How to get your toddler to sleep in their “big” bed

So you have made the move. You have ditched the cot and moved your toddler into their lovely, brand spanking new, toddler bed. Everyone is excited, everyone is pumped! That is until bedtime comes and after the usual round of stories, your child just outright refuses to get in and stay in their bed! What do you do?

Getting a toddler excited about moving to a big bed is very different to getting them wanting to sleep in that new big bed. The key is really all about the timing. It can be tricky to know when the best time for your child will be, but I find it is ideal to do the move when your child is emotionally ready. If your child is emotionally ready to move, then they will want to stay there and sleep. If they are not quite ready then things, particularly the sleeping, can go a bit pear-shaped. And that won’t work for anyone!

Generally this emotional readiness doesn’t occur till they are around three years old. In fact, a recent study suggests that toddlers who sleep in their cots until they are at least three years old, have much better sleeping habits. The research found that sleeping in a cot was associated with children not resisting bedtime, going to bed earlier, falling asleep faster and sleeping for longer. So why would you do it before they are ready at the risk of disrupting their sleep?

One of the most common times that parents will move a toddler out of their cot is when they have a new baby arriving. However, this is probably one of the worst times to do make that change. Bringing home a new baby is a huge disruption, with enormous changes to your toddler’s life. In fact, this is actually the time when their world needs to remain as routine as it can be. Being in their usual cot provides a young child with a sense of security. The bars contain them and help 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.

It can also help to get your toddler involved in the whole setting up of the new bed, and if you can, have the new bed in the bedroom with the cot for a while before you move them into it. This way they can get used to it being in there, they can sit and play on it, you can talk about the move with them and how they will soon sleep in this new bed, and that way there is some anticipation and excitement around it. You can also get them to come with you to pick new sheets, blankets and doona covers. This gives your child a feeling of having some control over the whole situation.

But what if you have already done the move, and they are refusing to just stay in the bed? This can be a common toddler behaviour and can be extremely frustrating, particularly if you have sat down to have your dinner, or to watch your favourite show. The best way to deal with toddlers getting out of bed is to calmly walk them back to their bed and ask them to stay their and go to sleep. Don’t get mad, don’t say too much, just keep doing it. You might have to do it 20 times and for a few nights in a row, but toddlers are clever and they will get the message that there is no point in getting up so they will eventually stay and go off to sleep.

And finally, but probably most important, is to have good “sleep hygiene”. Sleep Hygiene is a term used to describe the habits or practices that promote good sleeping habits. For children this relates to having a great bedtime ritual. Having this ritual, and doing it every night by whomever is putting your child to bed, can really help when a child starts to resist bedtime. This ritual can include their bedtime stories, any activities that need to be done before bed, like cleaning teeth and going to the toilet, and then snuggling up with a comforter or toy that helps provide security.

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