As a baby sleep consultant who works with children above the age of 1, a question I often get asked is about the cot to bed transition, so that’s what I want to cover today.
Specifically, I want to talk about 5 mistakes parents commonly make concerning this shift.
Not all beds are made equal
Don’t make the newbie mistake of failing to appreciate the fundamental difference between a cot and a big kid's bed. A cot corrals your baby in a safe environment, and the rails prevent your baby from wandering out. A bed, however, gives your child complete freedom of access. Your child will have the ability to leave the bed at bedtime or in the middle of the night to play or pay you a visit.
Making the switch too soon
You might have valid reasons for wanting to switch your baby to a big kid bed: your child might be outgrowing the cot, you might want to cede the cot to a new sibling, or your child might be learning to cot jump (aka climb out of his cot).
These reasons aside, being in a big kid bed requires responsibility (more on this later), and if your child isn’t developmentally ready for that, then you’d be setting him/her up for failure. We don’t want to do that to our kids firstly, and secondly, we’ll just be getting frustrated more than we otherwise have to.
I recommend the “ideal” age of minimally 2.5 to 3 years before moving your child to a bed. At this age, impulse control is a lot better, and your child is better able to grasp the idea of what is acceptable and unacceptable behavior.
If your kid is crib jumping, you can squeeze some extra mileage out of your cot by introducing a wearable sleep sack and lowering your cot to the lowest possible setting. This will prevent your toddler from hoisting his legs over the crib rails.
The last thing to consider is that if you’re just jumping on the sleep training train, then there is going to be a period of adjustment for your toddler as he/she learns to sleep independently. During this time, you may want to hold back the transition as it's comforting for your toddler to have a familiar place to sleep until sleep skills have been mastered.
Not setting ground rules
You probably won’t miss out on getting your child excited about the change by taking him/her to pick out the new frame and bedding. But don’t also forget to fill in your little one in on what the ground rules are once in that bed so he/she isn’t left without boundaries come bedtime.
I like to keep it simple: After tucking in, 1) Lay down quietly, 2) Close your eyes and 3) No feet on the floor. Create a pictorial representation of these rules to hang on your child’s bedroom wall.
I also find it useful to have a “toddler clock” for younger children who might not be able to tell the time, because the clock will ring or light up when your child is allowed out of bed. If your child gets up in the middle of the night he/she might not be able to distinguish between morning and night if the sky’s still dark.
Not consequencing when bedtime rules are broken
As with all transitions, there are always going to be teething issues. After tucking in, your toddler might start calling for you or paying you hourly middle-of-the-night visits. This may or may not start right away. I do have parents who report a ‘honeymoon’ period before the bedtime antics start.
When a toddler tests limits like this, what’s key is you stick to your guns. Offer a warning at the start, and state the consequence of what happens if bedtime rules are broken. If your child has left the bed, then walk him/her nonchalantly back to bed (remember even negative attention is attention! Some kids just want your eye). Then if a second infraction takes place, execute the consequence. This might mean losing some shut-eye in the short term, but it's important to stay consistent with the long-term view in mind.
Starting bedtime too late
At least, in the beginning, it will take more time to get your toddler to sleep. So give yourself some buffer by starting your bedtime routine 30 mins earlier- at least till the routine smoothes out. That way, by the time your toddler falls asleep, it's still at an appropriate bedtime, and he/she won’t be cranky from sleep deprivation come morning.