Bunk bed safety for toddlers: 6 Tips to give you confidence
There’s no doubt that bunk beds are a convenient solution for families with multiple children and a limited number of bedrooms. They save up a lot of space, and they can make a small bedroom seem a lot bigger. However, a lot of parents have safety concerns. What are the dangers of their child falling out of bed? What kinds of injuries can happen? How common are they? Do the risks outweigh all the features and benefits of bunk beds?
To increase bunk bed safety for toddlers you should:
- Follow bunk bed age limits set by the manufacturer
- Use guardrails to prevent falls from the top bunk
- Check that the size of the mattress meets safety specifications
- Teach children not to play on the Bunk Bed
- Enforce a rule where only one child can be on the top bunk
- Place your bed away from ceiling fans, blinds, and windows & install easy-to-access light switches
Why are we discussing bunk bed safety for toddlers?
In the US, there are thousands of bunk bed-related injuries every year, and the sad thing is that they’re completely preventable. Because of the height associated with the upper bunk, these injuries are often more serious than if the same type of injury occurred on regular beds which are lower to the ground.
Toddlers are especially susceptible to injuries because they haven’t developed reasoning skills yet. For older children, most injuries occur from falling off of the top of the bunk bed during sleep or play. Although lots of people think bruises or broken bones are the most common type of injuries, it’s actually cuts that are most common, especially on the head and neck area. For toddlers, it’s common for them to injure themselves while playing with their older sibling or a parent.
Parents can find comfort in the fact that the injuries are mostly due to how children use and behave on loft beds. With a little bit of guidance and preparation, you can help ensure that your child’s room is a safe place for sleep, rather than an accident waiting to happen. You may also enjoy reading our guide to bunk bed ladder safety.
Tip 1: Follow bunk bed age limits set by the manufacturer to maximize bunk bed safety for toddlers and children of other ages
Although it might be fun for very young children to sleep in a bunk bed, the reality is that it can do a lot more harm than good. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, sleeping in the upper bunk of the bed is not recommended for children under the age of six years old. For the lower bunk, you should consider buying one that is close to the ground, if your toddler wants to sleep with their sibling.
Although it can be very tempting to give in to the wishes of a four or five year old child, you will not forgive yourself if they injure themselves. Patience is a hard lesson to learn for any adventurous toddler.
If you have children under six years old, it is crucial that you don’t allow them to sleep on the top. Since more than half of the victims of these injuries are under the age of five, this is one of the more important rules. Follow your bed manufacturer’s guidelines such as the example from the link. We've also written a guide to bunk bed age limits.
Tip 2: Use guardrails to prevent falls from the top bunk
Never underestimate the importance of guard rails, and keep in mind that they should be fixed to all four sides of the upper bunk. A lot of people get fooled into thinking that a wall can act as a guard rail but it can't.
Children can become trapped between the wall and the bed. Bunk bed ladders essentially need to be kid-friendly so that they can climb up and down without needing assistance from adults.
This is particularly important at night, when your child may need to get up to use the toilet. It is equally important to be able to fold the ladder away or remove it, if small children are around. Allowing a small child to climb the ladder, under any circumstances, is a recipe for disaster.
Guardrails are used to help prevent accidental falls that could occur from rolling off the edge of the bed. At a minimum, there must be guardrails on the top level with only a single opening for getting into and out of bed. It is recommended that they extend at least five inches above the top of the mattress. Also, you should make sure that the width of the opening is no more than 15 inches across.
Older models weren’t manufactured the same way and to the same specifications as their modern counterparts, so if you buy a used one, you’ll have to be extra thorough in evaluating safety. In addition to the presence of a guardrail, check to make sure that the space between the rails is no more than about 3.5 inches, which is a preventive measure against strangulation.
Remember, guardrails should be smooth and free from protrusions or potential snag points.
Tip 3 – Check that the size of the mattress meets safety specifications and reinforce the foundation
Don’t try to use a smaller mattress than the bed frame is designed for, as that could make it easier for a toddler to roll off or get stuck. A full sized bunk bed is designed to hold a full size mattress, not a twin size.
Also, make sure to properly adjust edges of the mattress inside a bunk bed. This way, you will ensure that the mattress is stable and doesn’t move around. Your toddler should feel comfortable and safe in their bed.
Additionally, the foundation of the bunk bed should be sturdy and firm. If you try to put pressure on it and push it, it shouldn’t feel rickety, wobbly, or unstable in any way. Most people actually don’t keep this tip in mind as they usually just buy the mattress that ‘’fits’’ the bed. However, you should always pay attention to the stability and sturdiness of the foundation + the size of the bunk bed mattress.
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, you should reinforce the bottom slats of the top bunk by adding more slats and hence reducing the spacing between individual slats. You might also find our article on how to make a bunk bed more sturdy useful.
Tip 4 – Teach children not to play on the Bunk Bed
Fooling around on bunk beds is fun for a lot of toddlers, and most of us have fond memories of playing on them with our siblings. But unfortunately, many of us also have some not-so-fond memories of falling from them and possibly breaking a wrist or two.
