The transition from a cot to a bed is a big step for your tot. As with many of your tot's milestones, when your little one is ready to move to a toddler bed differs from child to child. Make the transition easy with our expert tips and techniques.
When to move to toddler bed
While some toddlers are able to switch into a bed around 18 months, others might not transition until they’re 30 months (2 1/2 years) old or even 3 to 3 1/2. Any time between these age ranges is considered normal.
Sarah Ockwell-Smith, author of The Gentle Sleep Book: No tears sleep solutions for parents of newborns to five year olds, says these are a few of the signs that will indicate when your toddler is ready to move out of their cot:
• They climb out of the cot.
• They become more interested in climbing on other objects (e.g: your sofa, chairs or tables), even if they haven't tried to climb out of the cot yet they likely will soon and it's much better to make the move before they have an accident falling out of the cot.
• They start to get upset about going into their cot at bedtime.
• They start to wake more in the night.
• You find them with arms or legs poking out between the cot bars (especially if they ever have pressure marks from them).
• They start jumping in their cot and you worry that as they get bigger they may potentially break the frame.
You may also decide it's time to upgrade to a big kids bed as you have a new arrival on the way. “Try not to move your toddler out of their cot for at least 3 months before the new baby arrives and 3 months after the baby arrives (ie: make the move by the time you are 6 months pregnant, or wait until the new baby is at least 3 months old),” says Sarah. “This is so your toddler doesn't feel pushed out because of the baby and also because when you do move them to a bed, initially their sleep will likely get worse temporarily and you don't want to be dealing with a toddler's sleep regression as well as the exhaustion of having a newborn!”
What is a toddler bed?
A toddler bed is a small bed which measures 70cm x 140cm compared to a standard UK single bed of 90cm x 190cm. Some cots transition into toddler beds, by having removable sides, meaning you don't have to fork out for a new mattress and bed frame immediately. Toddler beds are also lower to the ground than a standard single, making them a safer option for little ones.
If you do opt to move your child straight into a single bed, consider the height aspect and look for one that is lower. You can also buy toddler bed guards to make them safer to sleep in. Some children don’t need one, or use one for a few months before you take them off, while others like the security and safety for much longer.
Do I really need a toddler bed?
“While you can buy special beds for toddlers that are smaller than regular beds and usually closer to the floor, you don't actually need to buy one,” says Sarah. “It is OK for your toddler to go straight to a regular single bed (with a bed guard if you're worried about them falling out), or even use a single mattress on the floor (without the base), or with a special floor bed frame. Many call this a 'Montessori Floor Bed', because they are advocated in Montessori education. You could even use the cot mattress on the floor, but remove the rest of the cot. Toddler beds tend to be outgrown very quickly and can prove expensive when you then have to upgrade to a regular bed (and regular sized bed linen and duvets) in a year or two.”
10 tricks to successfully move your toddler to a first bed
Every toddler will respond differently to moving into a big bed. For many, you will wonder why you ever worried, others will need an extra bit of planning and preparation to make them feel comfortable. Here's Sarah's 10 tips to help make the transition a success:
1. Make a big deal of the move
Talk to your toddler about moving up to a new bed and how it is going to be much more comfortable for them and how exciting it is that they will be sleeping in a bed like you. If they have a favourite book or TV character, try to find a blanket or duvet cover featuring their character, or see if you can find a bed in their favourite colour.
2. Opt for a toddler-friendly bed
Look for a bed that is low to the ground (either a specific toddler bed, or a low single sized bed frame), or consider making a Montessori floor bed, either with a regular size single mattress or using their cot mattress on the floor. If you are concerned about them falling out of a regular bed, you could also research different bed guards to give you some peace of mind.
3. Try out naps first
If your toddler still naps and you have space to have the bed and the cot in their bedroom, then you could try transitioning to the bed for all naps first. Then he’ll get used to it and feel more settled when he sleeps all night long in it. Also get him used to it being a part of his room, having playtime in his bedroom for example.
4. Be careful of your toddler feeling pushed out
If you are moving them because of a new baby arriving, firstly don't refer to the bed as 'a big boy bed', or 'big girl bed'. Although it's tempting to use this language to make them feel more grown up, this can cause lots of problems when the new baby arrives and they realise that babies get all the love and attention and being "big" isn't so appealing anymore. Also, make the move as far from the new baby arriving as possible, preferably in the early months of pregnancy, otherwise wait until the new baby is several months old, so they don't feel they are being evicted to make way for their sibling.
5. Keep some things constant
It may be tempting to entirely redecorate your toddler's room if you are changing their cot to a bed, but rather than doing everything at once, try to introduce the bed first and let them settle into that for a couple of months, before changing everything else. Changing everything at once can be very unsettling.
6. Start off with the old bedding
If your toddler is used to sleeping in a cot with a sleeping bag, they may struggle when they move to a bed with a duvet. To avoid causing lots of sleepless nights, continue to put them into their sleeping bag when they move to their new bed for a couple of months. You will need to switch to special sleeping bags that have foot holes though, so they don't hurt themselves and fall over if they get up.
7. Don't rush to use pillows
If your toddler doesn't already have a pillow in their cot, they are likely to find it strange to all of a sudden have a pillow when they move to a bed, very often you will find the pillow at the end of the bed, or on the floor in the morning. As strange as it may seem to us as adults to sleep in a bed without a pillow, this is actually very normal for toddlers who are used to sleeping without one in a cot. You can introduce a pillow, just don't expect them to use it properly for a while!
8. Don’t change the bedtime routine
Your baby’s got a lot to deal with moving to a new bed, so try to keep everything else the same – including his bath/bed/storytime routine. If this routine worked well before then it will continue to work well even with the new bed thrown into the mix.
9. Prepare for a sleep regression
Some toddlers find moving to a bed difficult to adjust to and will wake up lots more than they used to. Rest assured this is only temporary and will pass without you having to do anything about it. The best way through this really is to wait for them to adjust and keep reminding yourself that they aren't used to the bed and it's making them a bit unsettled. They aren't being deliberately naughty. Usually it takes around a month for the disruption to pass. Just gently pop them back in bed and give them a cuddle and remind them that it's bedtime if they get up. Repeating this, and staying calm, is the best way to encourage them to love their bed. After the initial bumpy transition, most toddlers sleep better in a bed than they do in a cot.
10. Never use their bedroom as a place for punishment
When your toddler has a tantrum, don't be tempted to send them to their room for time out, or similar. You want their bedroom - and their bed - to be a place of sanctuary and somewhere they love to be, so it's important to avoid using it in punishment in any way, otherwise you can quickly give them bad associations with their bed and they won't want to sleep in it.