Transitioning a toddler from cot to bed

Moving your toddler from their cot to a bed is one of those parenting moments where you worry and second guess everything you’re doing. 

The first worry is whether your child is ready to actually move to a toddler bed. The next worry is whether they will hurt themselves falling out of bed. And the third worry is whether they will be in your bedroom every hour all night now that they can get out of bed without help.

All little ones have to move from their crib to a toddler, or single, bed eventually. However it is a huge change both for you and for them, so it’s probably something you’re hoping to do as painlessly as possible. 

Having just removed the railings from my youngest daughter’s cot bed at 2.5 years, I know all of the trials and tribulations of transitioning to a big girl bed all too well!

Here’s a guide for parents embarking on the big move from cot to toddler bed. 

When to move your toddler from cot to bed

First of all, you’re probably wondering when to actually moving your toddler from their cot to a big bed. Or you may have a cot bed that transforms into a toddler bed simply by removing the sides. 

The answer to this question is that it’s a fairly wide age bracket, because it totally depends on your child. 

In general, parents will make the transition from cot to bed at around age two to three. 

However if your 18-month-old is a little Houdini in the making and is already climbing out of their cot, then you’ll want to make the transition earlier. 

It really depends on your child. If they are climbing out of the bed, or you think they may start to do this soon, it’s a good idea to start thinking about removing the sides from their cot or buying a bed. 

Also, it may depend on the type of cot or crib you have. If your 18-month-old is growing out of their baby bed, then it may make more sense to invest your cash in a bed that will last them for a long time, rather than another, slightly larger, cot. 

If your child is potty training, then they will need to access the bathroom at night to use the toilet so this is another sign that it’s time to move up to a bigger bed. 

How to manage the transition to a toddler bed

when to take railings off toddler bed

Once you’ve decided your toddler is ready to move on to a big bed, there are a few things to do that will get your child ready and help you be less stressed by the big move. 

Child-proof the bedroom

You probably have already done this way back when your little one was born, but go over the entire room again. When checking your child’s room, think about the following things: 

  • Look at all surfaces where your child can reach. Is there anything sharp, or breakable they could reach? Are there any choking hazards they can now grab that they didn’t used to be able to reach?
  • Check any furniture that is not strapped to the wall with safety brackets and ensure they are safely tethered to the wall. Most child furniture comes with wall safety brackets these days. 
  • Put safety latches on windows. Ideally you can simply lock the windows at night. If your windows do not lock, or you often forget to lock them, then you can put limiters on your windows. These stop the windows from opening wide enough for anyone to fall out of them. 
  • Check blind and curtain cords. Make sure none are long enough for your child to reach. 
  • Look inside wardrobes and drawers. Children are brilliant at figuring out how to open things, so just shutting the wardrobe door is not going to be enough. Check there is nothing within reach in the wardrobe that is dangerous for your child. 
  • Put creams and medication out of reach. Your nappy changing station may include creams for nappy rash, moisturisers and medication so that it’s handy. Toddlers love applying their own cream, it makes them feel grown up! But you don’t want them fiddling with this stuff when you’re not there as not only will they make a mess, but they can also swallow the cream. Keep your nappy changing kit well out of reach. 
You may want to keep art supplies out of your child’s room too!

Talk to your child about getting a toddler bed

The next stage is talking to them about it. 

Try not to just remove the railings, or buy a new bed, without having sat them down and told them what you are going to do. 

Tell your child they are getting a big bed, or that their cot bed is going to have no sides now. Explain this means they are now a big boy or girl. 

If they have an older sibling, enlist them in helping you explain and demonstrate what is going to change. 

Be really positive

Whenever you talk about the new bed, or when you show your child their new bed, be really positive about it. 

Have an excited tone of voice and praise your child when they climb into bed on their own for the first time. 

Maintain familiar items

When making this big change it’s best to keep as much other things the same as possible. If you can keep the same bedding and their favourite toys then they will feel much more comfortable about changing to a big bed. 

If you have to get new bedding, let your child pick it out. Show them bedding with their favourite cartoon characters on, as this is likely to get them excited about the big change. 

Keep your bedtime routine

Do exactly the same bedtime routine as you would always do at bedtime. Keep the enthusiasm about the new bed, but keep everything else that you do when putting your child to bed the same. 

Problems with moving toddler to a bed

There may be a few teething troubles along the way, as with any changes to routine. Here’s a few common issues you may have and what to do about them: 

Toddler will not go to sleep now they have a big bed

The excitement is all too much for them and now your toddler is refusing to stay in their bed. Why would they go to sleep when they can now hop in and out of bed as they please?

This is a frustrating phase but it is a phase and it will pass, eventually. How long it takes for your child to settle down really depends on them, and you to a lesser extent. 

The key to preventing them from dragging out bedtime for hours on end now they can get out of bed all by themselves is to be firm, patient and consistent. 

This means putting them back into bed as soon as they get out, as many times as you have to. 

Some nights you may spend hours doing this routine. Eventually your child will get the message. 

Repeat to them that it is bedtime. Tuck them in and say good night. Leave the room. Close the door. Repeat. 

Some children will delay things by claiming they need the toilet, that they need a clean nappy or that they are thirsty. Try to pre-empt this by putting them on the loo as part of their bedtime routine and leaving a drink by their bedside. 

Put it into a non-spill cup so that they don’t soak their bedding!

Toddler keeps getting out of bed at night

It’s 2am and your toddler is standing right next to your bed staring at you. First of all it makes you jump. Next it makes you annoyed that you’re awake. 

Get them back to bed and close the door. You may want to consider getting a stair gate for their bedroom door so that they can’t get out of their room. If you have a climber, however, this won’t make much difference. 

The key is consistency and patience. It can be hard, but just keep putting them back to bed. 

For children who are scared of the dark, try getting them a nightlight that gives them reassurance if they do wake up. 

Toddler falls out of bed

This one is really common as your toddler is used to having railings and bars to keep them secure in their bed. 

You can buy a safety guard that fits onto pretty much all bed types and offers a bit of protection to keep them in bed. 

If your toddler’s bed is very low to the ground, you could simply pop a blanket or pillow on the floor to give them a bit of cushioning when they do fall. 

It sounds harsh to just let them fall out of bed, but they will learn to stay in bed this way. Check on your child before you go to bed in case they have fallen out, then you can pop them back in again. 

I found with my daughter that she only falls out of bed in the first few hours of sleep. Once I pop her back into bed at 10pm, she stays there the rest of the night. 

Hopefully these tips will give you all of the information you need to get your toddler settled into their big bed! Let me know if you have any other questions!

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How to keep your toddler in bed after moving from cot to big bed
Tips for handling the transition from cot to toddler bed

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