Facilitating a successful ‘Prison Break’
Your individual instincts guide most of the decisions you are bound to make as a parent. This will factor into the decision when to move your child from a cot to a ‘big bed’. You may find yourself feeling a bit emotional about this as the cot represents the last vestige of babyhood. This move basically represents accepting that your little one is transitioning from infanthood to childhood.
So when is the right time to move your child? “There isn’t a right time, other than reading the signs of readiness in your child,” says Christina Rinaldi, a child psychologist at the University of Alberta. Safety should be your chief concern, so if your little one is already attempting to manoeuvre him or herself out the cot, it’s probably a sure sign you can start shopping for a bed and avoid the inevitable swan dive from the cot railing onto the hard floor below.
Most toddlers have the ability to climb over the cot rail when they are about 90cms in height and between 18 and 24 months of age. Some toddlers may prove to be particularly agile and try to climb out sooner while less adventurous toddlers happily remain in their cots.
The transition from cot to bed may be viewed by your toddler with trepidation which is why your approach to the ‘big move’ must be designed to result in success. First and foremost it is preferable that your toddler isn’t going through any other big changes like starting school, a new sibling arrival (which may have necessitated the need for the cot in the first place), moving house and so forth. This could result in your child feeling particularly vulnerable and unsettled which could result in the move from cot to bed being viewed as a punishment rather than something fun. Therefore as a parent it is imperative that the timing be right.
The following steps are suggestions on how to smoothly transition your toddler from cot to bed:
Step One: PREPARE YOUR CHILD FOR CHANGE
You need to begin preparing your child for the move. Let your child know that they are going to be moving into a new bed soon. You could even take your child along to ‘help’ pick out their bed. Also involve them in buying the bedding etc. Make sure that they are involved in the decision making. The idea is to create excitement about the move. If it is your intention to use a bed that previously belonged to their older sibling make a big fuss of preparing the bed for your child – cleaning, painting, sticking letters with their name on it are a few options to personalise the process. Your child will feel far more motivated to move if they are involved in the process.
Step Two: MOVE THE BED INTO THE ROOM
Not rushing the process is important. In order to help your child gradually acclimatise to this big change either put the bed directly next to the cot or alternatively, in the place where the cot was originally situated. Do not move the cot out of the room just yet. You could start by encouraging daytime naps on the bed as part of a transitional phase.
Step Three: SETTING THE SCENE
Prepare the bed for the ‘big move’. Allow your toddler to help you prepare the bed by putting the new sheets and bedding, they helped choose, on the bed. Keep talking about the bed they will soon be sleeping in and thank them for helping to get it ready. In order to create a safe and secure environment you need to take precautions to prevent them rolling off the bed. Some parents put a mattress on the floor for the first year or so to avoid this happening.
Other options are to put the bed against the wall and have a safety rail on the one side. A simpler option is to put pillows underneath the sheet to create a barrier between your sleeping child and the edge of the bed. It may also be a good idea to invest in a safety gate for the room. In this way the bedroom door can remain open but the gate ensures your child is safely contained in their room – thereby simply expanding his or her prison if you will.
Step Four: THE ‘BIG MOVE’
Ensure that you stick to the normal routine as closely as possible. If your child has a favourite doll or stuffed toy you could encourage them to put it to bed first. If your child is struggling to go to sleep and is stirring go ahead and enter the room and settle them down. It is important that this move doesn’t become a traumatic one. Tell your toddler that they need to learn to sleep in their new bed but that you will help by staying with them. Don’t let the child come out of the room – rather stay in the room with your child for a while instead.
Stay as close to the bed as necessary to start. You can move further and further away as they start to calm down and fall asleep. You could even consider sitting in a chair next to the safety gate outside the door. If you have chosen not to install a safety gate, you will need to calmly return your child to their bed every time they leave the room. Do not engage in conversation – merely say ‘it’s time for bed’ and lead them back to their room.
Step Five: USE PRAISE
Regardless of how unsettled your child was at first they will eventually fall asleep in their bed. When they wake in the morning, after sleeping the whole night through, praise their success. Ensure that they know how pleased you are with their achievement. This praise will make them even more positive about the change and boost their self-confidence.
Step Six: FINAL GOODBYE TO THE COT
Once your child is comfortable in their new bed remove the cot from their room. Prepare your toddler for this by letting them know, in advance, that it will be going.
Toddlers are likely to love the new-found freedom that comes with sleeping in a bed, but at the same time they will be testing the limits. Even if your child repeatedly comes out of the room and you feel your smile is fast turning into a grimace, remember the fear and anxiety they may be feeling and reassure them with love and praise. Remember to be calm and patient and to make this a positive experience for your little one.
– Janet Lamont George