There is no set time that is right to move a child from the cot to a bed. Often the decision is prompted by your baby climbing out, or you needing the cot for a new baby; but for many, it is simply the feeling that baby is growing up and is ready to move on a stage.

Trepidation…

Understandably, parents can feel a bit of trepidation about making the move. What if he or she falls out of bed? Won’t sleep? Wanders around the house during the night? It’s no wonder that when you first make the move from cot to bed, you can end up with sleepless nights!

Pick your moment

Follow the steps below to make the whole process easier for both you and your baby:

  • First of all, if you are moving your toddler out of the cot to make room for a new baby, you must leave a few weeks between moving your older one out and the younger one in!
  • Cheerfully explain to your toddler that they are going to sleep in a big boy/girl bed. Allow them to see you remove the cot from the room and put the new bed up.

Role play

  • Encourage a little role play game where they tuck their toys into the new bed and then leave them to go to sleep. With your child, praise the toys for going to sleep. Through this small ritual they will receive the subtle message that you will be happy if they do the same.

Positive bedtime routine

  • Keep up your usual bedtime routine before leaving them for the night.
  • Leave the room on a very positive note, even if they protest about you going. Tell them that you will be back very soon to check that they are cosy.
  • Return to them very shortly afterwards and praise them for being in bed. [If they are still in it!] You should do this even if they are not crying or calling for you. Only stay for a few moments before leaving again, “I’m going to wash my hands now [etc.] but I’ll be back in a minute.”
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What to do if they’re out of bed

  • If they get out of bed, you should stop them at the door and act completely surprised that they are up. Quickly take them back to bed in silence, but as soon as they are in bed, praise them. Leave again even if they are not happy about it.
  • If they refuse to go back to bed you should remain in the room with them and tell them just once to go to bed. Wait in silence until they move towards the bed [it might take a while!] Then praise them warmly to encourage them. Do not engage in any negotiations or distracting conversation.
  • As your child gets used to sleeping in a different bed, they might struggle to go off to sleep and need a little extra reassurance. It is perfectly ok when you are out of the room for you to call to them from the corridor or landing, “I’m coming in a minute!”
  • It’s a good idea for both parents to alternate going in and settling/praising them.

Be prepared to be patient

  • Expect it to take longer than normal for them to go to sleep. This is natural because children like things to be predictable and familiar, and the changes you are making may make them uneasy and wakeful at first.
  • If your child really does struggle to stay in bed, and you are worried about them wondering about at night, you should consider fitting a stair gate to their bedroom door. This will keep them safe, and if you introduce it in a positive manner, there is no reason for him or her to feel “imprisoned.”
  • You will also need to have some kind of soft lighting to keep them safe if they DO wander in the night.
  • If he or she wakes and cries during the night, you should go to them and help them back into bed as you did at the beginning of the night. Go to them every few minutes if they are upset and keep getting up but try not to be in the room as they settle off to sleep.

Praise

  • In the morning, offer them lots of specific “You slept in your lovely bed!”

If YOU are able to see the move from cot to bed as a positive step and are able to handle it with confidence and a cheerful manner; your child will feel happy about the move too.

Q My little one has just turned two but I think at the moment she’d fall asleep with her teddies in her pop up wigwam house in the room. Is there any guidelines as to what shouldn’t be in the room when doing this? Obviously we know we have to nail furniture to the wall etc (we have a wild chid!).
A The best and safest place is for your little girl to fall asleep in her own bed after saying goodnight to her teddies and putting them all to bed in the wigwam. It’s important to have a cut off point between play and sleep. Because sleep happens in cycles and it is natural and normal to wake up in the night, it is important that she is doesn’t fall asleep mid play or she may struggle to go back to sleep when she stirs in the night. Its also important from your point of view as a parent that your child is tucked up safely in bed. If she has a tendency to wander in the night, a stair gate placed in the bedroom doorway is a good option, especially if she doesn’t like to have the door closed.
By child sleep expert, Health Visitor and author, Andrea Grace
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About The Author

Andrea Grace
Sleep Expert & Health Visitor

I have worked in the field of child health for 25 years and during this time I have helped many hundreds of families to overcome their children's sleep problems. My interest in babies and children's sleep originated from having my first baby, who was a truly terrible sleeper. At the time, there was very little advice available apart from just leaving them to cry and I just didn't have the heart to do that - especially as he suffered from eczema and allergies. As my family grew, my confidence in handling my babies' sleeping grew too and this very much helped with my work as a health visitor. In 1996, realising that baby sleep was the main concern for most parents, I set about the task of understanding and researching as much as I could about baby and child sleep and started an NHS sleep service in Muswell Hill, North London. Here my experience, knowledge and expertise grew and in 1998 after the birth of my youngest child, I became one of the the UK's first independent sleep specialists. Nowadays, my work is recognised by leading paediatricians, child psychologists and health journalists.

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