The transition from the cot to a big bed can happen at any stage, but many families may start thinking about it from about 2 years of age plus. It is not unusual for this decision to be prompted by the arrival of a new baby and the existing tenant may need to be evicted. I typically encourage parents to think this one through very carefully in order to establish whether their child is ready for this change despite the cot being needed for another or indeed you start to feel they” should” be in a bed for whatever reason.
Usually, I encourage families of children who are sleeping happily in their cots to delay this transition for as long as possible. I typically like to see toddlers stay in their cot until at least age 2.5 years and ideally 3 years plus. I also like to see a number of indicators that may demonstrate that your child is ready for this move and as a result it will hopefully be a smooth transition and your current positive sleep experiences do not become unhinged due to a premature move. I try not to let the decision be based on the cot being needed for another and surprisingly I don’t always make this move if they seem inclined to climb out-although safety is the most important factor, understanding why they are climbing is maybe more significant and need to be examined -one main reason for this is due to being transferred to the cot already asleep and they panic when they wake and look to urgently get out!
Problems often arise with this transition if done too early with their increased mobility and newfound sense of freedom, that can mean that they will not stay in the bed at bedtime without getting out multiple times or if they start to “need” you to stay with them to keep them there-which increases the risk of nighttime waking. Or you may report that now that they have freedom they wander into your room and look to share your bed overnight when you do not necessarily want to sleep this way.
On the flip side, many families will report that once they made the move to the big bed, sleep actually improves, as the toddler becomes more independent when going asleep and this in turn means that staying asleep is more possible. Ultimately you will know your own child best, so I always encourage you to follow your intuition too; there is no “right” way.
Your child may be ready for a big bed if.
- They are at least 2.5 years and ideally 3 years plus.
- They are generally happy to go to bed and stay asleep with minimal parental input.
- They are toilet trained.
- They are showing signs of dropping their daytime sleep.
- They can understand and see-through instructions such as stay in your bed, do not get out.
The transition is always made easier if:
- You already have a bedtime routine, and your child is able to fall asleep with minimized input from you.
- You have established a formal bedtime routine that indicates the start of going to sleep.
- They routinely sleep through the night.
- There are older siblings that are in beds and are exposed to others sleeping well in a bed.
- You are able to set a guideline by day or night and your child generally cooperates.
The move may be made more difficult with higher risks of sleep becoming challenging or further disturbed when there are other significant events happening simultaneously and I generally encourage you to select the right time for this new approach. Although I may seem overly cautious; the amount of regularly solid sleepers who regress when changes are made, are quite high and I always want you to “future proof” your sleep and avoid any unnecessary challenges.
Consider the following:
(a)With the arrival of a new baby-always wait or make a change either 2 months before or at least 2 months after this event as appropriate.
(b) Around any big emotional upheavals such as the new sibling, changing rooms or caregivers in day care, moving house, recent bereavement –again wait 2 months.
(c) If your child has recently started dropping their nap-wait until this has been established, otherwise bedtime may be more challenging and you may struggle to get them to stay in the bed which evolves into a quintessential, bedtime “battle”.
(d)If you are planning to toilet train; do one or the other, not together, leave at least 6-8 weeks between major milestones such as this. I find doing toilet training first can also be a good yardstick for developmental readiness to follow instructions and see them through.
(d) If you are planning a holiday, having regular sleepovers or weekends away. Being home based for 3-4 weeks post transition can be helpful to ensure that the big bed transition is exactly that and not a big bed regression.
Always discuss the changes with your child, get them involved in the process. Talk with them about the expectations that you will have when they are in a big bed, like “staying in their bed” when the lights go out. If you are open to it, allow them to pick out the new bed or get them involved in changing the existing cot into the bed model. Let them help you arrange the new bedroom and if the budget extends to it, buy their favourite character duvet cover.
Create a bedtime story area in the bedroom We try to keep the bed solely for the child’s sleep so do your new bedtime routine in this space and then when complete escort to the bed and allow them to go to sleep thereafter.
Re-imagine your existing bedtime routine, new books, low impact play and incorporate some breathing and relaxation exercises.
Encourage a level of independence-show them how to pull up the covers on themselves, allow them to climb into the bed with limited assistance from you.
Repeat your expectations and what you would like bed and sleep time to look like. Role may also help here.
If you do not typically stay at bedtime maintain this practice. If you generally stay and would like to work on this-then capitalize on this opportunity and change in operations-my Stay-and-Support approach for children in a bed is very effective to enable this to start to happen.
If within a week to 7 days it does not feel like the move to the big bed has gone well, then do not be afraid of re-introducing the cot and waiting a while longer, there is no rush, the main thing is that your child (and the parents) continues to be well rested and happy.