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The Toddler Cot to Bed Transition

The Toddler Cot to Bed Transition

Hopefully, if you’re reading this, you’ve got a beautifully sleeping baby or toddler who is in a cot and whether you worked on sleep at 3, 5, 10 months or a year you’ve got to a stage where – fingers crossed – they’re sleeping beautifully. If that is not the case then don’t be worrying about this cot to bed transition just yet: you want to, ideally, work on helping them to improve their sleep first. If you need any help with your baby or toddler’s sleep, please do check out my sleep packages here or my online courses here.

When to move from a cot to bed

When your child has healthy sleep habits and perhaps you’ve hit some regressions – maybe when they started walking or nursery – hopefully, other than that, your toddler is sleeping well and smoothly. As with any transition, each parent will make a different decision on when to move them. My feeling is to leave them in a cot for as long as possible. Unless they’re showing any changes to their sleep and trying to move out of a cot, I would leave them in a cot until around 3 years of age, obviously this depends on their size, their personality and the size of the cot that they are in. This is because if they are settled, making changes probably isn’t necessary. When they become toddlers they start to test boundaries and be curious so if you pop them into a bed when they’re not fully ready you might find getting out of bed may become an issue – not for all children but for some.

Why you might want to move your child to a bed

If you are having another baby, you might need the cot for the baby and, depending on the age of your toddler currently, you might want to move them before baby comes if they are around two or two and a half. If your toddler is younger, work out when you’ll actually need the cot for the baby and decide if it’s essential to move your baby before baby arrives. When a baby arrives, you don’t want there to be too much change or upheaval. I’d suggest you leave six weeks plus either side of when baby arrives, if you want to do it around that time, so that your toddler can get used to the transition and they, then, won’t feel that baby has come along and taken their safe space. I would try and make that transition its own thing, without it being right when baby arrives.

What you can do to aid the transition from cot to bed

Firstly, work out whether you’re going to be buying a new bed – will it be a single bed or a toddler bed? Or will your cot change into a bed by taking the bars off? Some cot beds turn into a bed quite easily and doing this means you won’t need to think about the position of it in the bedroom. But if you’re buying a whole new bed, I’d suggest that you try and place it in the same place as where their cot is in the room because your toddler is used to this space and some toddlers can be sensitive to change, especially around their sleep. The less significant change they feel, the more likely it is to go smoothly.

Secondly, think about the bedroom itself. Once they’re asleep in a bed, they can obviously get out of it, so you want to think about an inquisitive toddler who gets out freely in their bedroom and if there is anything in the layout of their bedroom that you might want to choose. Is there anything dangerous or unsafe that you need to move? Check their blind cord, ensure you haven’t left any medicine in their room or that there’s anything unsafe that they could climb etc. Essentially, you want to toddler-proof their bedroom! It might be worth thinking about sticking a stair gate to the door. Some children might see this as a physical barrier to you so it might be worth introducing this before the bed change itself.

In advance of the bed arriving, you can start to remove them from a sleeping bag to use a pillow and a duvet. This often depends on your child and whether they’ve tried to escape the sleeping bag in the past! If your child is really comfy with the sleeping bag then perhaps moving to a duvet with a pillow, whilst they’re still in a cot, can help them to get used to it before the change from cot to bed.

Talk to your toddler about what is happening a few days in advance so that they can imagine the changes. You don’t need to go overboard and be worried about a bed, but it can really help toddlers to know what’s happening in advance. For most of them, if you’ve done all the prep in advance, it won’t be a huge deal for them. Anything you can do to explain in advance will have made it easier for them.

On the first night, follow their normal routine and then pop them into their bed to say goodnight – don’t change any part of their usual routine so that things are the same. Encourage them to climb into bed themselves, as they’re used to being lifted in, which is a really good step. You can, also, encourage them to pull the duvet up themselves but don’t make too much of a big deal about it being different, as most children won’t understand at this stage that they could actually get out by themselves. Keeping things as close to their routine as possible will make the entire transition run smoothly.


Where I’ve seen the cot to bed transition become an issue is where toddlers get out of bed and parents react in a certain way. Your response to them getting out of bed will determine how quickly you nip it in the bud and how quickly they get back in and stop getting out themselves. Your reaction to them suddenly appearing is huge! In an ideal world, the best strategy is to give them a blank face, say “it’s bedtime now” and very calmly lead them back to bed. If you give them a reaction, you will find that you could have a few weeks or months ahead of you. This is essentially what we call the ‘back to bed’ approach and, if you are consistent, it will be simple to do.

If them getting out of bed becomes an issue, you might have to go through the motions of a sleep method: either the return to bed method: the first time you lead them back to bed and say “goodnight” and leave; the second time you do the same but you just say “bedtime” without fully interacting and removing the attention; then the third time onwards you simply take them straight back to bed without saying anything at all. This can be used when they settle to sleep or if they get up in the middle of the night. Alternatively you can try the gentle retreat method, which is sitting with them as they fall asleep. Whichever method you use, it’s important to nip it in the bud as quickly as possible.

For this transition, remember that your toddler will soak up how you react to a situation so the calmer you can be about the cot to bed transition the easier it will be for them and the whole family.


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