“According to Harvard psychology professor Jerome Kagan, Ph.D., who has spent 40 years studying children’s minds, the transition to a big bed provides one of the more dramatic examples of the need for limit setting on the part of the parents and limit testing on the part of the child. A 3-year-old getting in and out of his new bed does want his parents to set limits, says Kagan, “but he’s ambivalent about it — he also wants to see how far he can go.” “
Transitioning your child from their cot to a ‘big’ bed, whether it is their cotbed without sides or a brand new ‘big bed’ is a significant milestone for both them and you. As with all milestones, there are going to be challenges ahead but believe me, you will get through it.
Here are my guidelines on how to make this transition as painless as possible.
Step 1 – when is the right time?
- When they can climb out of their cot. None of my 4 children ever climbed out of their cot but I know plenty who have and once they’ve successfully scaled the heights, landed on the other side and proudly presented themselves to you at the sitting room door any parents knows something needs to change!
- A new sibling is imminent – I suggest you make the transition at least 6 weeks before the new arrival is due as the last thing you want is you little one feeling pushed out of their cot by the new baby.
- Holiday is looming and you really don’t want to have to pay for a separate cot/travel cot or Grandma just doesn’t have one.
- They are just getting too big for their cot. Around 2–3 yrs seems the right sort of age and as you don’t want the ‘transitioning milestone’ at the same time as the ‘dry at night’ milestone then this seems about the right age.
Step 2 – Preparation…..
- Start talking about it with your little one, pointing out friends/relatives who have moved into their own ‘big bed’. Reading a book which depicts the transition as a fun, positive experience is a great idea. The most popular ones on Amazon are Big Enough for a Bed (Sesame Street Board Books), Your Own Big Bed and Sophie’s Big Bed (Puffin Baby)
- Let them choose their new bed and/or bed linen with you. For many children the move to a big bed marks the move from a grobag to a pillow/duvet so choosing their own Thomas or Peppa, pirates or fairies duvet cover is very exciting.
- Make sure the sleeping environment is safe. As toddlers become more adventurous they can get up to all sorts of mischief given a little freedom. Windows must be safely locked closed or only slightly open, make sure there are no loose curtain cords or anything they can choke on, only the bare minimum of electrical appliances are present and stairs are secured. You might want to consider screwing bookcases to the wall as my youngest liked nothing better than a little ‘mountaineering’ up her bookcase!
Step 3 – The first nights
The big day is here, bedroom all ready, you’ve had your dinner early (as you know you are going to be up and down those stairs a few times), you are feeling patient…
- Make sure your toddler is familiar with the new bed and has spent come happy time in there during the day. Try putting a favourite teddy to bed a few times using the usual bedtime routine.
- Go through the usual pre-bed routine and when it comes to climbing into bed just keep to the usual routine as if nothing is really any different. You may want to sit at the top of the stairs for a while just in case of tears.
- If there are real tears then gentle comforting and quiet words should help but remember to keep it as low-key and boring as possible. After all it is time for sleep.
- If your toddler just can’t seem to fall asleep, you might consider letting them take books (not toys) to bedwith her or listen to some stories/lullabies on a tape/CD player/iPod. A night light can also be reassuring and offer them some visibility if they do get up without disturbing them falling asleep.
- Expect your child to fall out, although not all do, and have a plan if it should happen repeatedly. Foam bed guards are very affordable if you wanted to have one ‘just I case’ but there are many other bed guards to choose from.
- My eldest was a real ‘wanderer’ and for the first few nights we were putting him back many times, my youngest was fine to begin with and then got the bedtime fidgets. Each child is different and this can be a very challenging time but you will get there even if it takes every ounce of patience and understanding you have.
Remember that the switch from a cot to a bed is a milestone in your life too and just one of many that you will tackle together as your baby grows up.