Toddler sleep |Moving from a cot to a big bed

We look at how to move your toddler to a big bed, plus how to keep him there all night. By Xanet van Vuuren

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When to make the transition

“As soon as he’s climbing out of his cot, which is a safety issue,” says Ann Richardson, author of Toddler Sense.
Moving to a ‘big bed’ will also depend on both your child and the cot’s size, so not all children will move to a big bed at the same age. Moving to a big bed won’t necessarily help a sleep problem either, and parents shouldn’t move their child to a big bed just because another baby is on the way, as a toddler might not be ready to make the move yet.

Ann says it’s important not to make this transition at a stressful time, for example in the middle of a big move or when the new baby arrives. His world shouldn’t be changed either when new situations or habits like potty training or play school are being introduced to him. Although it’s important to discuss the move from cot to bed with your child, you shouldn’t make too much of a fuss about it as this may create “performance” anxiety and stress. “Tell your child how exciting and comfy his new bed will be, that it’s natural to sleep in a big bed and that there’s nothing to be scared of,” says Ann.

Now that your little one is settled in bed, how do you keep him there all night?

Introduce a bedtime routine and set some boundaries. “Toddlers thrive on routine and will follow the ‘rules’ very happily,” says Ann. “A bedtime routine prepares a child for bed and allows his brain some time to calm before it’s sleep time.” The boundaries and routines you set must be kept in place at all times and parents should be consistent throughout for the routine to work successfully.

A bedtime routine should look like this:

  • Supper between 5pm and 7pm
  • A little quiet play time afterwards
  • Bath time
  • Straight to the bedroom or sleep zone (no television should be allowed between supper and bedtime)
  • Bedtime should be around 7pm if your little one has afternoon naps; if not, he should go to bed between 6pm and 6:30pm.

The reality is that your child might not want to sleep alone, especially if he’s been sharing your bed or room. Teaching your child to sleep alone is possible, but might take a lot of time and effort on your behalf.

Sleep independence is only a couple of steps away:

  • Ensure that your little one’s reluctance to sleep alone isn’t the result of an illness.
  • If he’s teething, give him medicine for the pain and discomfort.
  • Make sure you deworm your child from the age of one. (Worms can hatch around the anal area, causing itchiness that will make your toddler restless.)
  • Start introducing a magnesium supplement just before bedtime. It will help to calm down his busy brain and help with growing pains.
  • Change the way you put your child to sleep; take away the “crutches” (a parent lying with him, watching TV, etc.)
  • Tantrums and crying will follow when you take away these expectations, but don’t give in. Leave him to have his tantrum for a few minutes, then return to the room to give him some love and cuddles. Tell him it’s bedtime, then leave for a bit again and return a couple of minutes later to reassure him again with some hugs. Continue with this strategy until he falls asleep, unassisted.
  • Encourage your little one to sleep with a soft toy or blanket that stays in his bed – it might become a special attraction at night time and might comfort him when he wakes during the night.
  • Buy a night light to put next to his bed or in the passage, so it’s not as dark when he wakes during the night.
  • If he wakes during the night expecting some assistance to get back to sleep, don’t give in. Handle this in the exact same way – through emotional support and sleep boundaries.

You can also use a fun reward chart

If you’re struggling to move your little one from a cot to a big bed, or just to get bedtime routines to move smoothly, this bedtime reward chart is exactly what you need to encourage him or her. You can buy stickers and give them a sticker every time they brush their teeth, put their pyjamas on and stay in bed after lights out. When they’ve accumulated a certain amount of stickers (you can decide on the number yourself), you can treat them with a reward in the form of a toy or a fun outing to the Zoo.

Download your bedtime reward chart here.

Toddler sleep - bedtime reward chart

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