example, if they find themselves face-down in a pillow, they’ll be able to roll themselves over without much fuss. More specifically, they can handle a softer mattress and a bed without rails and still be perfectly safe.
The downside of that advanced muscle control is that toddlers aren’t quite as safe in cribs as they were earlier in life. They’re curious little climbers, and there’s a good chance they’ll clamber up out of the crib! And this certainly can pose a bigger threat to their health than falling out of a big kid bed. And a toddler bed is even lower to the ground, making it possible for your kid to get up and move around the room autonomously without risking a fall. After all, you want your child to gain more and more independence.
Of course, every child is different, so what’s safe for your kid is up to you to determine. You know them better than anyone else, so as long as you’re paying attention, you’ll be a-okay!
If you still have any doubts concerning a toddler bed or a crib-to-bed transition of your child, you may want to keep reading for some more answers.
When Should a Toddler Transition from a Crib?
In most cases, it is the child who announces that the crib time is over by simply stating that “they want to be out.” Once you notice that it is getting tiresome for you to get your little one out and back to the crib all the time, you will know it’s time for a big kid bed.
It may also happen that you will notice your child struggling to get out of the crib on their own. Climbing may pose a threat to their health and will certainly add to the list of their daily frustrations, which you would probably rather avoid. So, make sure to observe your child.
There’s no established optimal moment for each toddler to switch to a new bed. It usually happens at any time between the age of 18 months and 3 1/2 years old. Experts say that the best time is when your toddler is around 3 years old, but you will do best by listening to your kid’s needs and preferences.
It is advised to wait until other major changes and lessons are over – that is, you should rather avoid combining this crib-to-bed transition with potty training, significant changes in the diet, new baby, or new school.
However, you should only keep your kid in a crib as long as they still wear diapers. If you have already decided to get rid of diapers, be sure they can get out of bed easily, even in the middle of the night, in case of a sudden urge.
How to Improve Safety after Switching to a Toddler Bed?
While a toddler bed is undoubtedly a relatively safe option for your kid’s new bed, there are still some things you can do to improve their safety.
First of all, find the right spot in the room. Make sure it’s away from windows, curtains, cords, electric sockets, radiators, and other things that may potentially be a safety hazard. It’s a good idea to keep the rails on both sides, especially if you know your kid to be a busy sleeper; you may also put something soft and fluffy against the wall. Don’t leave too much space between the wall and the bed to avoid a situation when your child would fall and get trapped. Additionally, it is advised to put a soft rug on the floor next to the bed to cushion any potential fall. A fall may not pose a serious threat to your kid’s health, but it may lead to them being scared of sleeping in a bed.
What If There’s a New Baby Coming?
As I’ve already mentioned, you need to ensure that your child doesn’t feel left out, displaced, and, thus, unwanted. As long as your kid is already at least 18 months old, it is best to begin the transitions as soon as possible – two months before the new baby arrives is the optimal amount of time.
By the time a new brother or sister is there, your older child will feel at ease and may not even connect the transition with the arrival of a family member.
We have a small tip for you here – as soon as your child transitions to the “big bed,” make sure to store the crib away from sight. They will soon forget all about it, especially if you make them excited about the new situation.
I really hope that this article has helped you get a grip on what a toddler bed is, what you can expect from it, and why it may be worth considering one. This can help you switch your child from a crib to a big kid bed by adding another in-between stage to the whole process. Whether you’re introducing changes to their bedtime routine in your own time, you’re awaiting a new baby, or maybe planning a little renovation, toddler beds are worth at least some considering.
As with everything else, this should be your own decision based entirely on your knowledge of your child – only you and no one else can tell if their new bed should be the model designed especially for toddlers or a big kid bed. Since you’ve been through potty training, diet changes, and walking lessons, you will know what to expect and how to react.
Best of luck shopping, and as ever, happy sleeping!
Founder and Owner
Ted is the founder and owner of Mattress Guides and is an expert in his field. Ted believes that having the right mattress is key to getting a good night’s sleep and feeling well-rested in the morning.
Updated at November 6, 2020