How to move your toddler from cot to bed

Are you about to make the cot to toddler bed (or single bed) transition with your little one? The very thought of this might scare you to high hell. You’ve no doubt already tried everything in the books to get your baby to sleep within the safe confines of a cot. And now they’re supposed to actually stay in a bed by themselves?! 

The following parenting tips are for those who’ve made the daring decision to introduce a Big Kid Bed – whether by choice, or out of necessity. You’re gonna make it through this. We promise.

When do toddlers move from cot to bed?

When they’re damn well ready to. Because toddlers effectively do what they want. (You know this.)

So what age do toddlers move from cot to bed, typically? The Raising Children Network advises between the ages of two and three. Some kids are ready to make the move before this, and some stay in their cot beyond three years. It’s basically down to what suits your family.

While toddlers under two aren’t considered physically or emotionally ready for the cot to toddler bed transition, sometimes you’ve just gotta do what you’ve gotta do. It’s okay to hold off until you’re emotionally ready for it, mama.

Signs it’s time for a ‘big kid bed’

  • Your toddler is climbing out of their cot (and at risk of yeeting themselves to the ground).
  • Your toddler is potty training, so needs to be able to access the toilet at night.
  • Your toddler is becoming too big for the cot.
  • You’ve got a new baby on the way, and they’ll soon have dibs on the cot.

Choosing a Big Kid Bed

Here are your options when it comes to upgrading from a cot to a toddler bed.

1. Toddler bed

Some cots allow you to take a side off, transforming it into a toddler bed. This can be a great way to get your toddler used to getting in and out of bed themselves, without introducing a whole new sleeping environment.

You can also buy ‘toddler beds’ which are teenie, toddler-sized beds that fit a cot mattress. They often have raised sides to keep your toddler from rolling out, and you can even find novelty ones in the shape of a race car or boat, too! 

Toddler beds offer minimal disruption to the sleeping routine, but keep in mind that they’ll only work for a limited time. Your kid will be spilling over the sides after their next growth spurt.

2. Single bed

Your toddler may look ridiculously tiny in a proper bed, but you won’t need to upgrade it again for years! It could genuinely last until teenagedom.

If you choose to transition your toddler to a single bed, get a bed rail to help them stay IN the bed. Toddlers don’t sleep in typical positions, and they WILL tumble out. (I once found my son asleep on his window sill, sitting upright, cuddling the curtains. True story.)

3. Mattress on the floor

If you can’t afford a whole new bed, and FB Marketplace isn’t delivering the goods, your toddler could even just sleep on a mattress on the floor. Seriously. This is a major cot to toddler bed hack. 

It’s safe (they can’t hurt themselves if they roll off) and still gives them freedom to get in and out themselves.

Now, if it’s just dawned on you that they can get in and out themselves (sh*t!), well yeah – this toddler milestone requires some safety advice.

Safety tips for your toddler’s transition from cot to bed

A f*cking toddler on the loose. Time to level-up your babyproofing efforts. Take a look around their bedroom, and let your mum anxiety run wild. 

Could they climb a bookshelf in the night and launch themselves off the top?

Could they strangle themselves with the cord from the blinds?

Could they sneak into the laundry and down an entire bottle of bleach?

Yes. All of these things. Toddlers can, and will, get up to mischief when they’re free to roam.

Here’s some general safety tips for new parents dealing with toddlers in a bed:

  • Install locks on windows.
  • Keep curtain and blind cords out of reach.
  • Bolt furniture to the wall so your toddler can’t tip heavy items onto themselves.
  • Remove hazards like electrical appliances and poisons from the bedroom. (That means no medicines, creams, or essential oils within reach.)
  • Consider putting a safety gate in the doorway (especially if you’ve got stairs in your house!)
  • Install powerpoint covers so your toddler can’t fiddle with plugs.

How to transition your toddler from cot to bed

Alright, so let’s talk about how you actually do this thing. There are a few ways you can approach the toddler transition from cot to bed.

Method 1: The quick move

If you choose this method, you’ll basically upgrade your toddler’s bed at once. The cot is gone, the bed is here to stay.

