It is recommended to keep toddlers in the cot for as long as possible and don't make this transition until 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”.
Before making the big move, 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 what colour pyjamas do you want to wear - purple or pink? Which two books shall we read tonight? This may also coincide with your plans to toilet train your youngster and you don’t want to overload them with lots of changes all in the one go. It makes sense to transition to the big bed first, and then tackle the training, but you will know your own child best.
Try to avoid switching your toddler into the big bed at the same time that a new baby may be coming into the household, as you don’t want to add to any sense of displacement.
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.
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 behaviour that you would like to see more of can make this transition seamless.
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. It may be helpful to use a timer for the bedtime routine. Also, avoid agreeing to stay lying down with your child or holding hands at bedtime, unless you plan to co-sleep or room share.
In the event your toddler gets out of bed, quietly and calmly return them to bed without too much fuss. Try not to re-enforce this behaviour by talking or interacting too much with them. Avoid carrying them back to bed, they should walk and climb into the bed themselves. However, ensure that your child feels safe and secure in this new environment.
Finally, 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.
This article is brought to you by Lucy Wolfe, CGSC, MAPSC, Paediatric Sleep Consultant birth-6 years. Owner of Sleep Matters-Help Your Child Sleep, A gentle approach to getting children to sleep.