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Transitioning from Cot to Big Bed

Updated: Mar 15

So you're through the newborn and young toddler stages, swiftly headed for the older toddler years and you're on the path toward moving your child to a big bed. If you’re looking for all the advice, tips and strategies to navigate moving your child from a cot to a big bed, then you’re in the right place.

This transition can be exciting and parents often wonder when they should start the transition. Questions fly around; how should I do this, when is the best time and what things should I consider?

The truth is, there is no ‘right’ time but there are things that you can consider and implement to make for a smoother transition.

A child making his transition to a toddler bed
Toddler moving from a cot to a big bed

When should I make the move?

My general advice is to always wait until your child is at least 2.5-3 years of age before you make out of the cot and into a big bed. And there are a few good reasons for this!

First of all, a recent study shows that if you want your toddler to sleep better, it is best to keep them in their cots until they are 3 years of age. The results of the study, published in the Sleep Medicine journal, showed that toddlers who slept in cots until the age of 3 years had an earlier bedtime, fell asleep faster, had fewer night awakenings, slept longer blocks of sleep with less bedtime resistance. The only thing which did not change, was the duration of their night awakenings.

Additionally, it’s important to consider that children in the younger age bracket have little to no impulse control or delayed gratification. Additionally, empathy doesn’t develop until after the age of 2, so the management of these cognitive functions are very difficult for your child.

Of course, many children make the transition out of the cot easily without trouble but for the children who have a history of challenging sleep, waiting until they are a little older can definitely help.

Will moving to a big bed improve sleep?

In short, no. While the transition from a cot to a big bed can feel like a significant milestone in your toddler's development, it's important to manage expectations regarding its impact on their sleep. 

Contrary to popular belief, moving to a big bed won't necessarily guarantee improved sleep for your child. In fact, in most cases, moving to the big bed too soon, whilst sleep is still in a difficult place, will typically exacerbate sleep issues. 

Factors such as age-appropriate sleep routines, bedtime habits, and addressing any underlying sleep issues play a more significant role in promoting healthy sleep habits than the type of bed your child sleeps in. 

Therefore, it's essential to focus on addressing any sleep challenges your child may be experiencing, rather than solely relying on the transition to a big bed as a solution for sleep improvement.

Making the transition from a cot to a big bed

What are the signs that it’s time to move?

If your child is around the recommended age of transition, then recognising the signs that your child is ready to transition from a cot to a big bed can support a smooth and successful transition. The two main signs that your child is ready are your child attempting to climb out of the cot, showing interest in sleeping in a larger bed, or expressing discomfort or resistance when placed in the cot. 

Additionally, if your child has outgrown the cot in terms of size or weight capacity, it may be time to consider making the move. Pay attention to your child's verbal and nonverbal cues, as well as their physical development, to determine if they are ready for the transition. By being attuned to these signs, you can ensure that the transition to a big bed is both timely and appropriate for your child's needs.

What bedding should I use?

When transitioning a child from a cot to a toddler bed, selecting the appropriate bedding will ensure optimal comfort and safety in their sleep space. 

The baseline recommendation when moving your child out of the cot is to use a toddler-sized mattress as it is lower to the ground. However, you can move your child straigh to a big bed and utilise a commercial bed-rail to prevent your child from rolling off the bed. 

Many parents will even opt to use a Montessori style bed as this keeps the child much closer to the ground and encourages ease of autonomy when going to bed. 

As for blankets, pillows and sheets; there are lots of products on the market that you can invest in. I usually recommend opting for sheets and a quilt but encourage you to choose ones which are breathable materials. Red Nose also state that a toddler-sized pillow can be used once a child is in a big bed for added comfort. 

As an additional tip, include your child in the process by allowing them to pick their own quilt cover and/or sheets to encourage co-operation through the changes. 

The ways to support your child moving out of a cot and into their big bed

How can I support the transition?

Under 2.5 years

If your child is under the age of 2.5 years, and you are thinking it’s time to make the change, consider whether it’s a choice or a necessity. Is your child climbing out the cot or have they outgrown the cot? Or are you just excited about this big change? If it is a necessity, then it is likely time for you to make the transition, but it is quite possible that bedtime battles will begin.  Once you make the change, you may find that for the first 2-6 weeks, your child stays in their bed! Amazing success! But I usually find that after 2-6 weeks, children start to leave their bed and this can be hard to manage with a behavioural approach, given their lack of cognitive development at this age. 

