4 need-to-knows on toddler bed transitioning
Parents feel their little one might be ready to ditch the cot/crib and move into a ‘big bed’ for many reasons.
You may feel your little one is an age where it just seems right, or you received advice from friends. Or, maybe, your cheeky monkey has started the fun and games of cot climbing! Perhaps you feel, for some reason they don’t like the cot/crib and that’s why they misbehave or won’t sleep?
Whatever your reason for considering the big bed move, there are some hugely important things to consider.
1. Brain power
Firstly, THE biggest factor for me, and a conversation I’m having non-stop with parents recently. Children under 2.5 years old are incredibly unlikely to have developed the cognitive understanding of staying in bed. You can explain to them ‘you need to stay in bed until we get you up in the morning’, and they’ll smile sweetly up at you and say ‘OK’, only to go for a walkabout in 20 minutes or climb into your bed in the early hours. Children so young simply can’t comprehend the info, process it, store it, remember it and implement it. So, until they’re at least 2.5 years old and this cognitive part of the brain develops, it’s often the case of returning them to bed every single time without fail.
If you’re in the ‘they don’t like their cot’ school of thought, and believe that moving to a bed will help, it’s actually more likely to make things worse. When you think about it, all they’ve ever known is sleeping in a confined space; in the tummy, a moses basket, next-to-me crib, sleepyhead, swaddle, sleeping bag, pram, sling, the list goes on. How could they miss or prefer something they haven’t yet experienced? And, even if you sense they don’t want to be in a cot, they probably still need to be. So, I’ll hazard a guess that there’s a deeper sleep issue which should be addressed before graduating to a bed. Otherwise, you’re left with a tiny human who’s struggling with their sleep and has just been given freedom.
Don’t panic if this is already you now. It is sort-out-able, it’s just a slower process (for the very reason outlined in to point 1).
I do speak to parents who made the cot-to-bed move before 2.5 years who say “it was fine for a couple of months with no night time wanders, but then it started”. This isn’t uncommon, and is likely down to a lack of understanding/confidence from the child. If (or most commonly, when) they do discover their freedom, they will absolutely use it and abuse it. This is where I link you back for a second time to point 1. Consider how difficult it’s likely to be if they’re far off 2.5 years old. Perhaps ‘only’ 6 months, but how many nights of multiple wakings and returns to their bed might be in store during this time? Just something to ponder.
Do you already have a cot climber on your hands? Well, all is not lost, a bed is not necessarily the only option here. Just think for a minute, if they’re wanting to escape the cot now, it’s only a sign of what’s to come when you take their obstacle away – multiple night wanders and even more hazards. Cue my third link back to point 1, they may still not cognitively be ready. So, here are some checks to prevent cot climbing:
- Is the cot is on the lowest setting? Obvious I know! But something to check.
- Have you tried a baby sleeping bag/sleep sack (for their correct age and size)? These help because they can’t lift their legs up independently to climb over. Top tip – You can get baby sleeping bags which zip up the back so they can’t unzip to escape.
- Make sure there are no soft toys in the cot that they can use as a step-up to freedom.
I’d also really recommend you watching their monitor before rushing in. Lots of toddlers experiment with climbing and seem to be making an escape, but will never actually go through with it (especially if they realise this makes you come running). If you’re concerned they’ll climb out, but they’ve not yet made the great escape, take the following precautions then sit back and watch what they do.
If you’ve checked off all of the above and they are climbing out, introduce some safety measures to protect them:
- Put a mattress or duvets/pillows/cushions around the base of the cot in case they do fall.
- Put a stairgate on the door to prevent wandering out of the room. This effectively turns the room into a giant cot/crib and gives them a new safe boundary.
- Child-proof the room (which you’d need to do if they were in a bed anyway). This is crucial, especially with furniture that could fall if they climb. Just think what they could do with all that uninterrupted time, without your watchful eye.
If your little one is in a bed under 2.5 years, these last 2 safety measures should absolutely be put in place.
I’ll leave you with one last thing to consider, all little ones are different, most of them sleep differently, and many will adapt very differently too. A friend of yours may have a super easy-going toddler who’s been in a toddler bed for months and sleeps well, staying put all night, but this is a lucky (and rare) occurrence. Your toddler may be more adventurous, more confident, may be a super-switched-on-and-into-everything sort, or may even have an unaddressed sleep issue. One child won’t behave like another in the same situation just because of age similarity, and what has worked for someone else won’t necessarily work for you.
Just to reassure you, the above are all precautions with the purpose of highlighting your options before making a hasty move. But, occasionally, even with all of these best measures in place, it will be evident that a toddler bed is the only way forward for some. All is not lost here, it is something that can be worked with, it just often means a much slower process until your little one is cognitively ready.