This is a common sleep challenge and an area of sleep many parents worry about. Common questions include… “What age should I transition my toddler to a bed”? “Will they sleep better in a bed”? “Will I lose sleep again”? “Will my child stop sleeping well”? “Will I be up all night”?
At some point your child will outgrow their cot and they will need to sleep in a bed but there is an age where this transition becomes more appropriate. Bed sleeping can be a challenging area for children under the age of 3. This is because developmentally they are unlikely to understand the concept of staying in bed ALL night. Sleep challenges can occur when we move a child to a bed too early, simply because they are no longer confined to a cot and they are able to get out of the bed. How we deal with a child getting out of bed can actually make matters worse, it is easy to over-intervene. For example you may start going in to the room more often to encourage your child to get back into bed (stimulation), you may lay down with them for another cuddle (negotiations), this may then lead to you laying down with them until they eventually fall asleep (associations). You may start doing more and more to encourage your child to go to bed, this process becomes exhausting for you, it can become your child’s new sleep crutch and as a result your child may end up having less night sleep which is of no benefit.
So what is my advice?
In the case where your child is happy cot sleeping and there are no safety concerns with trying to climb out of the cot, I recommend leaving them in the cot until at least the age of 3. At 3 years of age or older, children are better able to comprehend staying in bed for the entire night. Sleep rules are better understood and your child developmentally is mature enough to understand bedtime boundaries and expectations. It is important to consider room safety i.e. is there anything in the room where your child’s safety is at risk? It is important to consider whether you trust your child to be in the room alone and not confined to a cot. Can you trust your child to stay in bed and respect bedtime rules (maybe not if they are too young)?
What to do if you are having sleep challenges with bed sleeping?
If your child is under the age of 3 you need to consider whether it is appropriate to return them to cot sleeping until they are developmentally ready to sleep in a bed. Don’t think of this as something you have failed at, it’s just a sign your child wasn’t quite ready.
If your child is over the age of 3, routine charts and bedtime rules work well at this age. You can have your child create and personalise a bedtime routine chart and you can refer to the routine chart each night and as necessary to reinforce your bedtime routine. It is important to have firm boundaries and not get into the situation of responding to endless requests. It is important to not get into the situation of having your child sleep in various locations i.e. starting to sleep in their bed at the beginning of the night but then coming into your bed in the early hours of the morning. If you want your child to sleep in their own sleep space consistency is essential in having them stay in their bed and return to their bed. To make it easier for your child to accept bedtime boundaries it is important that they have daytime boundaries in place as well. Stick to your limits during the day i.e. one more turn on the swing means one more turn on the swing, one more story means one more story. How we respond to our children’s requests during the day helps with shutting down endless requests at night, making the process much easier.
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