From cot to bed
Most children move from cot to bed when they’re between two and three years old.
There’s no hurry, though. And there are some advantages to leaving your child in a cot if they’re happy there. For example, your child can’t fall out of the cot. And you can put off the cost of buying a new bed and bedding for a while longer.
It's also best to wait until your child is emotionally ready to move to a bed and physically able to get in and out of the bed safely.
Sometimes the shift to a bed brings a few new bedtime challenges, and you might want to choose when you deal with these.
Why children might move from cot to bed
It might be time for your child to move to a bed if:
- your child has started climbing out of the cot, which puts them at risk of falling
- your child is toilet training and needs to be able to get to the toilet easily during the night
- you have a new baby who needs the cot
- you’ve decided to move your child out of your bed and into their own bed.
If you need advice, talk with your child and family health nurse.
If you’re moving your child into a bed to free the cot for a new baby, try to move your child either a few months before the baby is born or when the baby is a couple of months old. This way your child won’t feel that the move is because of the new baby, which could cause resentment towards their new sibling. You could also borrow or hire a second cot if you have a young toddler who isn’t ready to move.
Making the bedroom safe
When children move from a cot into a bed, they can also get out of bed more easily. This means they can do whatever they want in their bedrooms.
A safety check of the bedroom will help to prevent accidents. For example:
- Install safety locks on windows, so the window can be opened only a little. Make sure the gap isn’t big enough for your child to climb through.
- Wrap curtain and blind cords around cleats attached to the wall at least 1.6 m above the floor. Keep hanging mobiles out of your child’s reach. These things could strangle your child.
- Use powerpoint covers. Ensure electrical appliances like heaters meet Australian safety standards. If your child isn’t safe around electrical appliances like heaters or vaporisers during the day, keep these things out of the bedroom at night. This will help to prevent your child from tripping or getting burned or electrocuted if they get up in the night.
- Attach furniture or other heavy objects to the wall with brackets so they can’t fall on your child.
- Keep choking hazards and anything poisonous out of the bedroom – for example, massage or aromatherapy oils, medicines, cleaning fluids or small objects like small toys, batteries and coins.
- Take away anything your child could climb on, like chairs and ladders.
- Think about installing a safety gate in the doorway of your child’s room. Or you could shut the door at night, as long as you can still hear your child. Otherwise you’ll need to make sure the rest of the house is safe for your child as well, in case your child gets up during the night.
You can read more in our article on home safety and in our illustrated guide to indoor safety.
Choosing a bed
When you move your child from cot to bed, you have a few options:
- Put a cot mattress or a single bed mattress on the floor, rather than moving your child straight into a bed. This reduces the risk of your child falling out of bed and being injured. Your child might feel safer too.
- Start with a toddler bed. Toddler beds are usually the same size as cots, and some cots even convert to toddler beds. They reduce the risk of your child falling out of bed and being hurt. And you can keep using your cot mattress and bedding.
- Use a single bed. An advantage of a single bed is that it’ll last a long time, although a single bed increases the risk of injury from falls.
Making a safe move from cot to bed
Whichever cot-to-bed option you choose, some simple precautions and planning can help keep your child safe:
- Choose a fairly firm mattress.
- Keep the bed or mattress on the floor away from walls to reduce suffocation risk.
- Keep pillows out of the bed for children under two years – pillows are a suffocation risk for young children. If your child uses a pillow, choose one that keeps your child’s head and neck in line with their back (probably 5-6 cm in height).
- If you choose a single bed, use bed rails to stop your child falling out of bed.
- Check the bed frame and the bed rails for gaps that your child could get stuck in. Make sure the rails and the bed frame fit tightly against the mattress. If there are a lot of gaps, a mattress on the floor is a safer option until your child is older.
- Avoid having heavy blankets or quilts in the bed. Keep the area on and around the bed or mattress clean and clear of soft toys, bean bags and anything else that might suffocate your child.
- If your child wears a baby sleeping bag in the cot, think about whether you’ll keep using it once they’re sleeping in a bed. There’s a higher risk of falls and injuries when children wear baby sleeping bags in bed. You could dress your child in ‘onesie’ pyjamas for warmth instead.
Helping your child settle into the new bed: tips
Here are some tips for making a successful change from cot to bed:
- Tell your child how proud you are. After all, moving into a bed is an exciting step towards being a big kid!
- Tell your child all about the plans to set up the new bed – and make sure they know it’ll be fun.
- Get your child to help you set up the new bed. If it seems like a fun idea, take your child shopping to choose the bed or bedding. Let your child watch while you move the furniture in the bedroom. Children usually feel happier when they’ve had a say in the move too.
- Let your child make a gradual transition to the bed if they need to. For example, you could have your child’s new bed set up ready in their room while they’re still using their cot. Or start with day naps in the bed and night-time sleeps in the cot.
- Why not throw a big-bed party and celebrate the move to the big bed?
Using a bedtime routine to help the move from cot to bed go well: tips
Moving into a big bed can be unsettling for your child. A new bedtime routine might ease the change:
- Have ‘quiet time’ before bed. Pack away toys and prepare the bedroom as a place of quiet rest, rather than somewhere exciting.
- Encourage your child to climb into bed if possible. Also, when children can pull up their own bedcovers and arrange pillows the way they want, they sometimes feel more settled.
- Let your child take a blanket from the old cot – this might help your child feel more secure and comfortable.
- Say goodnight. Tell your child what you expect and what’s going to happen next. Say something clear and positive like, ‘It’s time to go to sleep – see you in the morning!’ This can make bedtime seem less scary.
- Try a reward chart to ease your child into the new bedtime routine. Your child could get a sticker as they finish each pre-bedtime activity.
Some children will get out of bed, just because they can! If this happens, help your child back to bed straight away. You can say something like, ‘It’s time to go to bed – see you in the morning’. Then leave the room. You might have to do this several times until your child stays in bed or settles.