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How to Move your Toddler From Cot to Big Bed

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Latest Stories

How, and when to make this milestone toddler transition.

The bassinet, the cot and now a big kid bed. How quickly the seasons change, right? Moving your child from a cot to a bed can feel daunting. As parents, we get a sense of emotional comfort from those security bars so if you're feeling overwhelmed by more change, you're not alone.

From my own experience, the transition from “baby jail” (as my husband calls it) to bed happened shortly after my daughter turned 2. I knew she was ready. She could ninja herself out of her cot, wanted to sleep in my bed, and refused to get in her sleeping bag. Three obvious signals that it was time. The whole transition happened incidentally when we visited her grandparents over the Christmas break. Without a travel cot, we popped her on a mattress on the floor. This is how she takes her naps alongside other kids at Daycare so why should it be any different? As suspected, it wasn't. Kids are so much more adaptable than we give them credit for and after 8 nights of surprisingly consistent sleep, we returned home to Melbourne, ripped off the Band-aid, and popped her on a king single mattress on the floor. Five months later we got her a bed base and she is now sleeping (most nights) like a little angel.

If you’re nearing this stage, or this scenario seems familiar, here are some tips to see you through.

How do you know if it's time to move them out of the cot?

The first sign for many parents is the climbing out of the cot. Toddlers are surprisingly agile, flexible and strong, and will eventually Mission Impossible themselves out. That’s a pretty big sign to transition for safety reasons. Steph Gouin, a qualified Child Sleep Consultant and Midwife says, “Not before 18 months but any time after”. Generally speaking, this happens in the year between ages 2 and 3. For some, it's a natural progression when you welcome a second child into your family and pass on the cot, for others it aligns with a home or bedroom move. A shift in naps is another opportune time, a postpartum doula once told me that to make the transition when they drop their day nap (usually around 2.5 years), as they are knackered and more likely to settle quicker at bedtime. Megan Kumf, a Pediatric Sleep Consultant says that, “Opting for the change at bedtime rather than for day naps might work better since their natural sleep drive is higher at night”.

How do you get your toddler excited to move out of the cot?

All toddlers love to be seen as "big kids". Getting a big kid's bed means they have big kid status. So, make a big deal about it. Kids learn through repetition. Talk about it daily, show them you're excited about it, tell their educators and carers about it, so it is normalised in all scenarios and safe places. Then, change up the space. We brought our daughter new fruit salad bedsheets. She loved sleeping in her “pear bed,” so if there is a colour, animals, or print that your child is particularly drawn to, this is a great way to make the new bed seem more inviting. Add depth to the space by inviting new and engaging things. A chair in the corner to read books, a splash of colour on the walls or even a reshuffle of the room's perspective. You can never have enough “new” for growing and curious minds.

We most definitely had nights lying next to her until she fell asleep, but it was just a season.

How do I make a bed safe for my toddler?

For cot-to-bed safety, you will need to spend time setting up a safe environment. First, think about them falling out. You can start with a floor bed (literally a mattress on the floor), or, if you're using a bed frame, put something soft, like a Little Wiwa Mat next to the bed. You could also look for a toddler specific bed, which are usually first a cot that converts into a bed with a side rail to prevent falls. Next, check for tripping hazards, sharp edges, power outlets or other places they could get into trouble if they get out of bed in the night (which will most likely happen at least a few times). If they will be able to open their bedroom door, think beyond that space to any staircases they could get to and make sure you install a safety rail. If you don't already have one, add a night light.

How do I stop my toddler getting out of their bed?

With a move to a big bed, they can, ofcourse, get out by themselves. This comes with it's own issues, so expect highs and lows. Even though it may be tempting some nights to reassemble your cot at 2am, the experts say to stick with it. "Every time they get up, take them back to their own bed with as little interaction as possible,” recommends sleep therapist Juliet Newson from Millpond children’s sleep clinic. To begin with, this might mean setting up outside the door so you can take them back ASAP, so make yourself comfortable, and know it won't last forever. Children respond best to calm, firm directions, so stay calm, stay firm. A sleep trainer clock can be helpful in this scenario, especially if your kid is getting out of bed very early.

How do you dress them for big in a big bed?

Kids sleep better when are toasty, something sleep bags have been doing for you, but now they will need to have their legs and feet free. You can opt for a toddler sleep bag (that has legs) or a high-quality cot quilt then they can kick off the duvet or keep one leg out if they get too hot. Play around with sleepwear layers and bed linen and add a blanket or singlet if they are waking often.

What are the benefits of moving your toddler to a bed?

Once you are done, just think about how free you’ll all be. No more lugging travel cots. They can sleep anywhere. Perhaps it's time to book a sleepover a Nan and Grandpa’s or plan a family holiday where they can sleep on a pull out on the floor. The sky is the limit (as vast as a will toddler let it be).


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