When to Transition from Cot to Bed

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Transitioning from cot to bed is an exciting and somewhat bittersweet moment. Your baby is no longer a baby; they are growing up.

However, when is the right time to transition your little one from their cot to a toddler bed?

Toddler Asleep in Bed

When to Transition from Cot to Bed

Unlike other developmental milestones like crawling and walking, the transition from cot to bed does not come naturally to a child. The transition can take place anywhere from around 18 months to 3 years old. 

Ideally, you would like your little one to have the cognitive ability to understand the difference between sleeping in a cot versus a bed. Also to have the ability to be able to climb onto and off of a bed safely; this is typically around 2.5 years old. However, if you have a climber on your hands, you may need to make this transition sooner before they climb out and potentially harm themselves. This can be as early as 18 months. 

This transition is a significant milestone, and often the initial excitement can be met with some resistance, so be prepared for this and remain calm and consistent. 

Reasons for Transitioning from Cot to Bed

There are several reasons you may need or be considering moving your little one to a bed.

Reason 1 – You have a climber.

If you do have a climber, you could try some other things to delay the need to move them:

  • Lower the mattress if you have not already.
  • Place them in a sleep sack that does not have individual legs, so they cannot get their legs over the side.
  • Do not let your little one climb up the sides of the cot even if they are outside of the cot. This can reinforce their climbing habit.
  • If you see your little one climbing or attempting to climb, reinforce that this is not allowed.

Reason 2 – You have a new baby on the way.

If you need to move your little one out of their cot because you have another baby on the way, then it is best to do this 3 – 4 months before the new arrival. This way, your little one will not feel they are being moved to make way for their new sibling. It will also allow enough time for them to settle into their bed. 

Reason 3 – Your child is toilet trained and needs to get up to use the bathroom during the night.

Your little one may be toilet trained, and you find them calling you in the night because they need to go to the bathroom. Needing to go to the toilet is not common, as many children will sleep through the night without needing to go to the bathroom once they are potty trained. However, some children need to use the toilet during the night and being in a toddler bed is easier for both you and your little one.

Reason 4 – You have been bed-sharing and want to move your child into their room.

If you have been bed-sharing and have decided it is time to move your little one into their room – dependent on age, it may just be easier to move them into their room and into their bed from the beginning. This way, you do not need to go through the transition of getting them into their room, only to later go through the transition of a cot to bed. Of course, your little one would need to be 18 months or older to do this in one move. 

Bed or Toddler Bed

Toddler beds are lower to the ground than a standard single bed. They reduce the risk of your child potentially injuring themselves should they fall out (which will happen on occasion). 

Many toddler beds convert to standard single beds, which are great as they allow your little one to get used to sleeping in a bed, but you can convert the toddler bed to a single bed as they grow.

Whether you decide to use a bed or toddler bed, having a guard rail is a good idea, and there are plenty of different guard rails you can choose.

Alternatively, you could use a pool noodle and slip it under the fitted sheet – this is what I did with my little one, and it worked well.

You could also place a mattress on the floor initially and then transition to the toddler bed or bed once your child is used to the mattress.

Making the Bedroom Safe

Now that your little one is in a bed, they may be tempted to get up and come and look for you in the middle of the night, so here are a few tips to help make your house safe:

  • Ensure windows have safety locks if your little one is tall enough to reach the windows.
  • Ensure all cords from blinds or curtains are out of the way.
  • Don't leave any small objects within easy reach that your child could swallow. 
  • Install electrical outlet covers.
  • Clear any medicines, ointments or oils out of the bedroom.
  • Consider using a safety gate on the bedroom door or close the bedroom door. Otherwise, you will need to ensure that you make the rest of the house safe.

Making a Safe Move from Cot to Bed

In addition to making sure the bedroom and house are safe, there are a few other safety considerations.

  • Choose a reasonably firm mattress.
  • If your child is under two years old, then do not place a pillow in the bed. Once they are older than two years old, it is safe to let them sleep with a pillow; however, choose a toddler pillow (these are not as high) that keeps your child's neck and head in line with their back.
  • Once you have placed the mattress on the bed, check to ensure there are no gaps that your child could slip into.
  • Keep the bed clear of heavy blankets and the area around the bed clear of soft toys etc. 
  • If your child is still in a sleeping sack, then you will need to transition them out of this before moving them from their crib to their bed.

