Last updated on Jun 21st, 2021 at 10:50 am

YouTube is crammed with videos of toddlers scaling the bars of their cots in gymnastic bids for freedom. Adorable as these pint-sized Houdinis may be, once a toddler gets the hang of flying the coop, it’s time to deal with yet another childhood milestone: the move to a big bed.

Even if your toddler hasn’t yet risked a nasty fall in his quest to “escape”, a big bed might still be necessary if the cot is becoming too small, is needed for a new baby, or is preventing a potty-training toddler from getting up to go to the toilet.

While there are no hard-and-fast rules on this, most toddlers make the move to their own beds any time between 18 months and three and a half years.

Read more about moving from a cot to a big bed here.

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Preparing the new nest

If your child is old enough, create excitement around the change by going shopping together for new bed linen or a new soft toy to share the big bed. Create a sense of continuity by moving over some familiar items from the cot, such as a favourite blanket or teddy, or reposition a much-loved cot mobile over the new bed.

It’s important to invest in a mattress protector to ensure easy cleaning after 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.)

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Protect-A-Bed suggests the following tips to protect your toddlers mattress:

  • The mattress protector must be super absorbent. For this transition period, choose a protector with a cotton terry-towel surface that offers excellent absorbency and is soft, comfortable and silent for toddlers to sleep on.
  • Choose a mattress protector that is made in a fitted-sheet style, so it’s quick and easy to fit or remove in the middle of the night when accidents happen.
  • The mattress protector should be machine washable on hot, and should be able to be tumble dried.

Safety tips

Now that the new bed’s taken care of, it’s time to prepare the rest of the house. Your toddler will no longer be confined to the safety of the cot, so reassess your home for potential dangers.

  • If the new bed has no sides, you can install bed rails, or place cushions, pillows or folded duvets and blankets onto the floor beside the bed to soften any night-time rolling mishaps.
  • To stop your toddler from coming to any harm while wandering around unsupervised, install a baby gate across the bedroom door, and ensure the stairs are barricaded. (Check that your toddler can’t use his cot-climbing skills on these gates.)
  • Check that all plug points are covered. Tidy up electrical cords and wind up blind cords that could be a strangling hazard.
  • If there are items of furniture which your toddler could pull over, such as book and toy shelves, secure these to the wall with brackets.
  • Check that windows, especially upstairs windows, can’t be opened wide enough for your toddler to fall out.

Tips to move from the cot to the big bed

Some children are quite happy to wave goodbye to their cot and never look back, moving in one jump from cot to bed.

Others cope better if allowed to move over in stages. Consider starting with daytime naps in the big bed, sleeping in the cot only at night.

Whichever route you choose, stick to your toddler’s usual bedtime routine to lessen the upheaval.

Coping with the fallout

Despite your best attempts to make the move an exciting and positive one, your toddler may still struggle to adjust. Moving from the security of their familiar cot can be extremely stressful for little ones, no matter how excited they might have been about that new Frozen duvet cover.

Whether it’s true distress at being in a new bed, or simply the novelty of being able to hop out of bed whenever they choose, many toddlers struggle to stay put and will initially get up repeatedly.

Here are two methods that can be used to keep your toddler in bed.

  • The first is to immediately return your toddler to bed, making as little fuss as possible. Try not to talk to your child, and definitely don’t get angry. Any response from Mom and Dad – be it positive or negative – simply rewards the behaviour. Be prepared to have your patience tried, as you will likely have to return your toddler to bed many times a night. With perseverance and consistency, however, this method usually sorts out the problem within a few days.
  • A second option is to try the gradual approach. It generally takes longer, but is less taxing on the nerves. Begin by sitting silently next to your child’s bed at night until he or she falls asleep. Over the following nights, gradually move closer and closer to the door until your child falls asleep without you in the room.

If both these methods fail, your toddler may not be ready for the move. Consider bringing back the cot for a short period. Don’t see this as a defeat, or that you’re giving in to your child. Some little ones just need more time, and may move over without fuss when you try again in a few weeks.

Be patient and give your toddler time to adjust to what is a major milestone in her life. Before you know it, the cot will be a distant memory.