SLEEP: How to move your toddler to a 'big' bed
Moving your toddler to their ‘big’ bed is an important milestone for the whole family, and the process can prove challenging for all involved. Factors that need to be considered include whether your toddler is the only child in the family; if there’s a new baby on the way, or if a new baby has already arrived; if you currently bed-share/co-sleep; and what you need to do to create the perfect, safe sleep environment. It’s no wonder this topic has many parents feeling anxious and unsure of how to proceed. With a little careful planning, and an inclusive approach, this need not be a time fraught with difficulties. Read on for tips on how to make this as easy as possible, including how to know when they’re ready, and what safety tips to consider.
WHAT’S YOUR FAMILY DYNAMIC?
Many parents will testify to the intensity of the early years with babies and toddlers, with sleep being a much-discussed topic. I can’t stress enough how important it is that the whole family gets enough sleep. Which is why understanding the needs of your family is key. If your toddler is the only child in the family, you can wait until your child is ready for changes to their sleeping arrangements. If you have a new baby on the way, you will likely need your cot to welcome your new arrival. With the clock ticking, this can place pressure on you and your toddler. But I’d like to gently remind you here that parenting is a long game. Yes, the days with young children can feel immeasurably long at times, but the early years really do pass in the blink of an eye. I don’t mean to suggest you should enjoy every moment. That notion is both unrealistic and laden with maternal expectations. Rather, if you’re struggling with your toddlers’ sleep, remember it is a season that will pass. Eventually.
WHEN SHOULD I MOVE THEM OUT OF THEIR COT?
Regardless of your unique family dynamic, as soon as your older baby is able to pull themselves up to stand in their cot, one side should be removed to create a daybed. The benefit in doing so is twofold: first, this will help keep your older baby safe and prevent any climbing/falling accidents; and second, this will help your almost-toddler adjust to a different sleep experience slowly. If your baby is active during sleep (mine definitely was!) you can pop cushions on the floor in case they roll out at night. I recommend you keep using your baby monitor until you feel confident they’re safe during the night. By the age of three or four, most children are ready for their ‘big’ bed, although your younger toddler may be very excited by this change and ask. Follow their lead, but also be prepared that it’s likely it will still take time for them to adjust. If you’re bed-sharing, you may decide to move them into their own bed in your bedroom to help ease their transition to independent sleep.
WHAT DO I NEED TO MAKE THEIR BEDROOM SAFE?
Your childrens’ safety is always the primary concern. Before removing one side of their cot, ensure all furniture is secured to the walls. Toddlers are renowned for their ability to climb and many a shocked parent has wandered into a room to find them half-way up a piece of furniture. Another point to consider is to remove all toys that could present as a choking hazard, even for three and four year old children. Some parents install a baby gate at their door to prevent them for exploring the house during the night. This is a personal choice, but one I agree with when used in conjunction with a baby monitor. However, please keep in mind that when your toddler begins using the potty/toilet, you may need to readjust your plan to given them access to bathroom facilities.
WHAT TYPE OF SLEEP ENVIRONMENT IS BEST?
Keeping your childs’ bedroom calm and quiet will help your toddler settle and (hopefully) sleep. Blocking out as much light as you can, having a small red nightlight (blue lights interrupt their sleep cycles), keeping their room free from noisy toys that are too stimulating and may be too tempting to ignore should they wake in the night. Monitor the temperature in their room. If either too warm or too cold, your toddler is unlikely to sleep well, meaning neither will you. Make sure they have a good mattress and good quality bedding in natural fibres to help their skin breathe.
WHAT TYPE OF BED IS BEST?
Choosing a bed for your toddler can be really fun to do together. Toddlers love to exercise decision-making abilities and be involved in family activities. Pick two or three beds you like, that are safe, and ask them to pick one. Extendable beds are a brilliant solution and will convert from a cot bed to single with ease. They are often lower to the floor than standard single beds, making it easy for your toddler to get in and out independently. Moving from a cot straight into a single bed can often be a shock to toddlers, as there’s often too much space for them. They can feel a little lonely and benefit more from feeling snug and cosy in a smaller bed. As your child grows in both size and confidence, extend the bed. Voila!
