Jenna Wilson is the mother of three young children, a certified Sleep Sense™ Consultant and owner of Little Dreams Consulting who has also trained with the Children’s Sleep Charity. She has a wealth of knowledge and expertise when it comes to family life and the importance of a great night’s sleep. One of the biggest concerns we hear when we’re speaking to you, our customers, is the transition from a cot to a child’s single bed.
Moving your little one to a big bed is a big deal and can be an event in all your lives but is sometimes one which parents rush into.
My initial advice would be that if everything is fine, don’t move your little one to the toddler bed because you are all excited about the next big step. I’m not suggesting your little one should be in a cot until they start school but, if they sleep well in their cot (and are not jumping out) just leave them until they are ready. If they are jumping out of the cot (and the usual tricks of putting their sleep suit on backwards etc have not helped) then safety comes first. This is often the only time I recommend considering a bed before your little one is ready.
If your little one does not have great sleep skills and your primary concern is teaching them the skills they need to sleep through the night, then my answer to the question of ‘when’ is likely to be ‘not now!’
Master good sleeping skills first
There’s absolutely no rush to get your toddler out of their cot and into a bed. I’ve seen many 3-year olds sleeping happily in a cot and none of my clients have ever told me, “I wish we’d moved them to a big bed earlier” (and, in fact, most of them say the opposite). I would definitely advise you to resolve your child’s sleep problems before moving them to a bed.
You may have heard the longer a child’s 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, but this really isn’t the case.
If you’re starting to teach your toddler good sleeping skills, there will naturally be a period of adjustment as they learn to fall asleep independently, and that’s going to take a little getting used to. During this period of adjustment it’s comforting for your little one to have a familiar place to sleep. Their bedroom, their sheets, their favourite sleeping toy…and their cot: everything that can stay the same should stay the same until they’ve mastered the skills they need to fall asleep on their own.
The transition to a big bed is going to be much 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 (or even bed) at night, which is the biggest issue parents find when they move their little ones out of the cot.
What is the right age?
As I said I suggest leaving your toddler in their cot for as long as you can, at least until they are 2.5. The reason behind this is they can really start to understand the boundaries which have been set and their new found ‘freedom’. You can reason with them, explain sleep rules and they will start to understand reward charts so these are all tools you can use to help your little one adjust. Before this age little ones do not have that level of understanding so it will be much harder to understand why the need to stay in bed.
Preparation is key
If your little one is already falling asleep on their own and sleeping through the night, or (for whatever reason) you need to get your toddler out of the cot and into a bed, what is the best way to transition your little one into a ‘big bed’?
The first step is preparation. It’s important to let your little one know what’s happening. Explain that they’re going to be making the move into their new bed, set a date, and let them know when the move is going to happen. When you explain what’s happening to your toddler, make sure you do so in a positive way.
There’s definitely a bit of a tightrope act to be performed here. On one hand, you want to prepare your toddler for the move, but at the same time, you don’t want to make a huge production out of it. Turning the transition into a ‘big thing’ puts a lot of pressure on your child and can cause undue stress. You know your child best so you will be in the best place to know how to handle it but do make it a positive thing. Ensure it is positive and make sure you are confident and calm about the change so your little one knows not to worry.
When it’s time to shop for the new bed, make sure you take your toddler along and let them have some input into which bed and bedding they get. Asking which bed they prefer, which children’s single mattress they enjoy the feel of, which colour sheets they like, or which pillows feel the most comfortable, will not only ensure you buy something they like – it will also help them feel a sense of ownership over their new bed, which can work wonders in easing the transition. Putting a bed guard up might help initially too as it will give them a visual guide of where they should sleep.
Avoid unnecessary changes
Once the new bed is home and the sheets are on, try to keep the bed in the same place the cot used to be. In fact, it’s best to keep as much as you can exactly the same in your toddler’s room except for the new bed. This transition is a big change for your little one, so try to keep any additional changes to a minimum.
This is particularly important when it comes to bedtime routine on that first night. When getting your little one ready for bed, don’t alter their routine, change their bedtime or try to give them a new food for dinner. Keep everything as predictable and mundane as possible.
Dealing with their reactions
Once you’ve settled your little one into their new bed for the first time, they may adapt immediately to their new bed and don’t test the rules at all. If this is the case, you can count yourself among the very lucky minority.
You may, however, find they start leaving their room, playing with their toys, or calling for you to come back in several times a night, even after a couple of weeks. If they had great skills initially you just need to ensure your boundaries remain the same so return them to bed, without interacting with them, and remind them of what they need to do. If you really struggle with their new found freedom you could consider a consequence if they do it again. Ensure they know what this consequence will be and make sure you follow through on that consequence if and when they carry on getting out of bed, shouting etc.
You may well have already discovered a consequence that works for your toddler, and if so, I strongly suggest you keep that in place. Remember, it’s best not to change anything except for the bed, so when it comes to managing behaviour, just keep doing whatever you’ve been doing until now. If, by any chance, you haven’t discovered an effective consequence yet, you could try removing their favourite sleeping toy for a short period of time a couple of minutes or so). This can be very effective without causing too much upset. If your little one keeps repeating the unwanted behaviour, try increasing the length of time their favourite sleeping toy stays out of the bed.
Making a change like this isn’t always going to be easy, but if you follow this advice, it can be quite straightforward. Remember: manage expectations, keep things low-key, maintain a consistent routine and follow through with all consequences – and before you know it your little one will be happily sleeping in their big bed.
If you’re having trouble with the transition from cot to bed, or if you want to discuss any sleep related issues with Jenna, you can visit her website, Little Dreams Consulting or call her on 01275 546919 for a free 15 minute consultation call.