Tips for transitioning your toddler from cot to bed

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I get asked this question quite a lot.  When it comes to making the transition from a cot to a big-kid bed, there are two questions that need to be answered. The first is when, and the second is how. If you are reading this on my website, chances are you may have come here looking for some advice about teaching your child the skills they need to sleep through the night. If this is the case, then the answer to the question of “When” is, quite simply, “Not now.” There are two reasons why I say this. The first is because there is absolutely no rush to get your toddler out of their cot and into a bed. I have seen plenty of 3 year old toddlers sleeping happily in a cot and none of the clients I’ve worked with ever told me, “I wish we’d transitioned him to a big kid bed earlier.” There is a theory out there that suggests the longer a child is in a cot, the more attached they grow to it, and the tougher it is for them to make the transition when they finally do.  I however do not believe in this theory and think it’s wrong.   Keeping your child in their crib till at least 2.5 years old or longer if possibly means they will be more mentally developed and able to understand the rules around staying in bed once you make the change.  Why would you want to be set up for failure?  The second reason is that if you’re about to start moving towards healthier sleep habits, there’s going to be a period of adjustment as your toddler learns to fall asleep independently, and that’s going to take a little getting used to. During this adventure, it’s comforting for your little one to have a familiar place to sleep. Her bedroom, her sheets, her lovie, her cot, everything that can stay the same should stay the same until she’s mastered the skills to fall asleep on her own. Changing to a big kid bed is going to be a whole lot easier if your little one is already sleeping through the night. A toddler who is well rested and able to fall asleep independently is far less likely to leave their room at night, which is the single biggest issue that parents run into when they move their little ones out of the cot. Clients have asked me what do with climbers, the ones that climb out of their cot, my son did this for a few months.  I suggest you unscrew the base of the cot and place it on the floor, then the mattress on top.  This allows the cot mattress to be at the lowest it can,making it harder to climb out of. If your little one is already falling asleep on their own and sleeping through the night, or for whatever reason, you’re in a hurry to get your toddler out of the cot and into a bed.

Step number one is preparation. You’re going to want to talk about it to your little one and explain what is happening. Explain to them that they’re going to be making the move into the new bed, set a date, and let them know when the change is going to happen. When you explain what’s happening to your toddler, make sure you do it with positivity. On one hand, you want to prepare your toddler for the change, but at the same time, you don’t want to make a huge production out of it. Turning the whole thing into a big deal puts a lot of pressure on your child and is likely to stress them out a bit. You might want to roll play this change with one of the teddy’s a few times, before the change is made.  Teddy is going into a big bed and will sleep in his big bed all night.  Giving your child some input into which bed she wants (if possible). With my children I mainly focused on what sheets and dooner cover they would like and what pillows feel the most comfortable.  This will ensure that your child gets something she likes but will also help her feel a sense of ownership over her new bed, which can work wonders in easing the transition. Frankie chose a Unicorn dooner cover (just like most young girls do) and Harvey chose Spiderman dooner cover. Once the bed is ready and the sheets are on, try to keep the bed in the same place the cot used to be. I suggest keeping just about everything exactly as it was in your toddler’s room except for the new bed. This is a big change, so try not to make any unnecessary additional changes. This goes double for your routine on the night of the change. When you’re getting your toddler ready for bed on that first night, don’t alter the routine, don’t change up bedtime, don’t try to give her a new food at dinner. Keep everything as predictable as possible.  Toddlers thrive on consistency and predictability.

When it is time for bed, tell her you’re proud of her when putting her to bed.  Now what you ask?  Well once the light’s been turned out, there are a few different scenarios that can play out. • Scenario 1 – They adapt immediately to their new bed and they don’t test the rules whatsoever. In this case, you do your quiet happy dance and smile but I want you to know this doesn’t happen that often.  • Scenario 2 – Your little one seems to adapt immediately but, after a week or two, starts leaving their room, playing with their toys, or calling for you to come back several times a night. •Scenario 3 – Your toddler starts doing all of those things the very first night. The solutions are the same offer a warning when your toddler demonstrates the unwanted behaviour, tell them of the consequence if they do it again, and make sure you follow up on that consequence if and when they repeat it. Chances are that you’ve already discovered a consequence that works on your toddler, and I strongly suggest you keep that it place. Again, we don’t want anything to change except for the bed, so keep doing whatever you’ve been doing up until now in regard to managing behaviour. In case you haven’t discovered an effective consequence yet, I find that taking the lovie away for a short period of time and closing the door all the way work well.  For each repeat offense, increase the length of time that the door stays closed or the lovie stays out of the bed. To balance out consequences tell your child that if they follow the instructions for going to bed and staying in bed, they can have a reward in the morning.  Remember to follow these steps.  Explain what’s happening, keep things light, set the expectations and enforce the rules. It’s not always going to be easy but with patience and consistency you will get there.

One final thought to keep in mind… As much as you’re trying to keep this transition as stress-free and smooth as possible, remember.  You are the boss, children actually like and need to have boundaries in place. It’s almost a mathematical certainty that your little one is going to protest a bit about this change. She’ll probably leave her room a lot, she’ll call for you to come in, ask for a glass of water, and more than anything, might say that she wants to go back to sleeping in her cot. It’s crucial that you hold your ground every step of the way here, especially during the first few weeks. If you start bending the rules and allowing her to climb into bed with you, or letting her get back into the cot, this process is going to go on for months. Maintain an air of calm authority and enforce the rules firmly and consistently. It may make you feel like a bit of a dictator at times, but it will get your little one sleeping peacefully in her new bed a whole lot sooner.  Good Luck.  If you need any further help and want to chat.  Reach out to me at