When to Transition From Cot to Bed. Comprehensive guide to making this a positive experience (for all!) 2024

by | Nov 16, 2023 | Improving sleep, Toddler, Top tips

Moving your child from cot to bed

Big cot to bed move eh?! Many of you will be thinking this through carefully. Let’s take a look at when you could consider the transition to their own bed and how best to do it. The cot to bed age recommendations vary widely, and with a wide age range comes a real change in both your child’s ability to understand what is happening and also their levels of impulse control!

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What’s the right age to move your toddler from the cot to bed?

Most advice is centred around 18 months to 3 years. Unless your child is climbing out of their cot and putting themselves at risk, I’d urge you to wait until your toddler is closer to 3 years of age.

Typically at 3 years of age their understanding is much greater and they have started to develop impulse control (important for staying in bed!).

I’d also ASK them if they want to move from their cot to a bed. Not all children want to say goodbye to their old cot just yet. Lots of toddlers really like small spaces and their cot may help them feel safe at night time.

cot to bed

Why children might move from cot to a bed

There’s a few different reasons, here’s the most common ones

1) They’ve outgrown their cot

2) They’re expressing an interest in a ‘big kid bed’

3) They’ve started climbing out or trying to and we want to stop the child falling

4) A new baby arrives and they need the cot for sleep

5) They’ve started toilet training and need access to the potty or toilet at night.

Transitioning to a toddler bed to make way for a new sibling

This is a really common scenario when parents contact me about moving from a cot to bed. However please do think quite carefully. Are they genuinely ready? Does this need to happen?

We don’t want to introduce a sense of resentment or jealousy between siblings with the arrival of a baby.

It’s often best to wait this out for a while after the new arrival and have another set up (such as a bedside crib) for the baby for at least the first 6 months.

What ‘big’ bed is best?

Options!!

#1 Some of you will already have a cot-bed. These transition nicely into a small toddler bed by taking the cot bars off and often adjusting the ends (some panels slide off to make a smaller end). Typically you can use the same cot mattress and increase the longevity of the cot (making it suitable for 0-4 years). You may want to also introduce a guard rail until your little one is happily sleeping in the same place each night!!

#2 You can get some smaller toddler beds which may help make the transition easier, especially if your little one quite likes their small space. For climbing toddlers who transition out of a cot quite early, these may be a good option for your little one’s sleep (along with a bed bumper if needed). They’re not so big and daunting as a single bed. However, an older child may start to grow out of these quite soon and you’ll need to consider buying a bigger bed frame possibly after a few months.

#3 Floor beds (posh name for a mattress on the floor!) are another good option for your toddler’s room and help resolve some of the safety fears about falling out of bed. Lots of my families who have been used to co-sleeping have also found these a good step for transitioning from an adult bed to their own mattress on the floor.

#4 A single bed is the best long term solution when considering which new bed to buy, especially if you need to purchase something new and don’t want multiple expenses. Often these bed frames are a little higher and you will probably want to consider also getting bed guard rails to help keep your child safe and stop them falling out and keep their bed safe. I love the ones with trundles. Great for sleepovers when they are older or if they’re sick and you stay in their room.

#5 For travel, I really like these blow-up mattresses. They help keep your little one safe, but still have the special toddler bed feeling!

First Signs Your Child Is Ready for a Toddler Bed

  • They ask to go to a big kid bed and can verbalise why.
  • (Unfortunately) they’re climbing out of their cot and putting themselves at risk
  • They’re consistently sleeping well, settling and resettling independently with no (or minimal) dramas. In this scenario the cot to bed transition will be easier.
  • They are close to the age of 3 and have good impulse control
  • Toilet trained and needing access to a potty or toilet at night time.

Wondering if they are ready? The trial.

Righteo, 3 nights – let’s see how they get on!

Pop their cot mattress on the floor and make it up. Don’t get rid of the cot just yet. You may want to move it out of the room if the room is small though.

Night 1 of any change will often be disrupted (even as adults we find changes in our sleep environment can wake us more often) so we may need to right this off a little.

Reflect – how did it go?

“It went great” – hurrah! Let’s go to bed permanently!

“Not so great” – no worries, let’s reintroduce the cot and try again in a couple of months’ time. Never be frightened to go back. It will make the move to a bed easier in the long run.

