Mastering the Transition from Cot to Bed

Making the move from cot to bed can strike fear in the heart of most parents! Will your child make the move without minimum disruption, or will all your good bedtime habits go out the window ? Lucy Wolfe from Sleepmatters has tips for parents on mastering the transition from cot to bed.



The right age

Keep toddlers in the cot for as long as possible – I would suggest making this transition around 2.5 to 3 years of age.

Developmentally then, your child has the mental reasoning necessary to understand words like “stay in your bed all night”. You want your young child to have some impulse control, thus when you issue an instruction to them, not only do they understand what you are saying, but they can also make an effort to comply.

I often see parents making the move to the big bed significantly sooner than when this developmental skill set emerges. Many parents will find that this early transition is seamless, while others will find that it only works because they are lying down and staying with their child at bedtime and perhaps also sleeping with them during the night (either in their bed or indeed the family bed).

Be sure the timing is right

This transition may also coincide with your plans to toilet train your youngster and you don’t want to overload them with lots of changes all at once. It makes sense to transition to the big bed first and then tackle the training, but you will know your own child best.

It may also coincide with the arrival of a new brother or sister. If so, don’t rush the transition from cot to bed, with rumblings about the cot being required for the baby, as this baby may already be treading on your toddlers toes.

Is your toddler showing the right behaviour ?

If your young child is inclined to climb out of the cot, then you may be required to teach your toddler the necessary cot behaviour, such as “no climbing” before immediately trying a big bed.

Supervise and encourage them while they learn.

Involve them in the new sleep plans

  • Before making the big move from cot to bed, it is worth discussing your plans with your toddler and giving him or her a sense of ownership over their sleeping arrangements.
  • It can sometimes be helpful to give them lots of small choices around their sleep such as where the bed should go, where they will keep their books and what duvet cover they would like.
  •  I sometimes have parents make a little book with their child, to show them in words and in pictures the new sleeping arrangements.
  • Get your small person invested in the new sleep plans – take them shopping to pick out the new bed and bed linen and let them “help” you organise the bedroom for the new bed.

Introduce a reward chart

It may be helpful to introduce a reward chart outlining some behaviour that you would like to see, for example “co-operates at bedtime”, “stays in bed until morning”.  Using positive re-enforcement and praising the complaint behaviour, can make this new arrangement easier.

Change existing bedtime routines

You will need to amend your existing bedtime routine and make sure that you are firm about the boundaries. Try not to fall into the trap of “one more story”, as these stalling techniques can often spiral out of control. Avoid agreeing to stay lying down with your child or holding hands at bedtime, unless you plan to co-sleep or room share.

Be structured with bedtime

  • Parents should have a structured bedtime routine. With the exception of wash up/bath/teeth, the remainder of bedtime routine should happen exclusively in the child’s bedroom so that they can have positive associations with sleep.
  • I often use a lamp on a timer to indicate the start and the end of the routine that should happen before they climb into bed.
  • Have a predictable sequence of events that happens within 20-30 minutes before sleep time. Enjoy this close, one to one time with your child and indulge in lots of physical and eye contact, and low key activity such as book reading, storytelling and also relaxing exercises.

What to do if not working

At the start if your toddler keeps getting out of the bed, calmly return him/her to the bed and explain that it is sleep time now.

If your child is struggling to adjust to the bed, you may have made the change too soon. Don’t panic, just put them back in their cot and wait a little longer.

Lucy Wolfe CGSC. MAPSC, Paediatric Sleep Consultant (birth-6years) and mum of four.  She helps families to establish healthy sleep with personlised plans, without leaving children to cry it out…            You can contact Lucy on tel: 087 2683584, web:, and facebook:

RelatedSleep – What every parents should know and Baby & Child Sleep : How clocks changing affects them.

Have you got a tip to share that helped your child when you moved them from cot to bed? Feel free to share it with us in the comments below

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