Transitioning from a cot to a toddler bed is a huge change in your little one’s life. When it comes to making this transition, two big questions arise – when and how?

If you are reading this article on my website, it is likely that you are looking for advice on teaching your little person how to sleep through the night. If this is the case for you and you are considering transitioning your toddler to a toddler bed, my advice would be ‘Not yet’.

Why should I keep the cot?

There are two main reasons for this. Firstly, there is absolutely no rush to get your toddler into a bed. Many of my clients have 3-year-old children who are still happily sleeping in their cot. Never once have I heard these parents say, “I wish we’d transitioned him to a big kid bed earlier.”

Some would argue that the longer a child is in a cot, the more attached they grow to it. The argument is then that it is tougher for them to make the transition to a bed when they finally do. That theory is, for lack of a better word, wrong. As long as your child is happy and safe, it is perfectly fine for them to remain sleeping in their cot for an extended time.

Second, if you’re about to start sleep training, there’s going to be a period of adjustment as your toddler learns to fall asleep independently. That is 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. Too much change at once can be stressful and make the process of sleep training more difficult for your child.

When to switch to a toddler bed

Switching to a toddler bed will be a whole lot easier if your little one is already sleeping through the night. The single biggest issue parents run into when moving to a toddler bed is seeing their child frequently leaving their room. A toddler who is well rested and able to fall asleep independently is far less likely wondering during the night. Less night wandering makes the transition much easier on them and on Mum and Dad.

Assuming that your little one is already falling asleep on their own and sleeping through the night, there are a number of steps you can take to make the transition easier.

Step 1 – Prepare your little one for the change

Make sure you let your little person know what is happening and why. 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 switch is going to happen. When you explain what’s happening to your toddler, make sure you do it with a positive spin. This will allow your little person to feel more in control of their world.

But be careful you want to prepare your toddler for the switch, but at the same time, don’t make a huge production out of it. Creating a huge occasion can put a lot of pressure on your child and is likely to stress them out a bit.

Step 2 – Choose a toddler bed together

Now it’s time to actually make the trip and pick out the hardware. Whether it’s a brand new bed or a fabulous second hand bargain, be sure to bring your toddler along when you’re choosing the bed.

A sense of ownership and control can work wonders in easing the transition from your little one’s cot to their new bed. Allow your child some input into which bed she wants. Get her to help choose the sheets she likes and what pillows feel the most comfortable. You could even get her to help with assembling her new bed once it is at home (if you’re brave enough!). Allowing her to be part of this process will obviously ensure that she gets something she likes. It also helps her to feel like she is making the decision to move to a big kid bed rather than you.

Step 3 – Limit the changes you make

Now that your little one’s brand new bed is ready, make sure you keep the bed in the same place the cot used to be. In fact, try to keep just about everything exactly as it was in your toddler’s room except for the new bed. Limiting the changes you make in your little person’s sleep space will making coping with this change much easier on them.

Even more important is to keep your toddler’s schedule the same on the night they make the transition. When you’re getting your toddler ready for bed on that first night, don’t alter their routine. Don’t switch up her bedtime or try to give her a new food at dinner. Keep everything as predictable and mundane as possible.

Again, you don’t need to make a production out of it. Tell her you’re proud of her, but try to avoid statements like, “What a big girl you are now!” Toddlers are typically in a perpetual state of uncertainty about whether or not they want to do this whole “growing up” thing, and we want to keep things as low-key as we can.

So now that your toddler’s been put to bed and the light’s are off, 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, celebrate heartily. You are among the very lucky minority.

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 in several times a night.

Scenario 3

Your toddler starts doing all of those things the very first night.

The solution to the latter two of these situations is the same –

  1. Offer a warning when your toddler demonstrates the unwanted behaviour.
  2. Tell them what the consequence is going to be if they do it again.
  3. 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. 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 regards to managing behaviour.

In case you haven’t discovered an effective consequence yet, I find that taking the lovie/blankie/favourite soft toy away for a short period of time and closing the door all the way are both pretty functional without putting your toddler into hysterics. For each repeat offense, increase the length of time the door stays closed or the lovie stays out of the bed.

Some final thoughts

So, in summary, to help your little one transition from their cot to their big kid bed –

  1. Explain what’s happening
  2. Choose the bed together;
  3. Limit the changes you make.

Try to keep things light, set the expectations and enforce the rules. It may not be easy but once the transition is made, it can be really rewarding for your little one and for you!

One final thought… as much as we’re trying to keep this transition as stress-free and smooth, remember – you are the boss. It’s almost certain that your little one is going to push back a bit about this change. She’ll probably leave her room a lot, call for you to come in, ask for a glass of water, and more than anything, say that she wants to go back to sleeping in her cot. It is crucial that you hold your ground every step of the way, especially during the first few weeks. If you start bending the rules and allowing her to climb into bed with your or get back into the cot, this process will go on for months.

So harden your will, stay calm, and enforce the rules firmly and consistently. It may make you uncomfortable at times, but it will get your little one sleeping in her new bed much sooner.

If you have any questions or need more information please don’t hesitate to contact me.

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