If this REALLY needs to happen we can help incentivise staying in bed by using a bedtime pass! You can download my full bedtime pass kit for £12 ($15).

How can I make my house safe?

Your little one will now have a new sense of freedom…this will bring additional challenges. For the first couple of months after the cot to bed transition (even if your child is truly an angel child) I’d tread very carefully. Safety absolutely comes first.

  • It’s certainly worth investing in a stair gate on their bedroom door to stop any midnight walks (or at least at the top of the stairs).
  • Make sure any electrical appliances are out of your child’s reach
  • Install safety locks on cupboards and drawers that can cause trapped fingers
  • Small toys and other things that may be a safety issue (or just a fun distraction from sleeping) should be put away.
  • Consider using a bed bumper or bed rail.

Top tips for a successful transition from cot to bed

1) Help them develop impulse control! Games like hide and seek (with progressively longer waits), Simon says, Red Light Green Light, Freeze Dance all help to develop impulse control.

2) Ditch the new bedding – I don’t advise doing both the cot to bed and bedding transition at the same time. Let’s do one thing at a time. The dexterity required to use a duvet – finding it and replacing it at night – is quite significant! When they are settled in their new big bed, it’s then time to think about a move from the sleeping bag to suitable bedding.

3) Set manageable expectations. Sometimes when change occurs, boundaries and expectations can become a little blurry! Use my bedtime flashcards to help send visual cues to what comes next in the bedtime routine and importantly that they need to stay in their new bed!

4) Keep the usual bedtime routine. There is no reason to ditch the same bedtime routine, sure there may be a little more excitement on the first night, but familiarity – even down to having the same soft toys will be helpful. Again, my flashcards can help with this.

5) Ask them if they want to move to a new bed! To be honest, I was a little shocked when my own daughter turned around with a resounding “no” to converting her cot into a toddler bed! That was fine (although I had to shelve those plans!), I asked again in a couple of months and she was ready. Most children around the age of 3 should be able to think about this move to a new bed and let you know where they’re at.

6) Keep familiarity where you can. Most toddlers will get a sense of security from familiarity. So the same bedtime routine, the same PJs, the same sleeping bag, the same soft toys etc etc.

7) Don’t be frightened to GO BACK! If it doesn’t work that’s absolutely OK. For sure the logistics will be annoying, but waiting a couple of months and then trying again is a good option rather than forcing something . Older children can adapt better and waiting can help your child feel ready.

8) Don’t do the cot to bed transition as a knee jerk reaction to poor sleep issues. I can almost guarantee you it will not solve current sleep problems such as bedtime battles and multiple night wakes, in fact, it will probably make them worse. Solve the issues first then move from cot to bed!

9) Use the bedtime pass set up (great for communicative 2.5 year olds but best for 3+)

cot to bed

How to Help Your Toddler Get Back to Bed

So the worst case scenario here is they get out…repeatedly. This can be both a little annoying, but also a little tiring for all.

If they’re not getting out because they’re wet through, poorly or another genuine reason, but more getting out ‘because they can’, then please reconsider if they really are ready for this transition or not.

Sometimes bed guards can help. If not, try to stay calm, don’t make a big deal of it and then take them back to bed. Tuck them in, repeat the last parts of the bedtime phrase (again, my flashcards can be really handy for this) and leave. And repeat…and repeat…

Toddler clocks or colour changing lights can be a fabulous visual cue that it is still nighttime and they need to remain in bed.

If the put-backs become too many, after a couple of night’s they’re still getting out of bed then let’s go back to the cot. We’ll try the cot to bed transition again in a couple of months. For sure they’ll be disappointed, but safety and sleep come first.

Need help at bedtime too? Check out my 2 hour Bedtime Battles Course.

If, alongside thinking about the cot to bed transition you’re also experiencing other bedtime battles and delays, you can also check out my Bedtime Battles Course! Priced at just £47 ($59), the 2 hour course guides you through everything needed to restore bedtimes.

bedtime battles

Get in touch!

Whilst you’re here, why don’t you check out my post on how much sleep little one’s need? Or, if you’re struggling with anything to do with baby sleep, please reach out.

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Hi, I’m Gemma, your sleep consultant

I am a certified baby and child sleep specialist who works with families all over the world.

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