How best to transition your toddler from the cot to a bed

I get asked a lot about when is the best time to move a toddler from the cot to a bed. It can be difficult to know what will be best for your child and for your family but I find it is best to do it when your child is emotionally ready. If you do it when they are ready the transition is easier otherwise things (particularly sleeping) can go a bit pear-shaped and that doesn’t work for anyone!

A common time for moving toddlers into beds is when they have a new baby arriving. In my opinion, this is probably the worst time to do it! Bringing a new baby home is a huge adjustment and disruption in your toddler’s life. This is the time when their world needs to remain the same as much as it can. Remember your child has slept in their cot for as long as they can remember and it provides them with a sense of security. The high bars contain them and keep them safe. If your child is moved out of this secure environment before they are ready or when there are other disruptions in the home, then they can lose that sense of security. Ensuring the have their bed, their bedroom and the same routine around sleep time once the new addition to the family is introduced can really help your toddler adjust more quickly to the changes going on around them.

I can’t tell you how many parents have contacted me after they have moved their child from the cot to the bed and now their once brilliant sleeper has turned into a child won’t sleep and wakes many times overnight. Toddlers need to be ready to make the move and to understand it. I believe this really doesn’t happen until they are close to three years old. If you move them before they are ready and they lose that sense of security, often what happens is the child realises is that they can get out of the bed and come and find you. Or they will want you to stay with them until they fall asleep. They will often wake overnight and either come and find you or call out until you come to them.

Waiting until they understand the move and are excited about moving to a ‘big bed’ can really help stop a lot of these sleep disturbances. There is however, one exception to this and that is when a child is climbing out of their cot. Some very agile little things, learn to climb early and once they have discovered they can climb out of the cot, there is not a lot you can do to stop it. Obviously, it is very dangerous for them to do this as they can fall from a height, so moving them out of the cot is a necessity. In these cases, I suggest a toddler bed with at least 3 high sides and a railing so that there is still a sense of containment. If your child is still under two and a half years old then there could be some sleep disruptions but always deal with them in the same way. If your child is coming out to find you, always just take them back. Try to remain calm and just keep taking them back to their bed. Offering another kind of security like a comforter can be helpful in these incidences as well.

People also ask me what the best transitional bed is after a cot. Is it a toddler bed or a normal single bed? I don’t think it makes much of a difference if your child is ready. A lot of cots these days transform into toddler beds, so that is useful in that you don’t need to buy a new bed and your child already knows that bed. If you don’t have one of these cots then a normal sized single bed should be fine. It is always helpful to have the new bed in the bedroom with the cot for a while before you move your toddler. That way they can get used to it being there, they can sit and play on it, you can talk about the move with them and how they will soon sleep in the new bed. This will help build some anticipation and excitement around it and often that will assist you and they will want to sleep in the bed rather than get out of it!

Article by Wattle Health resident expert, Paediatric Nurse, Jo Ryan.