How to overcome common cot to bed transition problems

Medically reviewed June 2022
common cot to bed transition problems Naytal

Moving your child from their cot to a bed is a huge milestone in your little one’s life, as well as in your parenting journey. Your baby is becoming a toddler; it’s an exciting stage, yet it can bring plenty of questions and challenges. Questions such as when to move from a cot to a bed, how to know if they are ready and how to keep disruption to their sleep routine to a minimum.

Here are 6 tips and insights to help make the move from cot to bed as smooth a transition as possible:

Knowing when to move from cot to bed

In an ideal world, you’d wait until your child is able to understand boundaries and listen to instructions before making the move. But as you may already know, children don’t always stick to timelines.

The typical age to move from cot bed to single bed is around two to three years of age, yet it can be earlier. Once they are physically strong enough to climb out, and you notice them beginning to try, then it’s time to make the transition with immediate effect. Safety is the main factor ahead of whether you feel ready to make the change.

Preparing your child for the big move

If you can prepare for the transition from cot to bed, do! It is never too early to begin the process, introducing the idea of transitioning as soon as your child enters the toddler stage. Visual tools such as books about moving from cot to bed, and using teddies and toys for role play, can help your child to understand what is going to happen in a fun and stimulating way.

The aim being to put a positive spin on sleeping in a bed to make them want to transition, without feeling daunted or unsure. Re-enforcing the big boy/big girl concept can really help your child to feel ready and excited.

Having a separate bed rather than taking the side of the cot off can be useful in transitioning as you can place your child in the bed for naps, plus you can role play sleeping in a big bed.

Need help with your baby's sleep? Speak to a baby sleep expert

Making the sleep environment safe and secure

Whilst mindset plays a big part in moving from cot to bed, there are also practical elements to consider to make the transition safe. This will help you to feel reassured and ready as a parent too.

Firstly, make sure the room is completely safe by removing or securing furniture that’s easy to climb. If they can climb out of their cot, they can climb anything!

It’s also a good idea to remove toys and books to remove the temptation of playing or distracting themselves from going to sleep. Attaching a safety guard to the side of their bed will prevent them from falling out whilst helping them to feel secure. You could place a quilt or mattress on the floor as extra reassurance in case your child is strong enough to push the bed guard out of position.

As tempting as it may feel, fixing a gate to your child's bedroom door is not recommended. Building a sense of trust is key so that they will follow your instruction. It can also be really distressing for some children if they have a physical barrier; fixing a gate to the top of the stairs works well as a more effective and less distressing alternative.

Choosing the right bedding

Keeping your child in a sleeping bag is recommended to help restrict mobility, as well as making sure they don’t get too hot or cold through the night. If your child regularly removes their sleeping bag, then you can replace it with a togged romper or introduce a duvet and pillow which works well with the big boy/big girl concept.

Taking them shopping or asking them to help you choose the covers online is a great way to make the move from cot to bed positive, enticing, and exciting.

Keeping their bedtime routine as familiar as possible

Keeping a familiar sequence which leads to sleep is essential in keeping disruption to a minimum when moving your child from a cot to a bed.

An effective evening routine could consist of excited play after dinner, followed by interactive play, then calming wind down time on the sofa where bonding and attachment needs are fully met - giving lots of cuddles, kisses, stories and a small beaker or cup of milk or water.

This is perfect for reminding your child that they are safe and loved. A great way to help your child to understand your boundaries is to give them a full explanation of what will happen at bedtime, and how you expect them to behave throughout the night, just before bath time. This will help to prevent negotiations and limit verbal interaction when they go to bed.

Be very clear about what you will and won't do in terms of supporting your child if they find the move from cot to bed challenging.

Common ‘transition from cot to bed’ problems

Newfound freedom at bedtime can turn even the soundest of sleeper into an unsettled one. Common problems that may arise during this transition are:

  • having difficulty settling
  • frequently waking
  • walking around the house
  • making a beeline for your bed
  • playing in their room when they should be asleep
  • waking early
  • experiencing general disruption to sleep
  • displaying boundary testing behaviour

Following the steps above will help to minimise or prevent these problems, along with maintaining clear communication, being consistent in your routine, making adaptations if something isn’t working, and gaining support from a sleep specialist if bedtime remains unsettled over a prolonged period.

Our baby sleep consultants have lots of creative ideas and effective strategies to make the move from cot to bed as smooth a transition as possible, or to resolve any issues you may currently be experiencing. If you’ve already made the switch and are finding that sleep has spiralled, we can help to bring calm back to bedtime plus enable your child to feel safe and secure with the move from cot to bed.

Book an online appointment with one of our sleep consultants at a time that suits you to get tailored advice for you and your child.

Claire, Sleep Consultant

Claire has over twenty five years' experience as a maternity nurse, nanny and certified infant sleep consultant. She supports families to develop tailored approaches for dealing with their sleep issues.

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