Transitioning from a cot to toddler bed: When is the right time?

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Are you dreading the big leap of transitioning from crib to toddler bed? Or are you thinking about it but not sure when is the right time?

It can be an anxious time for parents so let’s talk about the key things to be thinking about including the timing of the transition and how to do it.


How do you know when your little one is ready to transition to a big boy or big girl bed?

Below is what we would class as the key signs or drivers behind the decision to transition:

  • Climbing out of their cot
  • Outgrowing the cot
  • Expressing a desire for a bed

When a child is climbing out of their bed, you don’t have any choice but to transition them for safety reasons. Climbing out and falling is extremely dangerous for a little one. And even if you did extend the duration in their cot, you wouldn’t be able to relax knowing they could try and climb out at any point.

The typical age range for transitioning to a toddler bed is between 2 and 3 years old,  though each child is unique and may be ready at different times. 

For some families, they believe in a Montessori ethos and have their little one in a bed (usually a floor mattress) from much earlier. And whilst we absolutely respect those views, we personally think being in a cot until they are ready for that independence is the best option.

Whilst not always possible, 3 is a good age to start thinking about the transition. Their impulse control and emotional maturity is developing a bit more at this age, which is important when you are wanting them to stay in their bed. 

We didn’t move Rafferty into a bed until he was over 3 because we didn’t need to – he never climbed out and he had enough space. There was no need to rush something that didn’t need rushed.


Once you’ve determined that your child is ready for a toddler bed, it’s time to choose the perfect one. In order to make the transition as smooth as possible, you’ll want to think about things such as safety features, size, and design. Look for beds with safety guards to prevent them rolling out and falling onto the floor.

Many cots nowadays can be adjusted into toddler beds so check that out before you go out and buy a bed.


When it comes to size and design, opt for toddler beds that are low to the ground and smaller than a twin bed, making it easier for your little one to climb in and out safely. A smaller bed also helps create a cozy sleep environment and leaves more room for playtime, as opposed to a bunk bed which may be more suitable for older children.

Also, consider your child’s preferences and the overall theme of their child’s room when selecting the design. It’s so important to involve your little one in the process, allowing them to choose bedding and other decorative elements that reflect their personality and interests.

Empowering them to be part of the process can really help the transition as they are part of that, rather than the decision being forced upon them, which is more likely to cause problems.


Now that you’ve chosen the bed, it’s time to prepare their room for this exciting transition. You’ll want to focus on two main areas: childproofing potential hazards and creating a comfortable environment for your child to sleep in.

Childproofing should be your first priority. Make sure that any sharp edges or corners are covered, anchoring your furniture such as dressers and bookshelves, to the wall with furniture straps or wall anchors to prevent tipping, if you haven’t done so already.

Also, it may be worth considering installing baby gates. It’s not something we’ve always loved suggesting to families but many of them use stair gates regardless of whether they work with us or not. This added layer of security will give you peace of mind as your child adjusts to their newfound freedom and independence. It also creates some physical boundaries to avoid them running out of their bed consistently which can end up being a game.


We are sure you have this already but a comfortable environment is essential for helping your child feel at ease in their new bed. Choose breathable bedding materials and incorporate familiar items from their child’s cot, such as a favorite blanket or stuffed animal. This will help them feel more secure and relaxed in their new sleep space.

If you’ve already had that environment with the cot, we don’t propose any other changes – too much change at one time can be too much for a little one.


Involving your child in the transition process is key to creating a positive experience and giving them a sense of control. Toddlers crave control, so empowering them in processes like this is an amazing approach and really incorporates the psychology of children into our approach.

Here are some ways to involve them in the transition to a new bed:

  1. Let your little one choose their bedding.
  2. Discuss the upcoming change with them and answer any questions they may have. Do this in the morning time when your little one is more energetic and more open to listening to you.
  3. Practice getting in and out of their new bed together.
  4. By involving your child in the process, you can help them feel more comfortable and excited about the transition. It’s empowering them.

