Many parents are excited to have their toddler sleep in a big boy/girls’ bed, or feel that their child would sleep more soundly in a bigger bed. In my experience, most children aren’t ready for a proper bed until three years of age, and an early transition can be disastrous for sleep.
 
My child is under three years – is he/she ready for a big bed?
 
My child is escaping
If your child is unsafe in their cot (i.e. climbing out) then you have no choice but to transition. Before you do so, make sure you have exhausted all your options for your cot – lowering the mattress, using a sleeping bag or specialist sleepwear to make climbing difficult, removing bumpers, or anything else that can aid climbing attempts.
 
My child keeps asking for a big bed
Or, it would be more convenient for my child to be in a big bed. If this is the case and your child is under two-and-a-half years, then I would suggest stalling for as long as possible. Many young children find the invisible boundaries of the proper bed difficult to understand, and this can cause anxiety and, of course, lots of getting up to explore the bedroom and beyond!
 
My child sleeps terribly in his cot
If this has always been the case, then it is unlikely to be to do with the cot itself, although lots of playtime in the bedroom and even in the cot with roleplay and teddies can help a child to bond better with their sleep place. If this is a new issue, then I would encourage a full investigation before you assume it is the cot’s fault. Check for illness; teething; behavioural/ cognitive/ emotional developments; separation anxiety; feeding issues; bedtime routine inconsistencies; full self-soothing (i.e. your child is falling asleep completely independently at bedtime); nap transition or timing issues; life changes such as moving house, new sibling, change at nursery, etc.
 
My child seems too big for his cot
Children tend to sleep in all sorts of strange positions, and parents will often find their child is all squashed up at one end of the cot. More often than not, it is the case that the child enjoys sleeping all cosied up in a corner and is not actually looking for more space.
 
 
How can I help the transition to run smoothly?
 
Preparation
Start by making sure your child is confident with a duvet cover (unless you plan to continue with a sleeping bag in the bed). Introduce the duvet cover whilst your child is still in the cot (if it is safe to do so – i.e. you aren’t transitioning to a single bed or bigger; tuck the excess duvet under the bottom of the mattress). It may take a while for them to get the hang of adjusting it and not getting tangled up. Talk to your child about the move to the big bed and let them help pick out covers.
 
Timing
Ideally, start at the weekend when you have more time and energy to deal with any hiccups. If your child still naps in the daytime, have them take their nap in their cot, then make the change in the afternoon with plenty of time to set the bed up, and have them test it out. Include role play games of tucking in and pretending to be asleep. Also, try not to have the transition coincide with any other change – e.g. arrival of new sibling; house move; toilet training.
 
Make the bed cosy
Bed guards help to prevent falls, but also help to snug your child in a little more. You may find that your child prefers the bed to be tucked into a corner of the room rather than sticking out into the room, so that they feel more secure. Some children can become quite anxious with the new feeling of space, and if this is the case you can investigate the option of a bed tent or canopy.
 
Routine
Make sure you continue to have a great bedtime routine that helps to make sure your child knows what to expect towards bedtime; feels secure; isn’t over tired; and is falling asleep independently.
 
Sleep training
Some children make the transition to the big bed really easily; others need a little help. You may find your child is getting out of the bed either at bedtime or during the night, and it’s best to address this straight away. There are several different ways to deal with this issue, and it very much depends on your child’s temperament and behaviour. It may mean returning your child to their bed repeatedly or, for anxious children, you may need to stay in the room with them initially, then ease out of the room over several nights.
 
Oops, we made a mistake!
If after a week things aren’t going too well with the big bed and you have followed the tips above, there is always the option (provided you didn’t have a cot-climber) of bringing the cot back into the room. If you have the space, you can set up both the cot and the bed for a period of time until your child makes their own decision about going into the big bed. If you decide to do this, then explain your reasoning to your child and set clear boundaries about choosing one bed option over the other.   
Paediatric Sleep Consultant 
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