CELEBRATE WITH A NEW DUVET SET!
At this age, we still have a lot of influence over our childrens décor, so it’s easy to select bedding that we like too. I’m all for giving children choices so allow them to pick something in their favourite colours. As is the case with choosing their bed together, choose a handful of duvet sets at a comfortable price point and have them pick their favourite. This time is the bittersweet end of one era and the beginning of a new one. A new duvet set will be exciting enough without the need to redecorate their whole room, something you may wish to do before they start primary school. Celebrate this and feel proud of how far you’ve both come since those early baby days.
SHOULD I REDECORATE THEIR WHOLE ROOM?
When faced with changing family dynamics, young children can become quite attached to their cots. This is compounded when a new baby arrives and is very much about a toddler’s fear of loss, so a gentle approach will help to ease them and reassure them. This is the most important thing parents can do at this age. This is not the age to create a space that is too grown up. As much as younger children delight in feeling ‘grown up’ when they accomplish new tasks, too much change could hinder any progress being made. When a new baby has arrived, many toddlers need help with not being the actual baby anymore. We don’t want to rush them. Keep their bedroom décor the same, reassuring them that only their bed is different.
HOW DO I KEEP MY TODDLER IN THEIR BED AT NIGHT?
For sleep-deprived parents, sadly, there is no magic cure to prevent young children from waking in the night. However, when toddlers start dropping their days naps, many parents find that their children start to sleep more through the night. Although waking is a perfectly natural occurrence, getting enough sleep for the whole family is crucial. There are many options to explore. As mentioned above, you may wish to keep using your baby-gate, or you may embrace having your small person climb into bed with you during the wee hours. Some parents also embark on a course of sleep-training whereby the child is escorted back to their bed. Personally, I found it easier to have my son with me as I didn’t have to get out of bed, settle them, and then go back to sleep. Find what works for your family.
SHOULD I KEEP THEIR TOYS IN THEIR BEDROOM?
In an ideal world, we’d all have spare rooms or large play spaces in which to store toys. For most families, space is a consideration, and many living spaces double as playrooms during the early years. Young children aren’t known for playing independently for long periods of time, especially in home areas separate from parents. If you’re able to keep most toys in another room, this will help prevent distractions when trying to get them into bed, and also provide a safe sleep space, as discussed above. A basket of books and some soft teddies are always lovely to have at hand, and if you find yourself lucky enough to have a child that doesn't wake you in the morning, should be ample to occupy them in the morning while you wake up.
WHAT ELSE CAN I DO TO MAKE THIS EASIER?
Toddlerhood, in my humble view, is fantastic! Our small people really shine during these early years. Full of wonder and joy, they’re funny and honest and unbelievably sweet and cute. It also a time in which our toddlers’ world shifts dramatically as huge milestones are reached; changing childcare arrangements, toileting, dropping naps, new babies, and deepening emotions all affect the way they understand their world. Helping them feel secure is the most important thing you can do and will impact positively for years to come.
What has worked for me, and our specific family dynamic, is staying with my son until he’s asleep. I understand this is not every parents choice, and it’s important for us to have boundaries around the little free time we have in the evenings, so getting kids to sleep on time matters. There’s also the risk of falling asleep with them (I know this very well!). However, I can’t deny that in doing so our journey to independent sleep has been easier, and I’ve relished that extra time I have with him. As mentioned already, involving your toddler in choosing their bed and duvet set will help them feel a sense of control, during a time of intense change.
A little careful planning and an inclusive approach will help your family navigate this respectfully and gently. We must always remember that every child is different, and every family is different. Follow your instincts, not what other families are doing. If you have any questions about childrens' bedding, please get in touch and take a look at Pipsqueaks' beautiful toddler bedding sets. I hope you've found this helpful and please do to share with your families and friends too.