Moving from cot to bed is an exciting milestone in a child’s life. However, making the change is sometimes tricky. It may be hard to know whether your child is ready to move from a cot to a bed.
Most children move to a bed somewhere between the ages of two and three and a half years.
From Cot to Bed
Most children move from cot to bed when they’re between two and three years old.
There’s no hurry, though. And there are some advantages to leaving your child in a cot if they’re happy there. For example, your child can’t fall out of the cot. And you can put off the cost of buying a new bed and bedding for a while longer.
It’s also best to wait until your child is emotionally ready to move to a bed and be physically able to get in and out of bed safely.
Sometimes the shift to a bed brings a few new bedtime challenges, and you might want to choose when you deal with these.
Why Children Might Move from Cot to Bed
It might be time for your child to move to a bed if:
- your child has started climbing out of the cot, which puts them at risk of falling
- your child is toilet training and needs to be able to get to the toilet quickly during the night
- you have a new baby who needs the cot
- you’ve decided to move your child out of your bed and into their bed.
Moving from Cot to Bed for a New Baby
It may be necessary to move your toddler into a bed so that the cot is available for your new baby. Issues to consider include:
- If possible, make the transition from cot to bed before the birth of your baby or a few months after. Otherwise, your toddler may resent the baby for coming into the house and immediately ‘stealing’ the cot.
- Generally, a child younger than two is not emotionally or developmentally ready to sleep in a regular bed. You might consider keeping the cot for your toddler and buying a second cot for the baby.
- If purchasing a double cot is not an option, try moving your toddler to a mattress on the floor so that rolling out is unlikely to hurt them.
Safety Issues Moving Into a Bed
A ‘big bed’ means your child can get in and out of bed when they want. This may present a few safety issues. Suggestions include:
- Before you set up the bed, check your child’s room for possible hazards. Could she tangle herself in the curtain cords? Could he open the window and fall out? Does your house have stairs? Address any safety issues first.
- Reduce the risk of falls by pushing one side of the single bed flush against a wall. Buy a removable guardrail that tucks under the unprotected side of your child’s mattress. When you set up the bed, explain to your child that the guardrail prevents them from rolling out. Let them practise rolling against the guardrail a few times before their first night in the ‘big bed’ to reassure them that they can’t fall out.
- Your child should be at least nine years old before you allow them to use a bunk bed. Children can occasionally fall out of bed in their sleep. A fall from a top bunk could cause injury. A young child who is told to sleep in the bottom bunk may climb to the top bunk when parents aren’t around.
A Quick Transition from Cot to Bed
Some parents set up the child’s bed but leave the old cot in the room just in case. This is not necessary. A child who feels daunted at the thought of sleeping in a bed may insist on continuing to sleep in the cot. It is better to make a quick transition. Suggestions include:
- Let your child help pick out sheets and a doona cover for their new bed.
- Involve your child in setting up the bed and packing up the cot.
- Let your child know you are excited and proud of them. Praise them for being grown up and making a move.
- Find ways to celebrate the move. For example, you could have a family trip to the zoo or an afternoon tea party.
- Consider marking the transition by redecorating your child’s room. It doesn’t need to cost a lot; just changing the pictures on the wall or covers on cushions will make the room look different. Involve your child in planning and decorating their new ‘big kid’ bedroom.
Problems With Moving from Cot to Bed
Some children are unsettled the first few nights in bed. Suggestions include:
- Stick to your child’s familiar bedtime routine.
- Allow your child to stock their new mattress with the items they find reassuring, such as soft toys. Your child may want to sleep with an item from the cot, such as a special blanket.
- Try not to be impatient or cross if your child keeps getting out of bed. Be loving and reassuring. Accompany them back to bed. Offer lots of hugs. Say goodnight and tell them that it’s time to go to sleep. Be prepared to go through this routine quite a few times over the next few nights, if necessary.
- Remember that arguing with your child and punishing them for getting out of bed will increase their anxiety and prolong the difficulties.
