How to survive the move to the big bed

Updated: Mar 29, 2021

Are you dreading the move to the big bed? Are you worried that your little one will climb out of their bed at bedtime and stop sleeping through the night? Read on to learn all of my secrets in how to move your toddler into their big bed without any of the drama.

When it’s time to move your toddler to a big bed

It is usually recommended to keep your little one in a cot as close as possible to their third birthday. The reason for this is simply that younger children lack impulse control and are less likely to stay in bed. A big exception to this rule is once your little one attempts to climb out of their cot it is time for the move to the big bed. This could happen as early as 18 months of age but usually happens between the ages of 2-3 ½. You can discourage this by using a sleeping bag but if this fails, it is best to move to a big bed for safety reasons.

Arrival of a sibling

It is best to avoid moving your toddler out of the cot because a new baby is coming along as this could result in your toddler resenting the new baby for taking away their cot. If you still need to move your toddler out of the cot before the new baby arrives and they are old enough for a big bed, I recommend packing the cot away a few months before the arrival of the new baby and setting it up again once the baby is here. This signals a clear distinction to your toddler that the cot did not go from their room to their siblings room straight away.

In order to discourage your toddler from leaving their bed when they are woken by their crying sibling, prepare them for this. Explain that the new brother/sister will be crying at night and will need to be fed. Use lots of positive language when explaining this transition and praise them for staying in bed.

Choosing a bed and bed safety

When choosing a bed for your toddler there are a few different options you can go with:

Floor mattress

Put either a cot or single mattress directly on the floor. This can help reduce injuries from falling out of bed. Ensure the mattress is positioned away from the wall so your toddler cannot get trapped between the wall and mattress. It is also important to ensure that the area around the mattress is kept clear of any soft objects (toys, bean bags, plastic bags etc.) as these pose a suffocation risk if your little one rolls onto them.

Toddler Bed

Another option is to use a toddler bed. They are at a lower height than adult beds thus reducing the risk of injury from falling out of the bed. Many cots convert into toddler beds so this can be a more cost effective option.

Adult height bed

An adult height single bed is also an option but risk of injury from falling out of bed is a lot higher. To avoid this, bed rails can be installed but it is important to do this safely. Ensure that there are no gaps larger than 95 mm in between the mattress and the rail where your little one could get stuck in. It is recommended to check the bed rails every night to ensure they are still snug against the mattress. Also make sure to only use portable bed rails on adult sized beds with a box spring and do not use them with children younger than 2. Also very important to only use an adult mattress after 2 years of age as adult mattresses are too soft for younger children.

Bean bags, sofas and air mattresses are not safe and bunk beds should not be used for children under the age of 9.

Other safety precautions

  • Only introduce pillows and blankets once your little one is 2 years old, ensure it is a small pillow and thin blanket

  • Install a baby gate at the door so your toddler cannot roam the house unsupervised

  • Ensure there are no dangling cords or strings within reach

  • Best to avoid sleeping bags as your toddler could fall and hurt themselves, ‘thick footed pajamas can be used as an alternative

  • Install safety locks on any windows that your toddler can reach

  • Install power point covers

  • Attach any heavy furniture to the wall so they cannot fall on your little one

  • Take anything your little one could climb on out of the room (chairs, ladders etc.)

How to get your toddler to stay in the big bed

To ensure bedtime does not turn into a battle and your little ones stays in bed follow these tips:

  • If you don’t already have one, put a good bedtime ritual into place and follow the same steps everyday to signal to your toddler that it is time for bed soon. An example of a great ritual is a relaxing bath, followed by a small snack and a story and then explain to your toddler that it is time for bed.

  • Ensure the bedroom is a calm place, pack away toys and dim the lights.

  • Get your toddler to climb into bed, say good night and explain to your little one what will happen (“it’s sleep time, sweet dreams”).

  • Should your toddler get out of bed, return them to bed silently. The less you interact with your toddler when returning them to bed, the quicker they will get bored. You can say something along the lines of ‘let’s go back to bed, it’s sleep time’ at the first return but best to stay silent at any subsequent returns.

  • Role play bedtime with your toddler, use a sibling, doll or soft toy to show your little one what they are expected to do at bedtime and give lots of praise to the sibling or toy when they are staying in bed and ‘going to sleep’.

  • Create some bedtime ‘rules’ and come up with a rewards chart for your toddler. For every rule your little one follows they get a sticker and once they have a certain amount of sticker you can reward them with a bigger gift or a family outing.

Limit setting

If your toddler keeps asking for one more story, one more cup of water, and one more trip to the bathroom before bed it’s best to set some limits. You can put a water bottle next to the bed, and ensure your little one has a good dinner and bedtime snack everyday.

Explain to your toddler that you will read x amount of stories before bed and stick to it. Offer one last trip to the bathroom before your little one hops into bed and stick to it. You can leave a light on in the hallway if your toddler can go to the bathroom by themselves and explain they can go to the toilet without waking you up.

Sleep trainer clock

You can also introduce a sleep trainer clock to help your little one stay in bed. Most clocks have a blue light to indicate that it is night time and turn yellow once ‘the sun comes up’, this can help with early morning wake ups and overnight wakings. Explain to your toddler what the clock is and how it works and get them excited about it. Praise your little one the next morning for staying in bed.

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