Remember that each child will be different. The techniques that work for one might not work for another. That said, there are some basic guidelines that will help get you started.
Is it time for the big move?
There isn’t a set time or age recommended for moving your baby from his cot but it’s advisable to look for these signs and follow your baby’s lead:
- He is getting too big for his cot. If your baby can’t lie straight in his cot or he’s hitting himself against the sides when he moves, he’s too big for his cot
- He can climb out of his cot. That little explorer of yours is going to try everything he can to get out of his cot and wake you up to play in the middle of the night. It takes some effort and coordination to do this, so he may not be able to do it until he’s over a year old, but once he starts this little escape plan it’s time to start considering a bigger bed.
- You need the cot for another baby. If baby number two is on the way and you only have one cot in the house, you may want to consider moving your older baby into a bigger bed. Be sure that you’ve made the transition and your older baby is comfortable and settled in for at least two weeks before you bring the new baby home and put him in the cot.
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Preparing for the move
Making the move as easy as possible is imperative to its success. It’s possible this will be a difficult and confusing time for your baby, as big changes to their environment is very unsettling. Try these tricks to get him excited by (and comfortable with) the move:
- Talk about it: Get your little one used to the idea by talking about it for a while before actually making the move. Tell him how exciting it will be for him to be in a “big boy” bed and what an adventure he’s going to have choosing his new bed and duvet cover. Encourage him to talk about it too and don’t put him down if he expresses negative feelings. Acknowledge these feelings and tell him that you’re going to help him every step of the way
- Give choices: If there is resistance to the idea of the big bed, make an outing of buying the bed and let your toddler choose his new bedding. This will make him feel empowered and that he is part of the decision around this big event.
- If there’s space, place the new bed in the room with the cot. Start off by letting your child choose where he wants to have his naps during the day. If he chooses the big bed but ends up playing on it and not settling down, move him back to the cot. This will teach him that beds are for sleeping in and not for playing on.
- Give your child positive associations: You could read him a short story every time you put him into his new bed and give him and extra cuddle before you walk out. Tell him that sleeping in his new bed is exciting but it is the same as sleeping in his cot and that he must close his eyes and rest after the story and cuddle.
- Check your timing: If the change comes as a result of a new baby, make the move before the baby arrives so that your toddler doesn’t feel like the new baby is here to take his place.
- Don’t make too many changes at once: If your toddler is being potty trained then the move to a big bed can wait. If he’s just started creche or you’ve moved house, wait a while for things to settle.
- Ensure familiarity: When you make the move ensure your child’s comforts get moved too – things like his favourite soft toy or blanky.
- Invest in a mattress protector: To ensure easy cleaning after inevitable nappy leaks and toilet-training accidents, and to prevent staining of the new mattress. (Remember that unlike a foam cot mattress, you can’t wash a bed mattress.) Choose a mattress protector that’s super absorbent, with a waterproof layer that won’t crinkle noisily every time your toddler shifts. It’s also a good idea to invest in two mattress protectors, so there’s always a spare on hand so that middle-of-the-night linen changes can be dealt with quickly and calmly.
Also read: How long should a nap be?
Staying in bed
Once your toddler is happy to take all his naps in the new bed, see if he wants to start sleeping the night in it. You may also offer to stay with him in the room until he falls asleep for the first few nights. Be careful though, as you do not want to make this a habit you can’t break. If he gets out of bed don’t get upset, take him by the hand and walk him back to the bedroom.
If you get your tot to settle down in his own bed try not to move him back to your bed or to the cot again for any reason. In fact, it’s best if you move the cot out of the bedroom as soon as he has committed to sleeping in the bed.
A good strategy to adopt if your toddler experiences nightmares or insists on coming into your room at night and asks to sleep in your bedroom, is to tell him he may but he must bring his own blanket and pillow and let him sleep on the floor. Try not to make it too comfortable; this will help him choose his own bed over the floor in your bedroom. Stick to the bedtime routine you established even after the move – bathtime, bedtime stories, kisses and hugs should stay the same.
Watch: This is what bedtime is really like
Dos and Don’ts
Not all children will be resistant to sleeping in a new bed. In fact, getting your child into a big bed might be one of the most exciting milestones of his little life. However, prepare yourself for some upsets, even if they come a little further down the line. Here are some dos and don’ts to arm yourself with:
- Let important people, such as caregivers and teachers know about this big transition so they can keep you posted if there are any behavioural problems associated with the change.
- Reward him with positive words and affection after he has slept through the night. Give him a hug and tell him how proud you are of him for sleeping through a whole night in his big bed.
- Listen to excuses like he’s hungry, not feeling well or wants to use the bathroom. but make sure you pre-empt them all before bed the next night by asking him if there is anything else he wants before he goes to bed.
- Sit on a chair next to his bed until he is asleep if your child is feeling a bit apprehensive. As time goes on sit further from the bed and let him try falling asleep on his own.
- Keep the process simple and positive.
- Get frustrated if your child keeps following you out of his bed.
- Give in to his crying and fussing.
- Bribe him to stay in bed. You need to encourage positive sleep associations with his new big bed.
Before making this change make sure that your child is healthy. If he resists the change it may not be only because of the psychological factors. Look at every possible reason for the resistance as it might be that your baby is ill.