So your baby has upped and walked, quite literally, has a voice of their own and suddenly seems so grown up. You may be starting wonder if they feel too caged in in their cot, and that a ‘big’ bed would be better suited to their ever-growing mind and size. But when is the right time to make the transition?
Impulse control in toddlers
Children do not learn impulse control until at least 2.5 years of age, but usually towards their third birthday and beyond.
A little self control is needed to resist the urge to keep getting out of bed at bedtime and through the night. Children without this aren’t being ‘naughty’, they just lack the necessary developmental skills to stop themselves acting upon their desire to not sleep!
The transition to a toddler bed is usually far easier the later you leave it. Typically between 2.5 to 3 years is a pretty safe time to take the cot sides down and let your toddler loose.
What happens if your little one is climbing out well before they are ready? It can be done, but will often take a little extra work to teach them to stay in bed. You may want to use one of our free sleep training resources guides to help you.
Regardless of when your child is ready for this change (and even more so if you have to make the change sooner than you’d like), the first consideration is to toddler-proof the room where your child will be sleeping. Even older toddlers may occasionally wander so it’s best to be prepared.
- Ensure the bed is away from windows, they are locked wherever possible and they don’t have access to the key
- Fix any loose blind cords/pulleys against the wall
- Block access to anywhere that houses cleaning products and medications.
- If your child can open doors, consider putting a toddler gate on their bedroom door or at the very least, at the top of the stairs
- Make sure any bookshelves or other taller furniture is secured against wall if you have a little climber
- Although not necessarily unsafe, keep a few quiet toys and books out, but take away anything that’s going to tempt them out of bed at 3am.
Get the timing right
As well as considering their age, you’ll also want to think about what else may be going on in their life right now.
Just about to start nursery? Wait a few weeks until they are settled, they need to catch up on sleep now more than ever.
Moving home? As much of an inconvenience it is to put a cot together only to change to a bed soon after, your child will need to get used to their new surroundings and feel secure before being let loose.
New baby on the way? Try to make the change well in advance of the baby’s arrival so that they are settled in their new bed well before they realise they are being turfed out of their comfy cot to make room for their sibling. If you can’t make the change before the baby has arrived, wait at least 6 weeks before transitioning and delay the baby going straight into the cot after too.
Potty training? Trying to do both simultaneously may well be overload for your child. Both are big milestones for your child and can take up a huge amount of brain power and energy. Try to stagger them where possible to give them the best chance of success.
Type of bed
Toddler beds are often the obvious choice, but it may also be worth considering the longer term plan. If you didn’t buy a convertible cot bed when they were younger, or they have already outgrown the toddler bed, there’s other options.
Beds that are low to the ground are ideal – toddlers can easily climb in or out safely, though you may want to place duvets or pillows on the floor to stop any bumps when first transitioning. I would also recommend a floor bed/mattress for any toddler that has had to transition before the age of 3. Beds should also be placed with the headboard end onto to the wall (not the side), and away from any curtains/blind cords/electrical cords etc.
Jumping straight to a single bed can be a perfect money-saving solution, even if temporarily used as a mattress on the floor before placing onto a frame or divan base later on as they grow. Double mattresses can work equally well if space allows, especially if your child needs your help and presence to fall asleep and you don’t want to end up on the floor!
Installing rails on higher beds can be a great way to stop your child from falling out of bed. If you must put any toddler bed against the wall, make sure you have rails either side to avoid entrapment between the bed and the wall. Safety rails should be suitable for your child’s bed type, avoiding any gaps, and must be fitted according to manufacturers instructions to keep your little one safe and sound.
The personal touch
By now, your child likely has a favourite character or colour, so one way to get them interested in the move is to involve them in the process. The easiest way to do that is often by letting them choose some new bedding, or a new cushion/soft toy. Toddlers love to have a say in big changes, so getting them excited about their new bed (and more accepting of it!) will make for a smoother transition.
Read all about it
Children learn best through repetition and visual help. In the run up to the transition, you can help your child by reading books that talk about sleeping in a bed, as well as pointing out other children or their favourite characters sleeping in bed.
Consistency is key…so is patience!
As with many areas of sleep, consistency certainly is no exception when it comes to transitioning from a cot to a bed. Once you’ve done all the prep of making the environment safe and getting them used to the idea of the bed, it’s time for them to learn how to sleep in it! Keep your usual bedtime routine so your child is still clear on expectations to fall asleep at the end of it.
Some toddlers will transition so smoothly that they don’t ever climb out – I have heard several stories of little ones who stay in bed like there is some kind of invisible force shield keeping them from getting up! But for most curious toddlers, they will inevitably do what is natural and realise that it’s quite fun having the new-found freedom to get up and explore.
Be ready for this, and make sure you have a plan that is age appropriate. Boring is the aim of the game! Return them to bed as quietly and quickly as possible, and keep requests for extra water/milk/cuddles/toilet trips to a minimum. If you find the bedtime delay tactics get out of hand, try our bedtime pass trick to help them have a little independence whilst you gain some control.
Positive praise is your best friend
Toddlers LOVE to please. They were born to please. So tap into this quality by providing lots of positive praise throughout. Even if they only spend brief glimpses in bed at first, make sure you get the praise in when they are in bed and gradually you will see the impact of such an easy exchange. Reward charts can also be an invaluable back up to provide extra positive reinforcement.
If you’ve recently made the transition and are struggling with your little one either at bedtime or through the night, get in touch for a free 15 minute assessment call to see how we can help. You can also check out the new FREE RESOURCES page for our downloadable guides.
Blogged by Emma, owner of HushaBoo and Mum to Davey, who has been known to appear silently beside my bed at night since he’s been let loose! Follow me below for more blogs, updates and advice on all things sleep and parenting.