You can also use role play to help your child understand the expectations of staying in their own bed all night, especially when transitioning to a new bed. For example, use their favourite stuffed animals or dolls to demonstrate how they should go to sleep and stay in bed throughout the night. They can even “look after” the teddy – this is called the “Protector Shift”.

You can also use a “reward” chart to recognise the first night of your child staying in their bed. Lots of praise and recognition to reflect the massive achievement. This recognition can also be in the form of a special breakfast – it doesn’t have to be expensive, just something that they feel excited about and know they’re achievement has been recognised. We use the word reward in air quotes because we see it more as recognition. It’s definitely not a bribe, i.e. it’s not “if you do stay in bed you will get this”. You have to recognise their efforts AFTER the event happens.

By actively involving your child in the process, you’ll help them build excitement and confidence for this big transition.


A consistent bedtime routine is crucial for helping your toddler adjust to their new bed and improving sleep quality. We’re sure many of you have this in place already, so it’s a case of not making any big changes to the routine.


It’s not uncommon for toddlers to test boundaries and wander during the night after transitioning to a toddler bed. If your child gets out of bed, calmly return them to their room and to their bed, and consistently reinforce the expectation that they stay in bed throughout the night.

Be patient and understanding, as it may take some time for them to settle into their new sleep environment. By handling nighttime wandering calmly and consistently, you’ll help your child develop the skills and confidence needed to stay in bed all night.

The Rapid Return Sleep training method can be a great way to enforce these responsive boundaries.

This is where the stair can also come in very handy.


Some common challenges during the transition to a toddler bed may include early waking or difficulty staying in bed. A Sleep Training Clock to visually remind your child when it’s appropriate to get up in the morning can be helpful and encourage them to stay in bed longer and develop a consistent sleep schedule. Just make sure it’s not one that uses blue light, which can suppress the sleep hormone.

We do find the clock can be hit or miss. For some children, they see it and are very compliant towards it. Others may just ignore it! We also find that if your toddler is under 2.5 years old, they probably won’t understand the concept so well.


If your little one is having trouble sleeping or throwing tantrums after transitioning to a toddler bed, it may be necessary to revert back to the cot. We’ve done this with a few of our private clients when they’d moved to a bed too soon, i.e. they transitioned to a bed to try and fix their sleep issues, not for safety reasons.

If they are able to climb out of their cot, you won’t be able to move back to it, so thinking about a stair gate and a sleep training method may be your best and only options.

Before making any changes, assess your child’s readiness and consider any external factors, such as a new sibling or other major life changes, that may be affecting their ability to adapt to the new bed. Ultimately, the most important factor in your is their comfort and safety.


To ensure a successful transition from cot to toddler bed, remember to:

  • Wait for the right time
  • Involve your child in the process
  • Maintain a consistent bedtime routine
  • Be patient and supportive throughout the transition


In conclusion, transitioning your child from a cot to a toddler bed is an exciting milestone that requires preparation, patience, and support.

Try not to rush it either – we rushed it with our first (to give the cot to number 2), and whilst it went smoothly as he’s a very compliant boy, it could have been much a real challenge. In the end, he only started getting out the bed himself when he was nearly 5 years old!

Also, we really recommend that you don’t transition from a cot to a bed as a way to improve sleep issues. It very rarely does. You may get what we call a “bounce effect” where the excitment levels result in better sleep for a short-term period, but it doesn’t tend to last too long and the old sleep problems soon re-appear.


We are a husband and wife business, and are leading sleep consultants based in the UK. If you are having issues with your little one’s sleep, have a look at our sleep plans which range from an online plan to one-to-one coaching. If it feels like you’ve tried everything, then come and try the one thing you haven’t which we know works – that’s our proven sleep method Comforting Through Change™.

We also train people to become sleep consultants. So if you fancy a career change, one where you can be at home ALL the time, contact us via our Academy. We would love to hear from you.







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