Cot to Bed Transition

It’s exciting and rewarding when your child reaches any kind of milestone, whether it’s a physical milestone like learning to walk, or a speech language milestone like baby’s first word. Another important milestone is a little less understood but is just as important. This is your child’s move towards independence with daily tasks and activities. Just like other milestones, when these things occur, will depend on your child’s neurological/cognitive development and readiness and this will be different for all children. This applies to the cot to bed transition.

Learning opportunities

Children are like sponges; they learn by example and constantly soak up new information without even consciously being aware of it. You, as the parent, naturally and often subconsciously offer learning opportunities for your child every day. You are the ‘constant’ in your child’s daily life which means you are their closest role model and first teacher. Even a nine-month-old baby will watch and copy what his or her parents do and learn just from observation. Young children learn quickly and efficiently as their brains are developing at a rapid rate.

It’s about realistic expectations

In simple terms, our children are ready to learn a new skill when that skill aligns with their neurological ability to understand and apply the skill to a new situation. They will be ready when they are ready developmentally and not before. Unfortunately this can be where our best intentions can come unstuck because in our haste to witness our children mastering something new, we can have unrealistic expectations of them, especially around independence. This rings true for parents with children of any age ranging from babies to school age and even teenage children! Whatever age your child is, when the situation presents itself around an opportunity for you to allow them some independence, you should always begin with the question, ‘is my child developmentally and neurologically ready?’

What about moving from a cot to a bed?

I implore you to keep your child in a cot as close to three years of age as you can, no matter what the circumstances. It’s common for parents to align this transition with the arrival of a new baby but this may not be the best course of action. If your toddler is not ready for a big bed, you would be better to have two children in two cots, than a toddler who keeps getting out of bed all night whilst you are also looking after a new baby. The one exception to this would be if your child is climbing out of the cot in which case it would be unsafe. The reason for keeping your child in their cot for as long as possible is that under three years old, children are usually not developmentally ready for this level of independence because they have limited impulse control. If they are put into a big bed before they are ready, it’s an unfair expectation to ask them to stay in their bed because the natural impulse for them is to get out and come to you for your company and attention. This inevitably makes staying in bed for your child a losing battle. It can cause unnecessary issues with sleep.


If you think your toddler might be ready for ‘the big move’,

use this checklist to make sure: 


🔲  Ensure your child is developmentally ready and has some level of impulse control

🔲  Spend a few days talking to your child about what is to come

🔲  Make bedtime a positive experience by using role-play to demonstrate the new bedtime process

🔲  Have clear boundaries and consequences around bedtime and be consistent with these

🔲  Allow your child some choice as to how the bed and room looks and feels as this gives your child some control over the situation

🔲  Establish a relaxing, unrushed and consistent bedtime routine

🔲  Consider a night light and toddler clock

🔲  Make sure your child’s room is safe

🔲  Avoid ‘making the move’ during other major times of transition like starting daycare, moving house or welcoming a new baby

🔲  Expect some sleep upsets for the first couple of nights so be patient as your child adjusts

Need help with your toddler’s sleep?