Boys are much more likely to be injured, just like they’re statistically more likely to play and push the limits of bunk bed safety.
And while it goes without saying that no one should be playing on the top loft, it should also be noted that playing under the bed can be equally dangerous.
No parent wants to spoil their child’s fun, but it’s always a good idea to set up very clear boundaries and rules around what they can and can’t do on the bunk bed. For a start, there should never be any kind of playing on the top bunk, no jumping, and never more than one child up there at the same time. It is advisable to reinforce that the bunk bed is just that – a place for sleeping and not for playing. It may sound harsh to your kids, but when it comes to bunk beds, safety is the number one priority.
These are some of the common safety rules you should go over with your kids if you plan on getting them a bunk bed.
- Children under the age of six should not be left unattended in a room with bunk beds or be allowed to use them. The greatest instances of bunk bed-related injuries are from falls, and more than half of them occur to children under the age of five.
- Only one person should be allowed on the top bunk at a time, and there should be absolutely no horseplay on or under beds.
- Do not let children hang any items such as belts or jump ropes to any part of the bunk bed, as these can pose a strangulation risk.
- Make sure to reinforce bunk bed safety rules regularly. Go over the rules whenever your child has a friend sleepover. Never assume that others are familiar with your rules, and remember that visitors may need reminding even if they have slept over before.
Tip 5 – Enforce a rule where only one child can be on the top bunk of the bunk or loft bed
If your children want to hang out together to read, color, take a nap, or some other activity, make sure they stick to the bottom bed if they’re going to be close to each other. As a general rule, only one person at a time should be in the top bunk.
This is very important to point out since a lot of parents allow their children to play on the top loft, which can be really dangerous, especially if the bed wasn’t constructed properly, or the bolts haven’t been tightened in a while, etc. and there is a possibility of it breaking down.
This is especially important during sleepovers. Consider a bunk bed with a trundle for accommodating your additional guest.
Tip 6 – Place your bed away from ceiling fans, blinds, and windows. Install a light near the ladder.
There is a whole list of things you need to take into consideration when choosing a bunk bed instead of two single beds. Carefully look around the bedroom and make a mental note of anything that could potentially put your child in danger.
Bunk beds need to be positioned well clear of ceiling fans, windows and blinds (especially blind cords which could pose a strangulation risk,) lights, heaters or any other electrical device. You can never be too careful, so if in doubt, find another position for the bed.
Also, your child should be able to see their surroundings when there’s a top bunk involved. At the very least, you should put a light right next to the ladder so your child can turn on a light without having to descend into complete darkness. You might find our guide to minimum room dimensions for a bunk bed useful.
The Importance of Mandatory Standards
One of the most important safety tips is to always buy a bunk bed that meets the mandatory standards as set out by your country’s safety commission. Ex: ACCC (Australian Competition and Consumer Commission). This standard covers all aspects of construction and design – with a particular focus on the size of gaps and spaces, as it is easy for little heads, arms and legs of toddlers to get caught.
All compliant bunk beds should have a displayed sticker or label to show that it meets these strict standards.
When you’re at home putting the bunk bed together, make a point of reading the instruction manual carefully before you start hammering and screwing.
Poorly put together beds are very dangerous. Following the instructions step-by-step will ensure that everything is fixed, glued and nailed into the right place and will minimize the chance of your children getting injured.
Where to Safely Place the Bunk Bed?
Summarizing our previous list of tips we will now present to you where the safest place for you to position your bunk bed is.
First and foremost, your child should be able to get in and out of bed easily. You should also take safety considerations into mind, and these will be dependent on the interior of the room. Here are some basic rules you should keep in mind:
- Avoid putting the bunk bed directly underneath or next to ceiling fans or light fixtures.
- Don’t put it up against a window.
- Check that there is ample room for your child to sit without hitting his or her head on the ceiling.
- Ensure that your child cannot get trapped between the wall and the bed
- Make sure curtain and blind cords are not accessible to children from the bunk bed.
- Ensure the bunk bed is in a safe position within the room/immediate area – keep bunk beds away from other items of furniture that children may be tempted to try and climb onto.
Now that you know where you place your bunk bed and maximize safety, you might be ready to make your child’s bunk bed look cute :)
Bunk beds have evolved a lot in both safety terms and design since the days that we were kids. From Disney princess styles to modern, industrial designs, there’s something that fits just about any style.
However, they do come with dangers. Parents should be aware of what can happen if they aren’t careful and attentive, and take every step they possibly can to prevent an injury.
And remember, bunk beds are not safe for toddlers or preschoolers, even if you plan to sleep them in the lower bunk. No child can resist the lure of using a set of bunks as gym equipment and most bunk-related accidents occur during play. As a rule, wait until the youngest child is around 6 years old before putting up bunk beds.
With proper precaution, we can enjoy all the benefits that bunk beds have to offer. Take a look at this article on bunk bed ladder comfort for even more tips.