The short answer is that if they’re not yet 2.5 years, it is indeed too early to move them to a big bed! Many parents feel that moving their child to a big bed will somehow help them sleep, that they’ll be excited to have a big bed, and this will make them want to stay in it. Or they feel that their child has been waking frequently because of the cot, that maybe they are too big for it now. But unfortunately moving to a big bed seldom fixes sleep problems, it only creates all new, often bigger ones!
The main issue with moving to a big bed too soon is that toddlers lack the impulse control it takes to stay put in a bed that they know they can get out of whenever they choose, and this impulse control doesn’t develop until closer to 2.5-3 years of age. This means that they can then understand the concept of staying in bed, even though they are physically able to leave, they can decide to stay put because that’s what Mum and Dad have said I have to do. It’s important to say here that obviously all children are different, and that some may have made the transition to a big bed without issue earlier than 2.5 years, and some will struggle with the impulse control it takes to stay put beyond 3. But on the whole, it’s around the 2.5-3 year mark that toddlers will be able to change to a big bed easily.
There can be a period of novelty where a toddler has been moved to a big bed earlier than 2.5 years and for a few weeks everything is fine! They love their big bed, they go to bed happily and stay there all night, and we quietly congratulate ourselves on a seamless transition. But then suddenly it all turns sour. Our little cherub decides one night that they don’t want to go to bed. They keep on getting out and wandering into the lounge to find us, no matter how many times we put them back and kiss them goodnight. This goes on for some time until they finally go to sleep, and we hope it was a one off, but then they appear at our bedside in the middle of the night and it starts all over again. The cycle continues, our toddler losing more and more sleep, until early morning wake ups start to occur, and naps suffer too because they are getting more and more overtired and finding it harder to achieve the sleep they need.
My advice is a definite please don’t move your child into a big bed until they are 2.5-3 years, the closer to 3 the better! Are we essentially fencing them in so they can’t escape? Yes. Is this OK? Yes. They need their sleep, and so do we! Nobody wants to spend their day with an overtired toddler, no matter how much we adore them! It is a toddler’s job to defy us, to find their place in the world by testing boundaries and seeing just how much they are able to get away with and get their own way, and this is before we throw sleep deprivation into the mix. All of this can be exhausting on a good day, but when we’re tired too and have been up battling our toddler overnight because they’re able to get out of bed, then having to spend our evenings before we go to bed doing the same, it’s really no fun anymore. So, do yourself a favour and keep them in a cot as long as you can.
The exception to this is if our toddler is already climbing out of their cot (a sleeping bag can help to delay their ability to do this, another reason why I love them!) This becomes a safety concern, and if your child is doing this we need to put them into a big bed now, and if they are still very young I would strongly advise installing a baby gate at their door and making their room as safe as possible, no drawers or shelves, cupboards etc that they can pull over on themselves. Again, this is because as young toddlers they just don’t have the impulse control to be able to keep themselves in their bed, or in their room and resist the urge to come and find you before they fall asleep, or overnight when they wake between sleep cycles.
If you have moved your child into a big bed and are experiencing problems because of this, just move them back. It’s not a punishment, it’s not about telling them off or making them feel bad, it’s just that they need their sleep to function at their best, and so do you! If you’re struggling with this then get in touch and I can help you with a plan and support, plus advice on how to make the transition an easy and enjoyable one for you and your toddler when the time is right.