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When to Transition From Cot to Bed

Updated: May 30, 2023

Is your little one ready to transition from a cot to a big-kid bed? Here is our Sleep Expert Richelle's Franklin from Sleep Right Tonight's tips for how to go about it.

As your child gets older, they start to hit many milestones. One of those milestones that let you know your toddler is really growing up is when they outgrow their cot, in one way or another. So, let’s look at when you should start to transition your toddler from a cot to a ‘big kid’ bed, and the best way to do it.

Best age to transition from cot to bed

The average age for toddlers to switch to a proper bed is between 2.5 and 3 years. But every family is different, and you shouldn’t rush to disrupt your child’s routine if they’re sleeping fine in their cot. Once you trade up for a big bed, you don’t have the boundaries of the cot to keep them in bed at night, so there’s no reason to hurry them into a bed if they’re not ready. If your little one is happy in their cot, it is best to keep them in it for as long as you can.

One important point to note is that if you are already experiencing sleep issues with your toddler, transitioning them to a bed will only worsen things. I would suggest making the change as close to the three-year-old mark as you can.

If your toddler is getting too big for their cot, then it’s probably a good time to make the transition to a big bed. Sometimes families need to make these changes when they’re expecting a new baby, however, if your child is under 2.5 years old then it would be best to get a second cot, rather than force them into a change they’re probably not ready for.

If you do decide to make the transition to a bed before a new baby arrives, it is better to make the transition before the birth of your baby or wait until a few months after the baby arrives. Otherwise, your toddler may resent the baby for coming into the house and immediately taking over their cot.

Generally, a child younger than two and a half is not emotionally or developmentally ready to sleep in a bed. In these instances, it is better to consider a second cot, rather than make the transition too early. The loss of boundaries when changing to a bed can cause difficulties, so it helps to have a solid sleep routine and good habits before making a big transition.

Is it too soon?

Many parents make the mistake of transitioning to a bed too soon – usually if their toddler is climbing out of the cot. This isn’t necessarily a reason to make a move to a bed. Persistence and discipline pay off in this instance. If you see your child trying to climb out of the cot, firmly tell them “No, that is not safe” and place them back in the cot.

It usually has more to do with a developmental phase rather than being ready to move to a big bed. The good news is, with consistency the climbing attempts will usually pass. Other tricks to try are putting your child in a smaller sleeping bag so they cannot lift their legs in an attempt to climb out. If you find your child removing their sleeping bag, try putting it on backwards or inside out so they cannot undo it themselves!

Toddler bed

You can consider transitioning your child to a toddler bed, particularly if they are still small. This kind of bed uses a cot mattress and can make the transition easier than going straight to a larger bed.

However, unless you think your child will have difficulty with the change, it’s more economical and easier to skip the toddler bed and transition to a single bed or bigger. It will save you from having to keep buying new beds every time your child grows!

How to transition from cot to bed

Before transitioning your little one to a big kid bed, ensure you involve them in the set-up and choices. Let them choose their bedding, a new pillow or some new accessories for their new bedroom set-up. Including them in the process will help make sure they are interested in the move!

Ensure you purchase a toddler clock, or if they are able to understand numbers, purchase a simple digital clock and tape over the numbers except for the hour – showing the number 7 as when they can get out of their bed. Boundaries are key to success. Set the clock accordingly. A Groclock is a great option and works well for toddlers of most ages.

There are lots of things you can do to help your Toddler make the switch from a cot to a bed. Firstly, don’t forget to take some time to Toddler-proof the bedroom! Without the bars on the cot, your child will have full access to anything they can get their hands on. If you are changing to a particularly large or high bed, it can be worth using safety rails on the bed to prevent them from falling out during the night.

Secondly, talk to your toddler about what’s going to happen. Don’t just let them go to bed one night and find their bed has been replaced. Toddlers thrive on routine and predictability, so let your child know they’ll be getting a new bed – include them in the process and get them excited about the change. Make the new bed welcoming by keeping their favourite toys or animals close by and allow your toddler to choose their new sheets or bedding. Discuss expectations and celebrate the night of the transition and the morning after.

Children are naturally curious creatures. They love to experiment and see their reaction to their actions. You should be prepared for your child to get out of bed – a lot!

The freedom of a big kid bed proves irresistible to most children, and they will inevitably wander out of their bedroom. When this happens, the best way to deal with it is to be neutral in your reaction: too much positive or negative emotion could worsen a bad habit. If your toddler sees no reaction from you, they will likely stop their wandering sooner.

Remember that this transition will likely take a few weeks before your toddler is fully settled in their new bed. Some nights might be when your toddler's sleep is disrupted, but as always, the best way to handle it is to be firm and consistent.

This testing process is an important learning technique for your child. Only by periodically testing to see if the rules have changed will your child know what is expected of them. For these reasons, I recommend delaying the transition from cot to bed until as close to 3 years of age as possible. At this age, children can understand more of what is happening and are less likely to ‘play up’ and test the rules at bedtime.

Bed boundaries

First of all, no matter how good of a sleeper your little one is, they are expected to test the boundaries at some point – they are toddlers after all! It is important to stick to your child’s familiar bedtime routine. Complete the bedtime routine as usual and try not to fuss about the bed too much. Put them into bed and leave the room without making a big deal of the new bed. Ensure that you are clear about what the boundaries are and that you reinforce them. Letting them out of bed before their clock says it’s ok, even once, can undermine the boundary.

Ensure you are clear on the consequence of not behaving as expected in their bed – staying in bed quietly until their clock says it’s time. Certainly, a warning or two is fine, but if you are warning consistently, then the warning begins to mean nothing. Any consequence needs to be immediate and not delayed.

Remember, don’t shame your little one by accidentally punishing them or being angry. They are looking to you to be firm and sure of who’s in charge, and if you aren’t in control of your emotions, it can set them off towards insecurity and add to the problem. There is usually a honeymoon period with the big kid bed, so don’t be fooled if things are going well – stay true to the rules of the bed!

A reward chart for great behaviour is always good if you ever need to get good bed habits back on track. Remind your little ones that you are proud of them. Praise them for growing up and moving into a big kid's bed.

Sleep training support

Hopefully, you found this guide helpful and are on your way to healthy sleep habits! Sometimes, despite your best efforts, your sleep training isn’t going as well as you’d like. Maybe you find your toddler is experiencing a sleep regression, or they won’t stay put in their new bed. Sometimes you’re too tired or close to your situation to solve the issues alone.

If this is the case, Richelle is just a phone call away and ready to assist you in your journey to better sleep.

This article was written by our Sleep Expert Richelle Franklin from Sleep Right Tonight, to learn about sleep and settling techniques secure a spot at our Starting Solids and Infant Sleep Masterclass where Richelle presents or purchase our Parenting Portal.

Toddler transitioning from cot to big bed


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