Toddlers are cute, no doubt about it, but you can’t lay them down to sleep in a cot forever. Sooner or later, they need to make a move to a bigger bed, whether you choose a toddler bed or a regular (small) single bed for them. It’s got to be safe, and the time has got to be right.
Are you feeling like now is the moment for your child to be moving out of the cot and into a larger bed? Then this guide is for you as we take you through how to transition a toddler from a cot to a bed and address some of the issues you might encounter along the way.
Moving your child to a bed at the right age
Unfortunately, parenting doesn’t come with a manual or a set of instructions, and it’s hard to know exactly when to get your child making that transition from a cot to a bed.
The good news and the bad news is there’s no official rule. It will help if you use your own judgement. The general recommendation is to do so when the child is between 18 months and 3 years old. According to the Supernanny, you should aim to keep your child in the cot for as long as possible.
Often, parents feel that when the child outgrows the cot, this is the time to move them into a larger bed. That makes perfect sense, of course, but there are other reasons why you might move your child into a larger bed, which we discuss below:
Why might you move a toddler into a bigger bed?
The fact that the child is (almost) physically too large for their cot doesn’t have to be the sole reason for transitioning them to a bigger bed. Other possible reasons include:
- Needing the cot for a new arrival
- The child starts to climb out of the cot
- Making the bed easier to get in and out of because you’re toilet training the child
If a child is climbing out of their cot, it’s important to either remove the cot’s sides or move them to a bigger bed. It’s for their own safety. If the child falls from the top of the railings, they could have a nasty accident.
Note, however, that if you remove the sides or transfer a child to a larger bed, they’re going to be in and out of it much more often. Maybe it’s the novelty value, or maybe it’s because the child suddenly has that little bit more independence than they had before, but they’re going to be out of it. It’s just the way kids are, so get ready for it!
Choosing the right type of bed: toddler vs single bed
Each type of bed has its advantages and disadvantages, so you have to weigh them up and decide which is best.
The advantages of a toddler bed:
- Toddler beds are smaller and, naturally, specially designed for children. If the child rolls out of bed, they’re less likely to hurt themselves because the bed is closer to the ground.
- The bed doesn’t feel too big, which can make the transition easier for the child.
The disadvantages of a toddler bed:
- You’ll have to buy a bed and a mattress — some cots will have the same size mattresses, and you might not have to change — but the child will only sleep in it for a couple of years.
- The child will get out of bed more because they’re able to and may disturb you.
- Some manufacturers make the beds in odd sizes, so you have to buy sheets and other bed accessories from them. These could be expensive.
The advantages of a single bed:
- Single beds can last a child into their teens or even beyond that. They’re much more long term.
The disadvantages of a single bed:
- Single beds tend to cost more than toddler beds. Of course, they’re larger, too, and so are the mattresses, meaning more expense.
- If the child falls out of bed, it’s a long way to the ground. You can protect your child by buying and fitting a bed guard so that they don’t roll out.
How to move your toddler from a cot to a bed
Sleeping in a new bed is a big change in the life of a child. Like everything else, they’ll have to grow used to the bed. They’ll soon adopt, however. Here’s how to approach making the change to a new bed more smoothly:
You don’t want to rush your child into switching from one type of bed to another. If they’re not ready, forcing them into a new bed will only create stress for them and you.
Keep your eye open for signs they may be ready for a new bed. They may show some interest in a bigger bed, or you may feel comfortable about leaving them for a couple of hours in their bed without supervising them. These are potential signs the time is right for an upgrade.
Prepare your child
If you want your child to settle into the new bed, you have to give them some warning. Some toddlers respond comfortably and adapt to the change quickly, whereas others need more help. Talk to them a couple of weeks before moving them into it, so the change doesn’t come as a shock to them.
Transform the transition into an adventure
Create some excitement for them around the process. Make your child want to sleep in their new bed. Talk about how fantastic big beds are and how grown up the child is. Children love feeling like adults. Maybe even let them pick out their bed when they’re bed shopping. They’ll be more willing to cooperate if they have more of a say in the matter.
Familiarise your child with the bed
If you’re lucky enough to have space, try setting up the bed in your bedroom temporarily. This gives the child the chance to get used to the idea they will be sleeping in a different bed. You don’t immediately have to make them spend their nights in the new bed, however. Instead, gently ease them into sleeping in the bed by making them take their naps there.
