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Moving your toddler into their own big bed is an exciting time for both you and your child. This transition highlights your child’s growing maturity, independence and ongoing development and is a real landmark of the next phase. As it is a big adjustment, I will always encourage parents’ careful consideration about when the right time to make this change might be.
As a general rule I promote that the ideal candidate for a big bed is a child who is:
(a) no longer napping
(b) who has been toilet trained-by day at least
(c) who is aged over 3 years.
This guidance is born of identifying not only a readiness but also a developmental capacity for this transition; meaning that the transition goes smoothly, continuing to promote restful and peaceful sleep for the whole family unit.
Waiting until your child is older than 3 means that developmentally, “impulse control” is emerging, which is represented by not only understanding what you are asking of them, but also able to see guidance through- such as “don’t touch the fire” “hold my hand to cross the road” or of course “stay in your bed”.
Most children will biologically require a nap until closer to age 3- as they get close to the nap no longer being needed- the nap itself may become a challenge- made even harder if trying to achieve the nap in a bed, so if you wait until the nap has retired then you will only be attempting to help them get to sleep exclusively at bedtime- which without a nap, and when well-timed based on your child’s age and adequately prepared- can be easier to master.
If your child has been toilet trained already, then you also know that developmentally they are able to follow and complete instructions- and they will have practised this with toilet-going, which also seems to make the big bed transition easier as well. They don’t need to be night-time trained as it is not to do with that- but more so, how they process and experience what is being asked of them.
As all family dynamics are different, many parents will make the change to a big bed much sooner that I am proposing, and their child’s sleep even improves as a result – but it is also possible that by making the move too early, then their sleep prolife is further undermined. Ultimately, you will know your own child best and what feels right for your family unit. Whenever you feel that it is the right time for you -then I might make the following additional suggestions.
When selecting your bed and mattress consider comfort preferences as you would your own mattress and bed selection. Being physically comfortable and feeling physically and emotionally supported is integral to positive sleep associations.
If it is possible, involve your child in the process of picking, purchasing, and assembling the bed and bedding in their bedroom. Allowing them a sense of ownership and control over what you buy, and even just where you place it in the room-helps to invest your child in the new sleeping arrangements. It also helps to define both your child’s place of sleep and demonstrates the faith and trust that you have in your child- continually affirming their being and their place in the family.
Ensure that the bedroom itself is sleep-inducing. For example- dark without too many distractions- consider blackout blinds, a night-light to help your child feel safe and secure in their bedroom and warm enough too. Consider both the bedroom temperature- recommended 16-20 degrees, and the clothes that they are wearing- adjusted to the season. They won’t sleep well if we are too hot or too cold-so this can mean making an ongoing review throughout the year.
Make the bedroom itself, a place that your child likes to be- play with them in the bedroom, get them dressed in their bedroom and go to the room often throughout the day- nothing to do with sleep time- so that they develop a positive regard and felt-sense of security and belonging in the room. Feeling safe and secure in the overall context of their sleep and environment plays a significant role in promoting high quality, consolidated sleep tendencies.
When children are ready to be in a big bed their participation in the process can be promoted by creating a photo-book that illustrates the bedtime process- with words and familiar pictures that you have taken in your home of the kitchen, the living room, the bathroom, and the bedroom, for example. By listing the steps that we take during our bedtime routine that formally builds a bridge over to the art of falling and staying asleep with greater ease.
A bedtime routine that happens in the bedroom- but not in the bed itself is also helpful to create a sense of separateness between the preparation for sleep and actually falling asleep. It can be effective to create a “bedtime routine zone” in the bedroom-expressed with a rug., cushions and fairly lights, for example- as a special space within which we can offer our wind-down time; that may include story time- puzzles, word searches or low impact games; creating the ideal culture for going asleep when the lights go out.
When you decide that the big bed transition is right for your child and family- the main message is that your child feels a part of the changes that you make, all delivered with a loving message; that promotes the sense that bedtime and sleep itself, is a positive and enjoyable experience that we prioritise, honour, and continue to adjust and encourage within each household.
Lucy Wolfe is a Sleep Consultant, Co-Creational Relationship Mentor, Post-Graduate Researcher (PhD) and Mum of four children. Lucy has been in practice for 12 years and is the author of the bestselling book - The Baby Sleep Solution.
Author Profile: Lucy Wolfe Bio