Moving to a big boy or big girl bed is a very exciting time for a child. It is a huge milestone in your child’s life and should be celebrated! Parents have varying reasons to make the move and for some parents, the concept of the move can be quite nerve-racking. But do not fear, the transition can be smooth! One of the most common reasons for the transition is that the child has either outgrown the cot or has started to cot jump. These are both causes for concern, however, make sure you think long and hard about making the move to a bed. Making the transition too soon can cause all sorts of sleep issues. To set you and your child up for success, we have outlined our top tips!
- The most important piece of advice we can give you is to wait until your child is cognitively prepared to make the move to a bed. Often parents move their child to a bed around the age of two. This is much too early for a child to truly understand that with a new bed comes new responsibilities. A child closer to three (or older) is much more cognitively capable of understanding the responsibility involved with moving to a bed. A three-year-old is MUCH better at foreseeing the consequences of his actions. They are also able to resist the urge of getting out of bed to go and see what Mom and Dad are doing. Moving a child too early is one of the number one causes of sleep issues with older children!
- If your child is a ‘cot jumper’, moving to a bed will not solve the problem. Instead, now it will just be easier for them to come to visit you during the night. There are two types of cot jumpers, children who are very good at getting in and out without hurting themselves, and children who are not so limber. If you have a child who could hurt themselves, make sure you remove any objects which may cause injury and place a mattress or a pile of soft blankets on the floor beside the cot.
- What do you do if your child keeps jumping out? Stay strong. If you stay consistent, the behavior will come to an end. At bedtime tell your child that jumping out of the crib is not allowed and that if they do, Mummy or Daddy will just put them right back in. When your child inevitably still jumps out, calmly and quickly go and return her to the cot. The first few times this happens, you can calmly remind her of the rules by saying “getting out if your cot is not allowed, it is time for sleep”. After the third or fourth time however, you should not say anything. Simply return your child to the crib without saying a word. For many children, negative attention is still attention, and if you talk or get upset each time they jump out, they will likely keep doing it.
- If the problem persists, as a last resort you can use a ‘cot tent’. This makes it impossible for a jumper to get out of the crib, and it will ease your concerns and allow the entire family to sleep better at night.
- Eventually, the day will come when your child is definitely ready to make the move. When the big day does arrive, make it special! You can even have a family party to celebrate how big and responsible your child is! Now, with that said, make it fun, but not too fun! For example, you can get your child involved with picking out the new bed and choosing new bedding, but it’s a delicate balance. You don’t want to make too big of a deal about it because you don’t want to put added pressure on the child. If he gets really excited about the process he might have a hard time settling in and actually going to sleep.
- Make sure you clearly outline the new rules and responsibilities of sleeping in a bed and enforce them if your child starts testing boundaries. Stay consistent and any testing of the waters will pass. If your child comes out of his bed, employ the same strategies you would with a cot jumper. Calmly and quietly return the child to bed. Remember getting angry or talking to them is still giving them attention, which is what they want. Children at this age will come up with all sorts of tactics (they want one more hug, they are hungry or thirsty, they are cold). Make sure you deal with any of these issues at bedtime (child has gone to the bathroom, they had a snack and a drink, they are covered) so you feel comfortable not addressing them when they come out of bed.
- If your child comes out because he is thirsty, it is fine to place a small sippy cup of water (no other type of beverage) beside his bed. Explain that there will be no refills during the night and if he starts to request a refill, revoke the privilege of having a cup at his bedside for a period of time.
- Beware of the “honeymoon” phase. Most children do well with the transition until the fun wears off. Once the novelty is gone and the child gets comfortable (usually around the three-week mark) then the games usually startup. The key is to be prepared ahead of time so you know what to do when this happens. Remember to be consistent and use a silent return to the room.
- You can also offer rewards to your child if they stay in bed. If your child can stay in his bed until morning, until the clock says 7:00, they can have a reward. The rewards need to be as immediate as possible for this age group, or else they won’t be motivating at all. For older children reward charts work well. Make sure you put a digital clock in their room and tape over the minutes. Teach your child that they cannot come out of the bedroom until the clock reads ‘Magic 7’.
Soon enough your child will become used to the idea of sleeping in a proper bed and will understand that just because there are no bars holding him in, this doesn’t mean he’s free to wander wherever he likes at bedtime. Like anything when it comes to parenting, it will take persistence on your part, but before you know it your child will be sleeping peacefully in their big-kid bed!
Sleep can be a challenge and we are always here to help with great free training, downloads, and resources. Join my free Slumber Made Simple Facebook Group, I host monthly free training on Newborn Sleep and for children from 4 months through 5 years in my Save Your Sanity Sleep Bootcamp, and share my secrets to sleep in my 7 Tips for Restful Sleep Guide, which you can access here and start changing your sleep today! Also, check out my Instagram where you can get even more tips and tricks for successful sleep!
My name is Courtney Zentz, a Pediatric Sleep Consultant from Philadelphia, PA, Postpartum Doula, Lactation Counselor and founder of Tiny Transitions. As an award-winning sleep consultant, I help exhausted parents teach their infants & toddlers to sleep well every night with gentle, customized solutions and both group and private coaching options, so your family can all be at their best. Based in Philadelphia, I work in-home and virtually to provide the support families around the globe that need to all be at their best. Join me in my Slumber Made Simple Facebook group, where you can ‘meet’ me in my live weekly Q&As, get valuable free content and build a healthy sleeper for life!