Allow them to take “transitional items” to the bed with them
Perhaps your little one has a favourite toy or blanket they take to bed with them. If so, let them take it to the new bed as well. This will comfort them. You could also use the old bedding from the cot. If they don’t have an item that comforts them while they sleep, this is a good moment to find one for them.
Establish a bedtime routine
Creating a solid bedtime routine, especially at a time of change, is important. It helps the child to feel grounded. Pack away the toys and spend some quiet time with your child. That could be reading a bedtime story, for instance. Please encourage them to get into bed. If they can climb into bed, pull their own covers up and arrange their own pillows, they’ll settle slightly easier.
When bidding your child goodnight, say something such as “Goodnight! It’s time for you to go to sleep. See you in the morning!” This tells them what to expect. Not only that, bedtime suddenly doesn’t feel as scary to them.
Apply the “gradual retreat” approach
Children can find it hard to fall asleep when you’re not in the room, but you can’t spend all night in there with them! Follow the simple steps below so that you can persuade your child to drift off to sleep:
- Once your child is in bed, stroke their arm gently as they settle.
- Switch to patting them while they sleep. Then return to stroking them steadily, but space the strokes gradually further and further apart.
- Place your hand on your child. Rest it there for a few minutes and quietly repeat, “Ssssh.”
- Start to move your chair further away from the bed. Begin with just two feet away and sit for a few minutes. Then move your chair even further away and, again, sit patiently for a couple of minutes. Repeat this step, this time so that you’re by the door.
- If you think another step is necessary, sit outside the door for a couple of minutes.
Make sure your child knows the boundaries
If your child keeps getting out of bed, climbing into yours, and you let them, it will become a regular thing. If not, you’ll find it harder to get them to stay in their new bed, so if they do climb in, lead them back to their bed. Repeat as many times as necessary so that they learn to stay in their bed. Be patient with them, but also be firm because these boundaries are important.
Transitioning to the bed safely
Most importantly, the transition has got to be safe. That means making their sleeping environment safe and the rest of the house if they get out of bed in the middle of the night and/or when you’re not there to supervise them. Follow the tips below for a safer transition:
Make the bed safe and fit some bed guards
A child won’t be used to sleeping in a bed with no side effects and could roll out. Thankfully, you can buy and fit some bed guards, so they don’t fall out. They’ll feel safe, and you can achieve peace of mind.
Make the child’s bedroom as safe as possible
There’s a whole host of measures you can take so that if your child gets up during the night, you can still rest easy:
- Attach bookshelves or any other furniture to the wall.
- Secure any cords for opening curtains or blinds and make sure they’re out of the child’s reach. Wrap cords or curtains in clips. The curtains should also be at least 1.6 metres above the ground.
- Keep any hanging mobiles out of the child’s reach.
- Use plug socket covers and keep any electrical appliances out of the child’s bedroom.
- Keep small toys, batteries, coins, massage oils, cleaning fluids, medicines and anything else out of the room that could be a choking hazard or could be poisonous.
- Clear away any toys before the child goes to bed, so they don’t stumble on them if they get up during the night.
- Move the bed up against the wall so there is less chance of the child falling out of it. Place some pillows on the floor by the other side of the bed to cushion them if they do fall out.
- Put some safety locks on the windows. Check that the gap isn’t wide enough for your child to fit their head through.
Make the house safe
You may have watched them climb into bed, but your kids may well get on the move as soon as you’ve turned your back. They may sleep right through if you’re lucky, but after their night’s rest, they’ll be up early and jumping on your bed or out and about around the house.
This means you should do a safety sweep of every room in your house:
- Put a gate at the top and bottom of the stairs so they can’t climb them or fall from them.
- Bolt bookshelves and TV sets to the wall.
- Attach safety latches to any drawers to stop the child from opening them or climbing them.
Fire safety is important, too, so avoid putting a gate across the entrance of your child’s room. If you’re concerned your child will leave their bedroom while you’re not able to supervise them, attach a monitor or bells to the door. These will alert you when they leave the room.
A few final thoughts on the transition from cot to a larger bed
The move from a cot to a bigger bed is an exciting moment for a toddler and their parents. The child is gaining some independence, and the parents are watching their little one grow up. Helping your young one to make the transition requires consistency and patience. It’s a big change, and it may take your child a little while to adapt to it.
Safety is just as important as training your toddler to use their new bed. Children are oblivious to the everyday dangers around them. It’s up to you to be on the ball and watch out for any potential safety hazards the switch to the new bed could bring.
Enjoy the experience of seeing your toddler act and feel as if they’re all grown up.
We wish you luck in helping them make the transition.