Tips for Ensuring a Smooth Transition

Some children can be unsettled when they first move into a bed, so here are some tips to help with the transition.

Tip 1 – Set up the bed before the move.

Set up the bed in your child's room before the move. Read stories on the bed, practise getting on and off the bed, talk about it being THEIR bed. You want them to get used to the bed before the move.

Tip 2 – Pack the cot away.

If possible, pack the cot away and get your little one to help. This way, they will know that there is no more cot, and if they do ask for it, you can say, “Remember we packed the cot up; you are sleeping in your big boy/girl bed now”. Of course, if you have a little one on the way, this may not be possible, so as an alternative, you could get your little on to help you take off all the bedding from the cot and pack that away instead and keep the cot stripped of bedding until you are ready to set it up for your newborn.

Tip 3 – Let them help select the bedding. 

If age-appropriate, let them help you select the bedding that will go on their new bed or any new accessories that will go in the room. If you can, now would be a great time to do a bit of redecorating in the room to transform it from a baby room to a toddler room. 

Tip 4 – Stick to your bedtime routine.

Although you may be feeling nervous about the transition, do not be tempted to change your bedtime routine by delaying the inevitable and reading extra books or singing more songs. Your little one will pick up on this, and this could add to their anxiousness. Follow the same routine you have always followed for bedtime – be consistent – treat it like any other bedtime.

Tip 5 – Let them use a night light if needed.

If your little one feels a bit anxious about the move, consider using a night light in the room. However, I would not recommend suggesting this right off the bat. Children sleep better in darker rooms, and offering and introducing a night light when they have not had one before, again will reinforce their potential anxiousness. See how they go the first few nights before making any changes.  

Tip 6 – Consider moving bedtime a bit earlier.

Following the bedtime routine is essential, as discussed in Tip 4. However, you may consider moving bedtime a little earlier, say 15 – 30 minutes for the first few nights. The reason is that your little one may get out of their bed a few times before settling. By bringing bedtime forward, you will prevent your little one from becoming overtired before they settle. 

Tip 7 – Choose a weekend

Consider making a move into the bed over a weekend, when there is no school, day-care or work the next day. This way, if your little one is a bit tired the next day because they did not settle, you can adjust the next days routine to accommodate naps.

Tip 8 – Don’t rush in the morning

When you hear your little one up in the morning, do not rush straight into their room. Give them a few minutes, and if they get up and play, then great. This will build strong independent play skills.

Tip 9 – Get a sleep trainer clock.

These clocks are great for getting your little one to stay in bed until it's time to get up. You can set the clock to the time you are happy for your little one to get up, say 6 am. Depending on the clock you have selected, they change colour or the eyes open when it is time for your child to get out of bed. Check out some of the great options.

Tip 10 – Be okay with them sleeping on the floor.

Your little one will roll out of bed (despite your best efforts), and this may mean they end up sleeping on the floor. My son fell out of bed a few times. As he got older, he would get up and get back into bed on his own. However, when he was younger, he fell out once and I did not hear him. When I went into his room in the morning, he was fast asleep under the bed. I felt terrible at first, but then I realised it was probably not going to be the last time it happened. 

What to do if they get up

If your little one does get up, here are a few quick tips for dealing with this:

Tip 1 – Let them work it out.

If they get up but stay in their room and play, leave them. This may mean they miss a nap or are awake a bit longer than you would like before going down for the night. But they need to figure it out. As they get used to the bed, this novelty of getting up and playing will cease. 

Tip 2 – Repeat, repeat and repeat.

If your little one gets up and comes out of their room looking for you. This is not the time for interaction and discussion. Calmly take them by the hand and return them to their bed. Kiss them and then leave. Do not talk or make eye contact. Some toddlers are very stubborn, and they may get up 20 or 30 times before they finally stay in their room. The key is to be consistent. You need to take them back every time. If you cave in and take them to your bed as an example, the following night, they are going to persist even more until you give in. 

Tip 3 – Remain calm and reassuring

It can be rough the first few nights, and your little one may test the boundaries to see what you will accept. During the first few days, remain calm and use lots of descriptive praise if your little one does stay in their bed and room. 

Remember, the move from cot to bed is a massive step for your little one. Some children adjust immediately and enjoy being in their big bed, whilst other children may take a few days to adapt to the new sleeping arrangements.

No-one has more on their to-do list than a toddler at bedtime.

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