When is the best time to move a toddler from a cot to a bed?
There is no set time that is right to move a child from their cot to a bed. Often the decision is prompted by them climbing out, or you needing the cot for a new baby; but more often than not, it is simply the feeling that they are growing up and ready to move on a stage.
Most children move out of the cot and into a bed somewhere between the ages of two and three and a half, but if they are happy in the cot and it is big enough for them, there is no rush or reason to move them at all.
If you are moving your toddler out of the cot to make room for a new baby, it is best to leave a few weeks between moving your older one out and the younger one in.
Explain to your child that they are going to sleep in a big bed and let them help you move the cot from the room and put the new bed up. Or if they are in a cot bed, let them be involved in converting it to a toddler bed.
During the day time before they actually sleep in the new bed themselves, encourage a game where they tuck their toys into the new bed and then leave them to go to sleep. Praise the toys for going to sleep. Through this small ritual they will receive the subtle message that you will be happy if they do the same.
If they usually wear a sleep bag, now could be a good time to replace it with a little duvet, or sheet and blanket.
Similarly, if they still have their milk from a bottle of milk at bedtime, now is a good opportunity to give them a cup instead. If you’re giving them a lidded cup, it’s best to make sure that it has a free-flowing design rather than being spillproof. This is so that they learn to sip rather than suck.
They can also now have a small flat pillow if you like, although from a physiological point of view they don’t really need one. If there are any other changes that you’d like to make, such as getting rid of their dummy or their white noise device, this can be good opportunity to introduce those changes. The reason for this is that often a change in environment can help with a behaviour change or a change in routine.
It is best to avoid keeping the old cot in their room if you can, as this can often cause confusion and night-time bed swapping. Keep everything as simple as possible and avoid giving too many choices at night-time, and this will cut down on bedtime procrastination, tears and delay.
On the evening of the new bed change, keep up your usual, reassuring bedtime routine before saying goodnight to them just as you normally do. Don’t expect any changes, and if you can demonstrate by your manner that all is as normal, your child is more likely to feel ok about the new bed.
Leave the room on a very positive note, even if they do seem to be a bit unsure, over excited or very wakeful. If they don’t want you to leave, tell them that you will be back very soon to check that they are cosy. Return to them shortly afterwards and praise them for being in bed. [If they are still in it!] Only stay for a few moments before leaving again, “I’m going to wash my hands now [for example] but I’ll be back in a minute.”
If they get out of bed and come to find you, it is very tempting to laugh or hug them, as they will look so cute. But if you do this, they may keep on doing it to get the lovely feedback and entertain you. Quite understandably, they will then be upset and confused when you are no longer finding it funny.
It is better to show them that you are surprised [not angry] that they are up. Quickly and quietly take them back to bed and then, give them the good feedback and praise them warmly.
Leave again even if they are not happy about it but reassure them that you’ll be back. If they won’t go back to bed, you can remain standing quietly in the room with them. Tell them just once to go to bed and then wait in silence until they move towards the bed [it might take a while!] Don’t repeat the instruction, but you can say, “I’m waiting, my love.” Then when they show even the slightest signs of going back to bed, praise them warmly to encourage them and let them know that you are proud of them.
Don’t nag, bribe or get involved in any procrastination or delaying conversation. If they ask for more stories/cuddles/food, you can respond with, “We’ll do that/see to that/get that/you can tell me about that…….in the morning.”
If you’re in a couple, it’s a good idea for both of you if possible to alternate going in and settling/praising them, so that you can reinforce the message that even though their bed has changed, the “sleep rules” are the same.
You can expect it to take longer than normal for them to go to sleep, and this is natural because children like things to be predictable and familiar. The changes that you are making may make them uneasy and wakeful at first.
If your child really does struggle to stay in bed, and you are worried about them wondering about at night, you could consider fitting a safety gate to their bedroom door. If you introduce it in a positive manner, “This is your gate, to keep you safe!” there is no reason for them to feel imprisoned.
You will also need to have some kind of soft lighting to keep them safe if they DO wander in the night. Choose one with a red glow which will not limit their sleep hormone [melatonin] production.
If they wake and come to you or call for you during the night, you should help them back into bed as you did at the beginning of the night. Go to them every few minutes if they are upset and keep getting up, but try not to be in the room as they settle off to sleep, as this is very likely to then become a habit.
In the morning, offer them lots of specific praise, for example, “You slept in your big bed!” “You went back to bed when I asked you to!”