Making the move from a cot to a bed

toddler sleep
toddler sleep 

Transitioning from the cot to a "big kid" bed is a rite of passage for toddlers and their parents.

It also can become a battleground.

Switching beds can be stressful not only for a child, but for his parents. To keep nights from being sleepless for everyone, there are some simple steps to take to make the change a seamless one, says Dr Cynthia Brownfield of Heartland Pediatric and Adult Care.

Child readiness is the first sign that it's time to take down the cot, Dr Brownfield says.

"When they climb out of the cot or they are asking for a bigger bed, that's when they're ready," she says. "It's not so much an age. If you have a content two-year-old in a cot, there's no reason to rush."

If there's a new sibling on the way and the cot is needed for that child, that's also a good point to move the older kid into a bigger bed, she says. But while it may seem to be a logical time to make the transition, Dr Brownfield says not to take away the cot just weeks before the new sibling arrives, because such changes can bring on anxiety in a small child. Try doing it months in advance, so they won't necessarily feel they've been thrown out of their bed to make way for their new brother or sister.

As you prepare to make the switch, Dr Brownfield recommends talking about the new bed. There are several books about moving to a big kid bed, and she suggests reading one for several nights before making the change. You can also take your child shopping to choose new sheets or a blanket or quilt they'll love using as a 'big kid'.  

Keeping a similar bedtime routine also is important, she says. Having something familiar brings kids comfort.

Putting the new bed in the same spot in the room where the cot stood also helps, Dr Brownfield says. But don't take the cot apart yet - it's okay to return the child to his former bed if he just isn't ready yet.

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Convertible cots, which have removable sides to transition from a more enclosed structure, are another good way to go, Dr Brownfield says.

Once you've make the transition, keep safety in mind. Make sure the new bed is low to the ground to avoid injury in case the child rolls out; you can buy bed guards to prevent this from happening, or use an old pool noodle as a guard. Skip bunk beds until children are at least around seven years old.

Also make sure to child-proof the home, including blocking off stairs and doors leading outside, Dr Brownfield says.

"The child will be mobile now, and some do discover new-found freedom," she says.

If your child does come wandering down the hall to see mum and dad, Dr Brownfield says to escort him back to bed with as little interaction as possible. If the problem persists, try creating a sticker chart that rewards the child for staying in his room at night, she says.

And although it may seem like the easiest thing at the time, Dr Brownfield warns against letting the child crawl into bed with parents, or having you or your partner sleep in the child's room with him - unless you're fine with it continuing for the weeks or even months to come. 

"It just becomes a really hard habit to break," she says.

- MCT