How to make it work:

  • Hype up the Big Kid Bed! 
  • Let your toddler help pick out their exciting AF new bed, sheet set, and pillow.
  • Keep your bedtime routine the same as normal.
  • Clearly explain expectations – i.e. that they’re not allowed to get out of bed.
  • If your toddler gets upset when you leave the room, tell them that you’ll be back to check on them. For example, you could say, “I’m just going to load the dishwasher, then I’ll come and check on you. I’ll be 5 minutes.” Follow through with your promise so they know you’ll come to them if they need you.
  • Praise your child if they stay in their big bed. Make it a BIG DEAL! Tell them how proud you are. Naw.

Method 2: The gradual transition

If you choose this method, you might move the new bed into the bedroom, but keep your toddler sleeping in the cot until they get used to the bed. Then try them in it.

How to make it work:

  • Move the new bed into the room, and explain to your toddler that it’s their special bed.
  • In the first few days, keep them sleeping in the cot but spend time on the new bed during the day. Read books on it, and ask your child if they want to nap in it during the day.
  • When it’s time to move the cot out of the room, make a whole song and dance about it! Tell your toddler how proud you are of them, and have a proper Farewell Ceremony for the cot.

It really depends on your toddler. If you think a sudden change to their sleeping environment will freak them out, you might be best to draw the process out. If you want to avoid confusion, go for the quick move. 

I won’t sugar coat this: Either way, it might be hell for a few nights. The toddler transition from cot to bed is a big step. But it’s an exciting one. Your baby is so independent! Tag-team with your partner if possible, you can get some rest yourself.

So… what if it doesn’t go well?

Don’t beat yourself up if your cot to bed transition is a hot mess. Just try again later.

A real life cot to toddler bed tale

I messed it up the first time. When my mountain goat of a son learned to climb out of his cot at around 20 months, we took the side off the cot so he couldn’t hurt himself by climbing over the rail. It was a disaster. He wouldn’t stay in the bed, he got so overtired, and it just sucked.

It wasn’t time. So we managed to rig his cot up so he couldn’t climb out, and made do for a few more months.

Second time around it went much better. He was just over two at this point. Here’s what we did:

Hyped up the Big Kid Bed

We talked up the Big Boy Bed for a few months to get him all excited for it. He checked out a few of his friends’ beds. He started asking for his own Big Boy Bed, and even made a pretend one on our couch. (Flippin’ adorbs!)

Involved him in the process

I took him to a bed store to select which bed he wanted. Then he watched his dad and pa assemble it (with tools!). He chose his own bed sheets, and a special new toy for his Big Boy Bed. He was just stoked with the whole thing. 

Set clear expectations

It’s amazing how much those few months made a big difference in his understanding. I made sure to tell my son he had to stay in bed. The ‘threat’ was that we’d have to close his bedroom door if he didn’t. Worked a treat!

Enlisted the help of some handy tools

  • Gro Clock – This is a magical contraption that displays a yellow sun during day time, and a blue star when it’s time ‘sleeping time’. It gives your toddler a handy visual aid so they know when they’re allowed out of bed.
    Check out the Tommee Tippee Gro Clock.

  • Novelty Lamp – My son LOVES a lamp. Always has. We purchased a Galaxy Lamp so he can see stars on the roof. Pretty fancy for a little guy – but it keeps him in bed, and I’m happy with that.
    Check out this Galaxy Lamp we got from Amazon.

  • Comfort Items – My son got to pick a new toy to take into his Big Boy Bed, which was very exciting. I’ve also heard about these tactile pillows that help kids settle themselves to sleep.
    Check out Muluzu Pillowcase Pals.

Our first night in the new bed: Miracle. He just stayed in it! 

The toddler transition from cot to bed is a big deal. For you, and for them. Know that it’s perfectly normal to need a few tries to get it right. It’s also normal for toddlers to have random parties in their room when they should be sleeping. Whether you let them go for it, or you intervene, is up to you.

Read next: Toddler development: What to expect at 25-36 months

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