And so to bed…

For many parents, making the decision to move their child from a cot to a bed can be tricky, especially when the child seems safe and secure in their familiar cot. So how can you make sure this inevitable milestone doesn’t turn into a bedtime disaster?

When is the right age for moving your child from a cot to a bed? There is no hard and fast rule as to what age your child must be to make this transition. Ideally, you should try to keep your toddler in a cot for as long as possible, but most parents find their 3-year-old has outgrown their cot and is in danger of climbing or falling out by that age.

you should move your child to a bed when:

  • Your child is physically too big for the cot or can climb out.
  • Your child is potty trained and dry at night.

your child is physically too big or can climb out

Many parents opt for the cot/bed system which allows you to take the side off the cot and turn it into a smaller version of a ‘big bed’. This not only gives your cot a longer lifespan but can sometimes make the transition to a proper bed slightly easier, as the child is essentially in the same bed for a bit longer. It mightn’t stop your little one from wandering, but will probably make them feel more comfortable being in the same bed, yet with the sides down.

If, however, you have a standard cot and your child learns to climb out or is in danger of falling over the side, then it will be time to think about moving him to a big bed.

your child is potty trained and dry at night

For most parents, this may not be an issue as most children aren’t dry through the night until at least 3 years of age, by which time they are in a bed. However, some children are dry at night as young as 2 and therefore, your child needs to be able to have access to the potty/bathroom or be able to come into your room to get you if needed.

you might move your child to a bed when:

you are expecting another baby

For some parents, the switch to a bed becomes a necessity with the arrival of a new baby. It’s advisable to make the switch at least 6-8 weeks before the new baby arrives, ensuring your child has time to adjust to their new bed and not see the new baby as taking over his place in his cot.

If you have a particularly small age gap (under-18 months) then it might be worthwhile borrowing another cot/crib for a short while, so that you can delay the process for as long as possible. Young toddlers are particularly sensitive at this age, and are yet to develop the independence and skills to cope with this change.

the transition

Some children with older siblings may well anticipate the cot to bed transition and see it as an exciting ‘big boy’ stage and will be proud and eager to sleep in a bed like their older siblings. However, others may be overwhelmed by the process and will need extra care and attention.

Regardless of how your child reacts, it is always advisable to take a few precautions:

  • Try involving your child in the process by allowing him to choose some new bedding or a new soft toy to take to bed.
  • Always place the bed in the same place as the old cot to prevent confusion
  • Avoid leaving the old cot set up in the bedroom as this will encourage your child to want to switch between the two.
  • Keep to their familiar bedtime routine (bath, story, bed) as much as possible.
  • For younger children, it might be a good idea to use some form of bed rail on their new bed to prevent them falling out at night. Modern versions of the bed rail include Big Bed Bumpers or even a pool floatie tucked underneath a fitted sheet.

the first few nights

No matter how old your child is, as soon as the cot bars are removed, they will no doubt take great delight in their new-found freedom. If your child does get out of bed, which is quite normal, guide him gently by the hand (avoid cuddling and picking up) straight back to bed, with minimal fuss. The less attention you give him, the quicker he will move past this stage (however, be prepared for 20 trips on the first night!).

If you have a real little ‘Houdini’, then it might be advisable to use a stair gate across the bedroom door to prevent night time wanderings. If using a gate, you should keep the door open so your child doesn’t feel totally locked in but at the same time the gate will act as a gentle barrier. Shutting your child behind a closed door will not only cause distress but may turn your child’s room into a hostile environment. If your child continually appears at the gate then gently lead him back to bed at frequent intervals offering little attention
or fuss until he gets the message.

During the first few nights, staying calm and being consistent is the key to this transition and, within a few days, your child will quickly learn that they need to stay in their bed. The change to sleeping in a bed will be just one of many changes in your child’s life: your response will go a long way to making this transition a smooth one.

No matter how old your child is, as soon as the cot bars are removed, they will no doubt take great delight in their new-found freedom. If your child does get out of bed, which is quite normal, guide him gently by the hand (avoid cuddling and picking up) straight back to bed, with minimal fuss.

Annette Faamausili is a children’s sleep advisor who runs a home consultation service for parents of children with sleep problems. (www.serenesleep.co.nz)

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