- Remind your child that the cot is packed up if they ask for it back. Reassure your child and praise them for being a ‘big kid’. Let them know that their new bed will soon feel familiar and cosy.
- Install a nightlight if your child’s anxiety about being in an unfamiliar bed brings on other fears, such as fear of the dark. You could also tuck extra toys in their bed for reassurance.
- Try to be patient and reassuring if your child calls out in the night. Remind yourself that this rocky period will soon be over and that staying calm and loving will speed your family through the transition.
Tips for Easy Transitioning from Cot to Bed
Tell other family members about moving into a big bed to give your toddler confidence and excitement over the change. Reinforce how grown up he is to be moving to a big bed and that his favourite toy will be able to sleep with him. Read books about bedtime and big beds.
Go on a special shopping spree for new sheets and doona cover and let your toddler choose something they love. Tell the checkout assistant about the big bed adventure!!
Let’s Build It
Help your toddler put the big bed together, and make a big deal of how exciting it is to sleep in a big bed. Let them test it out for a few minutes during the day to get a feel for it.
Once the big bed is set up, it’s a good idea to use a toddler rail, so they don’t fall out in the middle of the night. Or fall between the gap in the mattress and the wall. A budget-friendly option is to put two pool noodles under the fitted sheet to act as a barrier to rolling out.
Also, check that powerpoints, electrical appliance cords, curtain cords, heavy furniture, coins, medicines or batteries are safely stored away from little hands. Online baby product directory at My Baby Nursery.
Pick The Right Day of the Week
Sleep experts usually recommend transitioning to a bed on a Friday or Saturday night, when there is no work or kindly the following day, if there are interrupted sleep patterns on those beginning nights. Pick a night that you’re at home (with no visitors or special events) and keep things as normal as possible. Ensure your child has had sufficient outdoor active time between 3-5 pm, so they are physically tired by bedtime.
Keep Things Consistent
As nighttime approaches on the first night, it’s time to calm it down and stick to the routine. A bedtime routine will have been established when your little one was in a cot, so keep things consistent. Maintain the regular schedule, for example:
- toy pack up and wind down
- a small drink or snack (a common excuse used by kids to get out of bed or get extra attention at bedtime!!)
- brush teeth
- into bed, with a soft glow lamp for 1 or 2 stories (yes, they will always want more, pick your limit and stick to it!!)
- lamp off, night light on, hug, kiss, say “it’s time to sleep, see you in the morning”, leave the room.
- Leave the bedroom door half-open so they do not feel scared or locked in.
White Noise Magic
If you haven’t discovered the magic of a vaporiser using white noise to help babies and toddlers fall asleep and stay asleep, now is a perfect time. With a range of sounds and volume control, this clever device will block out background noise and create a consistent, low-frequency sound that will play all night.
In the morning, it has the added benefit of blocking out chirping birds, barking dogs, garbage trucks and other annoying sounds which can cause early waking!
Don’t Mention “Stay in Bed, Don’t Hop Out” (yet)
Your toddler may not have even realised they can hop out, so don’t put ideas into their heads. Cross that bridge when you come to it – see next point.
Out they Get
All toddlers have different temperaments, so you already know if you have a “Calm Caleb” or a “Feisty Fiona”. It’s inevitable and fully expected that most toddlers will hop out of bed at some point on the 1st night, or 3rd night, or 20th night. It’s newfound freedom, and they want to explore.
Your next move is critical. And one used by sleep experts worldwide. When they wander out of their bedroom, it’s not a time for talking or engagement or eye contact, but a calm and consistent hand to walk them straight back to bed. Every. Time.
Toddlers are relentlessly stubborn, and it’s not unusual to have a toddler come out of their bed or stand at their door 10, 20, 30 times a night. But consistency is key. Without words or eye contact, calmly take their hand and walk them back to bed. A kiss and a pat on the forehead, then leave the room.
Praise at the Right Time
In the morning, talk about how well they did and how grown up they are, even if there were a few hiccups along the way. You could consider a reward chart.