With this in mind, if your move your child to a big bed before 2.5-3 years of age and they begin climbing out of their bed, the next best move is to sit with them until they fall asleep at bedtime. This will reduce the bedtime battles as they will most likely stay in bed if you are with them. 

If you have already made the transition, you can try these things:

  • Return them to the cot until they are more cognitively developed to understand and adhere to bedtime expectations

  • Place a baby-gate on the door frame and secure any furniture they can climb, remove toys they shouldn’t be playing with alone, or anything dangerous in the room, ie appliances. The room is essentially being converted to the cot

  • Stay with your child until they fall asleep, and again when they wake through the night, until they are at elast 2.5 years of age and then you can introduce a behavioural approach response

Over 2.5-3 years

Perhaps your child is of appropriate age and you are now wanting a plan to implement to ease the transition of moving from cot to big bed. Or, you’ve made the move but thinking, now what?! Well, luckily there are a range of different things you can do to manage the bedtime battles and what you choose really depends on your parenting style, your sleep goals and your child’s temperament.

However, since we are going to take into consideration their cognitive development, you will want to start with a Behaviour Guidance Plan.

There are 5 supportive steps in this Behaviour Guidance Plan:

  1. DISCUSS - During the daytime, have a brief conversation with your child around your expectations and responses at bedtime. What do you want them to do at bedtime, and how will you respond when they don’t follow the bedtime guidelines?  For example, you may tell your child that they need to stay in bed and that you will leave the room if they climb out of bed. Keep in mind that the guidelines should consist of steps which your child needs to DO at bedtime, not what you don’t want them to do. Rather than, “Don’t talk”, you could say, “be quiet” or “lay quietly”. Keep this conversation relatively short; no longer than 2 minutes.

  2. CREATE - Make a poster with your child so that they are aware of what is expected of them. Encourage your child decorate the poster so they have ownership of the overall process. Ensure you review the rules each bedtime as part of the wind-down routine. Some examples are: > Stay in bed > Close your eyes > Lay quietly > Let your child have a rule of their own, such as they get to choose their pyjamas or the stories that are read

  3. PRACTICE - This is one of my most favourite steps!  A practice run of the overall process can be really beneficial to your child. Act out what may occur at bedtime and what you will do under certain situations. The role play will show your child what to expect and make the changes in bedtime easier for them to accept. Alternatively, you can use your child’s favourite toy and role play to demonstrate what you expect of your child, where the toy will follow the guidelines of bedtime.

  4. PRAISE - Team up this overall process with positive reinforcement! Talk with your child about how the plan went each morning. Children respond really well to positive reassurance. You can even include a rewards chart if this fits your parenting style. But remember, verbal reassurance goes a long way.

  5. RESPOND - This final part is all about what you will do when your child comes out of bed, or calls out for you. For the benefit of each parent and child, I have no generic or standard approach as there is no cookie-cutter way to approach sleep, as the range of parenting style and child’s emotional response is vey different from family to family. However, some ideas are to return your child to bed every time they come out, or you do check-ins, where you leave their room intermittently and return after a short period of time to check in on them. You may also choose to sit with your child until they fall asleep.

And remember, you can of course, even apply these boundaries to any night wakes your child is experiencing.

While there isn't a one-size-fits-all solution, understanding the signs indicating readiness for the move and implementing supportive strategies can greatly assist the process. By prioritising safety, comfort, and consistency in selecting bedding and establishing bedtime routines, you can foster a smooth transition that promotes healthy sleep habits for your child. Remember, every child is unique, and patience, flexibility, and open communication are key as you navigate this exciting journey of growth and development together.

If you would like further guidance and information on Toddler and Preschooler Sleep, consider investing in the Toddlers and Preschool Sleep Program:

Otherwise, if you need some assistance with your child’s sleep, I’d be honoured to help you and you family. 

You can start with a free Discovery Call to discuss your situation and how I can help .

Shereen xx

I'm Shereen Nielsen, a certified Sleep Consultant specialising in infants and children from birth to 15 years old. With over seven years of experience, I've assisted over 4000 families in achieving better sleep. Additionally, I serve as a lecturer and mentor, guiding aspiring sleep consultants on their path to certification through my internationally recognised online Sleep Consultant Course.

Phone: +61419820474

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