One of the most common questions I am asked as a sleep consultant is, “When should we move him/her into a big bed?” My favourite answer to this is, “Later,” and there are a couple of reasons why I say that.
Number one is because there are so many other priorities when it comes to your child’s sleep. Establishing a bedtime routine, teaching independent sleep skills, getting your baby accustomed to a schedule, are all things that should take place before you worry about moving him/her out of the cot. Believe me, it’s going to be a lot easier to make the transition once you’ve got a good, skilled sleeper on your hands.
The other reason I tell parents to wait as long as they can is because, unless you’ve got a new baby on the way and need to make some space in the cot, there’s just no reason to push it. Toddlers will inevitably notice that they sleep in a different bed than their parents, or their older siblings, and will ask why. Once they’ve shown some interest, and feel like they want to make the switch, I’m all for it. But don’t look at it as some kind of developmental stage that your child should reach at a predetermined age. They’ll get there when they get there, and there’s no harm if it’s later rather than sooner.
I should actually throw in a little disclaimer here. If your little one has started the ‘escape artist’ routine, and is climbing out of their crib in a dangerous way, there’s potentially some harm if they fall on their way out.
However, if they’ve got the skills to get out of the cot safely, (and some kids I know are exceptional at climbing out of their cots) then, I once again recommend sticking with the cot.
One of the biggest reasons I see for parents moving their children to a big bed, is because they’re hoping it will solve some existing sleep issues. Maybe the child’s got into a habit of climbing into bed with Mum and Dad, or they’re suddenly waking up and demanding a glass of milk in the middle of the night. So maybe a big bed would help them feel more grown up. Maybe it would give them a feeling of security and comfort.
It will not. Full stop.
In all my time as a consultant, and with all of the other consultants I network with, to my knowledge, none of us have ever seen bad sleep behaviour solved by moving baby to a new bed.
Now, I recognise that some of you are numbers people and you want an age, even if it’s just a guideline, so I would say 2½ is probably the earliest you want to implement this change. But again! That’s just a guideline, and later is better. My own daughters were almost 4!
So, now that I’ve told you to wait as long as possible, how about those of you who have done that already, and are now making the switch? The first thing you might notice is how quickly and easily your little one makes the transition. Your little one climbs into the new bed, loves the cool print on the new sheets, and sleeps happily straight through the night. So maybe you’re in the clear! Or maybe you’re not. There’s typically a honeymoon period with the big bed. Children initially think they’re great, but then, after a couple of weeks, they start to wake up and leave their room in the middle of the night, asking to get into bed with Mum and Dad. You may be tempted to comply with this request, but I strongly suggest you put an early and absolute moratorium on bed sharing at this point. If your child starts leaving their room in the night, walk them back, tell them it’s not allowed, and let them know what the consequence will be if they do it again.
Again, regardless of how sweet the request is, or how easy it might be to just flip back your comforter and let your little one climb aboard, don’t give in. You really need to make it clear that it’s not allowed, or you’ll be dealing with night time roaming for months.