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Steps to transition your toddler from a cot to a bed

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Moving your little one to a big bed is a big deal and can be a big event in all your lives. When it comes to making the transition from a cot to a ‘big bed’, there are two questions that parents tend to ask: the first is ‘when’, and the second is ‘how’.

Safety is our main concern so, although we don’t suggest moving your little one until they are 2 ½ – 3 years old at least, if they are jumping out of their cot in an unsafe manner we may need to think about moving them earlier.

Below are our top tips:

Toddlers who are not sleeping independently:

Our answer to “when” is likely to be “not now” if your little one does not have great sleep skills, as your main concern will be teaching them to sleep through the night. It is vital they master good sleeping skills first.

Secondly, there is absolutely no rush to get your toddler out of their cot into a bed, no-one really says “I wish we’d moved them to a big bed earlier” (in fact most say the opposite).

At this point you might be thinking ‘but I’ve heard the longer a child is in a cot, the more attached they grow to it, and the tougher it is for them to make the transition when they finally do.’ Despite this being a commonly held belief, our experience shows that this really isn’t the case.

The reason we say to work on the sleep skills first, is because while your toddler is learning these skills there will naturally be a period of adjustment as they learn to fall asleep independently and this can take a little getting used. During this time it is comforting for your little one to have a familiar place to sleep, i.e. their bedroom, their sheets, favourite sleep toy and their cot. Ideally, we want everything to be the same until they are able to fall asleep on their own.

Moving to a big bed is going to much easier if your little one is already sleeping through the night. Also, a toddler who is well rested and able to fall asleep independently is far less likely to get out of their bed and leave their room (or even bed) at night, which is usually the biggest issue parents find when they move their little ones out of the cot.

Toddlers who sleep independently or those who need to move into a bed:

Step one:

The first step is preparation. It’s important to let your little one know what is happening. Explain that they are going to be making the move into their new bed, set a date, and let them know when the move is going to happen. When you explain what’s happening to your toddler, make sure you do so in a positive way.

There’s a bit of a balance, here, though. On one hand, you want to prepare your toddler for the move, but at the same time, you don’t want to make a huge issue out of it. Turning the transition into a ‘big thing’ puts a lot of pressure on your little one and can cause undue stress. You know your child best so you will be in the best place to know how to handle it but do make it a positive thing. If your little one has really got into the role of being a big brother or sister, play on the big boy or girl role. Ensure it is positive and make sure you are confident and calm about the change so your little one knows not to worry.

Similarly, if you are moving them from the cot to a bed, for a baby sibling we recommend not doing this around the same time as the arrival of the new baby so that they don’t feel the baby ‘took their cot away’ from them.

Step two:

When it’s time to shop for the new bed, make sure you take your toddler along and let them have some input into which bed and bedding they get. Asking which bed they prefer (between the ones you have already shortlisted), which colour sheets they like, or which pillows feel the most comfortable, will not only ensure you buy something they like – it will also help them feel a sense of ownership over their new bed, which can work wonders in easing the transition.

A bed guard can be really helpful to give your little one a visual cue of where they should sleep and might help prevent them getting in and out when they feel like it.

Step three:

When it comes to bedtime for the first time keep everything else the same. Don’t be tempted to change your little one’s routine or introduce anything new that night for example place the bed where their cot used to be. This transition is a big change for your little one, so try to keep any additional changes to a minimum.

This is particularly important when it comes to bedtime routine on that first night. When getting your little one ready for bed, don’t alter their routine, change their bedtime or try to give them a new food for dinner. Keep everything as predictable and mundane as possible.

Dealing with their reactions:
Once you’ve settled your little one into their new bed for the first time, they’re likely to react in one of three ways:

  1. They adapt immediately to their new bed and don’t test the rules at all. If this is the case, you can count yourself among the very lucky minority.
  2. They appear to adapt immediately but, after a week or two, start leaving their room, playing with their toys, or calling for you to come back in several times a night.
  3. Your toddler starts doing all of the things mentioned in point 2 – but on the very first night.

The solution to the last two reactions is the same. When your toddler first demonstrates the unwanted behaviour, tell them what the consequence will be if they do it again, and make sure you follow through on that consequence if and when they do.

You may well have already discovered a consequence that works for your toddler, and if so, I strongly suggest you keep that in place. Remember, it’s best not to change anything except for the bed, so when it comes to managing behaviour, just keep doing whatever you’ve been doing until now.

Making a change like this isn’t always going to be easy, but if you follow this advice, it can be quite straightforward. Remember: manage expectations, keep things low-key, maintain a consistent routine and follow through with all consequences – and before you know it your little one will be happily sleeping in their big bed.

As always, if you’re experiencing any problems with your little ones sleep, please do get in touch for a free 15 minute chat – We would love to help!

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