A Morning Box
Secretly leave a small box of 2-3 books and a toy they haven’t used for a while at the end of the bed just before you go to bed at 9 or 10 pm. Don’t put it there until after they go to sleep – you don’t want them playing with it at bedtime!! When they wake up in the morning, they can use the items in their bed until you tell them it’s time to wake up!
Sam the Sheep
This family favourite sleep trainer clock is a cute, fun way to get kids to stay in bed until it’s time to get up. Sam can be set to open his eyes at a preferred morning time (not 5 am!!) to help kids learn to play quietly in bed until the set gets up. There is also a countdown clock for 30mins before his eyes open to let kids know it’s nearly time. Sam is available here. We have sold hundreds of these clocks, with great success for children 2-10 years. It could be the perfect Xmas present!!
Making the Bedroom Safe
When children move from a cot into a bed, they can also get out of bed more easily. This means they can do whatever they want in their bedrooms.
A safety check of the bedroom will help to prevent accidents. For example:
- Install safety locks on windows so that the window can be opened only a little. Make sure the gap isn’t big enough for your child to climb through.
- Wrap curtain and blind cords around cleats attached to the wall at least 1.6 m above the floor. Keep hanging mobiles out of your child’s reach. These things could strangle your child.
- Use PowerPoint covers. Ensure electrical appliances like heaters meet Australian safety standards. If your child isn’t safe around electrical appliances like heaters or vaporisers during the day, keep these things out of the bedroom at night. This will help prevent your child from tripping or getting burned or electrocuted if they get up in the night.
- Attach furniture or other heavy objects to the wall with brackets so they can’t fall on your child.
- Keep choking hazards and anything poisonous out of the bedroom – for example, massage or aromatherapy oils, medicines, cleaning fluids or small objects like small toys, batteries and coins.
- Take away anything your child could climb on, like chairs and ladders.
- Think about installing a safety gate in the doorway of your child’s room. Or you could shut the door at night, as long as you can still hear your child. Otherwise, you’ll need to make sure the rest of the house is safe for your child as well, in case your child gets up during the night.
- You can read more in our article on home safety and our illustrated guide to indoor security.
Choosing a Bed
When you move your child from cot to bed, you have a few options:
- Put a cot mattress or a single bed mattress on the floor, rather than carrying your child straight into a bed. This reduces the risk of your child falling out of bed and being injured. Your child might feel safer too.
- Start with a toddler bed. Toddler beds are usually the same size as cots, and some cots even convert to toddler beds. They reduce the risk of your child falling out of bed and being hurt. And you can keep using your cot mattress and bedding.
- Use a single bed. An advantage of a single bed is that it’ll last a long time, although a single bed increases the risk of injury from falls.
- Making a safe move from cot to bed
- Whichever cot-to-bed option you choose, some simple precautions and planning can help keep your child safe:
- Choose a reasonably firm mattress.
- Keep the bed or mattress on the floor away from walls to reduce suffocation risk.
- Keep pillows out of bed for children under two years – pillows are a suffocation risk for young children. If your child uses a pillow, choose one that keeps your child’s head and neck in line with their back (probably 5-6 cm in height).
- If you select a single bed, use bed rails to stop your child from falling out of bed.
- Check the bed frame and the bed rails for gaps that your child could get stuck in. Make sure the rails and the bed frame fit tightly against the mattress. If there are many gaps, a mattress on the floor is a safer option until your child is older.
- Avoid having heavy blankets or quilts in the bed. Keep the area on and around the bed or mattress clean and clear of soft toys, bean bags and anything else that might suffocate your child.
- If your child wears a baby sleeping bag in the cot, think about whether you’ll keep using it once they’re sleeping in a bed. There’s a higher risk of falls and injuries when children wear baby sleeping bags in bed. You could dress your child in ‘onesie’ pyjamas for warmth instead.
The transition from cot to bed is a big step for your toddler. It will be a new phase of the bedtime routine for some lucky parents with very few hiccups. For others, it will take time for their little ones to understand and accept the new way. Stay calm and focused on a good bedtime routine and the gift of quiet, consistent sleep for your whole family. Check out My Baby Nursery for all your baby product needs.