When your toddler suddenly climbs out of her cot and wanders into your bedroom in the middle of the night, it’s time to do something. Here’s how to make the move from cot to big bed go as smoothly as possible …
For most families, the move into a ‘big bed’ happens when your child starts trying to climb out of her cot. Many of us don’t even realize our kids are capable of escaping until we catch them in the act – or get woken up by them standing next to our bed in the middle of the night. Eek!
Falls are one of the most common causes of injury in babies and toddlers, with 45 children taken to hospital every day, so once your child has started trying to escape from her cot, moving her into a bed is a sensible move to protect her from a serious accident.
Sometimes you can buy a little extra time by putting her in a toddler sleeping bag, but ultimately, you’ll have to make the move.
The imminent arrival of a new sibling can also be the catalyst for the move from cot to bed.
And sometimes, you may have to make the transition because your child is getting physically too big or too strong for her cot.
Whatever your reasons are for moving them, here’s some help and guidance to help it go as smoothly as possible!
When to make the move to a big bed
There’s no ‘right time’ for transferring your child from a cot to a bed, but most parents tackle the move somewhere between 18 months and three years.
Ideally, aim to make the transition during a calm time in your little one’s life: leaving the security of the cot can be too much for her to handle if she’s coping with other big changes such as starting nursery or moving house, or if she’s unwell or going through a major developmental phase such as toilet training.
If you’re moving your child so your new baby can have her cot, try to do it at least six to eight weeks before the birth so, as an older sibling, she doesn’t feel pushed out.
You could even consider taking the cot down with your child’s help, and storing it away ready for the new arrival, so she’s less likely to feel she’s been ousted by the new baby.
Moving from cot to bed; how to make it go smoothly
Small people can feel overwhelmed by moving straight from a cot into a full-size single bed, and it may be hard for your child to get in and out, so you might want to buy a toddler or junior bed for the next few years.
This does mean you’ll end up buying another bed further down the line, but it may be worth the extra expense if it helps your child feel happy and settled.
If your cot converts into a toddler bed, this is a great stepping stone, although if there’s a baby on the way, you may need to move your child into a new bed – or buy another cot for your newborn so decide what suits you best.
When the time comes to make the move, make a big deal of how exciting it is.
Take your child out to choose some new bedding, some special pyjamas or a new toy for her ‘big girl bed.’
But don’t change everything: letting her hold onto her familiar things, like her soft toys or a special blanket, will make her feel more secure.
Some parents like to make the move to the big bed gradually, for example by getting their child to have their naps in the bed but night-time sleep in the cot, or by leaving the cot assembled in the bedroom so she can choose where to sleep.
Others think this prolongs the changeover, and prefer to make a straight move with no going back.
You know your child best, so choose the approach that you think will be easiest.
To make the move smoother, stick to your child’s usual bedtime routines and rituals so you’re not trying to change too many things at once.
If possible put the bed in the same position that the cot was in so they have a familiar view.
Remember to be positive, and pile on the praise when your child sleeps in her new bed, or at least makes a step in the right direction: reward charts often work a treat, too.
Common problems you may encounter
Some children take to a new bed with no problems whatsoever, but others find it harder to adjust.
Getting out of bed can become a novelty, and you may struggle to get your child to stay put.
If this happens, there are various different techniques you can try to encourage her to settle in her own bed.
Rapid return involves leading her back to bed every time she gets out, with as little fuss and attention as possible.
It can be an exhausting process, and it’s not uncommon to need to return your child to bed 50 or more times in one night, but it usually breaks the habit in a few nights.
A slower but less stressful solution is gradual retreat.
Here, you start by sitting silently right next to your child’s bed while she settles to sleep.
Each night, you move slightly further away, until she’s eventually falling asleep without you in the room.
This approach takes longer, but tends to be easier on your nerves, and is less upsetting for an anxious child.
Moving from cot to bed; things to watch out for
Once your child is in a bed, it’s important to update your safety-proofing to make sure she can’t get into trouble overnight.
A bed rail that fits on the side of the bed may help to stop her falling out, but if you’d rather she learnt to sleep without it, putting her old mattress, some pillows or a folded duvet on the floor will cushion her landing if she falls.
Don’t put her bed under a window, and make sure all upstairs windows are fitted with catches to stop them opening more than 6.5cm to stop her climbing out.
Make sure blind cords are secured out of reach, as these are a strangulation hazard, and keep electrical wires tucked out of the way.
A stair gate across her bedroom door and/or across the top of the stairs will also protect her from serious falls if she wanders at night.