YouTube is crammed with videos of ingenious toddlers scaling the bars of their cots in gymnastic bids for freedom. Adorable as these pint-sized Houdinis may be, once a toddler gets the hang of flying the coop, it’s time to deal with yet another childhood milestone: the move to a big bed.
Even if your toddler hasn’t yet risked a nasty fall in his or her quest to ‘escape’, a big bed might still be necessary if the cot is becoming too small, is needed for a new baby, or is preventing a toilet-training toddler from getting up to go to the loo.
While there are no hard and fast rules on this, most toddlers make the move to their own beds any time between 18 months and three and a half years.
With a little preparation, you can minimise the tears that often ensue … both your toddler’s and yours.
CHOOSING THE RIGHT TIME
Plan to move your toddler to the big bed during a stable time in your family life. Moving to a new bed can be very stressful for both you and your toddler, so it’s best not to make the move during periods of upheaval, such as starting nursery school, when you’re going back to work, or when you or your child is sick.
If your toddler is leaving the cot because of a new baby, it’s best to make the move at least six weeks before or a few months after the birth, so that she doesn’t feel as if she’s being booted out by baby.
PREPARING THE NEW NEST
If your child is old enough, create excitement around the change by going shopping together for new bed linen or a new soft toy to share the big bed. Create a sense of continuity by moving over some familiar items from the cot, such as a favourite blanket or teddy, or reposition a much-loved cot mobile over the new bed.
It’s also imperative to invest in a mattress protector to ensure easy cleaning after inevitable nappy leaks and toilet-training accidents, and to prevent staining of the new mattress. (Remember that unlike a foam cot mattress, you can’t wash a bed mattress.)
SA’s leading mattress protector brand, Protect-A-Bed®, advises parents to choose a mattress protector that’s super absorbent, with a waterproof layer that won’t crinkle noisily every time your toddler shifts. It’s also a good idea to invest in two mattress protectors, so there’s always a spare on hand so that middle-of-the-night linen changes can be dealt with quickly and calmly.
Now that the new bed’s taken care of, it’s time to prepare the rest of the house. Your toddler will no longer be confined to the safety of the cot, so reassess your home for potential dangers.
If the new bed has no sides, you can install bed rails, or place cushions, pillows, or folded duvets and blankets onto the floor beside the bed to soften any night-time rolling mishaps.
To stop your toddler coming to any harm while wandering about unsupervised, install a baby gate across the bedroom door, and ensure stairs are barricaded. (Check that your toddler can’t use his cot-climbing skills on these gates.)
Check that all plug points are covered, tidy up electrical cords and wind up blind cords that could be a strangling hazard.
If there are items of furniture which your toddler could pull over, such as book and toy shelves, secure these to the wall with brackets.
Check that windows, especially upstairs windows, can’t be opened wide enough for your toddler to fall out.
You’ve prepared the new bed, secured your house, and talked up the change until even the family dog is vibrating with excitement. All that’s left now is to make the switch.
Some children are quite happy to wave goodbye to their cot and never look back, moving in one jump from cot to bed.
Others cope better if allowed to move over in stages. Consider starting with daytime naps in the big bed, sleeping in the cot only at night. Or have your toddler spend a few nights sleeping on the cot mattress on the floor beside the bed before making the final move.
Whichever route you choose, stick to your toddler’s usual bedtime routine to lessen the upheaval.
COPING WITH THE FALLOUT
Despite your best attempts to make the move an exciting and positive one, your toddler may still struggle to adjust. Moving from the security of their familiar cot can be extremely stressful for little ones, no matter how excited they might have been about that new Frozen duvet cover or Buzz Lightyear bed.
Whether it’s true distress at being in a new bed, or simply the novelty of being able to hop out of bed whenever they choose, many toddlers struggle to stay put and will initially get up repeatedly. Here are two methods that can be used to keep your toddler in bed.
The first is to immediately return your toddler to bed, making as little fuss as possible. Preferably don’t even talk to your child, and definitely don’t get angry; any response from Mom and Dad – be it positive or negative – simply rewards the behaviour. Be prepared to have your patience sorely tried, as you will likely have to return your toddler to bed twenty, thirty, even a hundred times in an evening. With perseverance and consistency however, this method usually sorts out the problem within a few days.
Otherwise try the gradual approach; it generally takes longer, but is less taxing on the nerves. Begin by sitting silently next to your child’s bed at night until he or she falls asleep. Over the following nights, gradually move closer and closer to the door until your child falls asleep without you in the room.
If both these methods fail, your toddler may not be ready for the move. If you’re able to, consider bringing back the cot for a short period. Don’t see this as a defeat, or that you’re giving in to your child; some littlies just need more time, and may move over without fuss when you try again in a few weeks.
Be patient and give your toddler time to adjust to what is a major milestone in his or her life, and before you know it, the cot will be a distant memory.