Sleep problems - going from cot to bed!

king the transition to a ‘big kids’ bed’ can be a difficult for young children who feel safe and secure in their familiar cot – so how can you make sure this milestone doesn’t turn into a maelstrom? Sleep expert Mandy Gurney offers her advice…

Time for a big bed!

Once your toddler hits three, you’ll probably start thinking about moving her to a ‘big kid's bed’ at night time – and if she’s tall, or you need her cot for a new baby brother or sister, you may need to do it sooner. Making the transition to a larger bed can be a difficult for young children who feel safe and secure in their familiar cot – so how can you make sure this milestone doesn’t turn into a maelstrom? Sleep expert Mandy Gurney offers her advice…

Our daughter is 19 months and still sleeping in her cot at night – but we need to use it for her new baby brother. We have to get up to our daughter several times a night and I’m worried she’ll keep getting out of bed and asking to come in with us if  there are no sides to make her stay put. How can I make sure she stays in her new bed and goes back to sleep if she wakes in the night?

Ready for a bed?

Ideally you should aim to keep your toddler in a cot for as long as possible but generally by the age of 3 years, most children have moved to a bed. A sure sign that a child needs to be transferred to a bed is when they persist in attempting to climb out of the cot or are successful in escaping!

Your daughter is on the young side for such a move so to keep her in it you’ll have to give her the incentive to want to stay there. If you give in and take her into your bed, the waking is likely to continue – after all, snuggling up with mum and dad is the ultimate reward for her night time waking. At the same time, she may develop inappropriate sleep associations and lose the ability to self-settle alone during the night.

Make it gradual

A gradual retreat program will help teach your daughter to settle alone at bedtime and go back to sleep by herself during the night. This technique will minimise crying and is less likely to disturb her baby brother and the lucky parent whose turn it is to stay in bed! 

Gradual retreat is a method of gradually distancing yourself from your daughter little by little until she no longer needs your presence to fall asleep at bedtime. It should teach her how to return to sleep independently during the night.


After her usual bath and bedtime story routine, get her into bed with whatever cuddlies she sleeps with, and stroke her arm or shoulder as she settles.


Stop stroking and gently pat her to sleep. After a couple of minutes of steady patting start to pat intermittently, with gradually increasing intervals between contact.


Place a hand very lightly on her and rest it there for a couple of minutes. Then remove your hand and quietly “shhhhhhh” her as she drifts off.


This is where you start to quietly move your chair further away from her bed – quietly move it two feet away and sit for a couple of minutes; then move it to the middle of the room for a couple of minutes; and then move to beside the door. Once you’re in this spot, sit for 10 minutes to make sure she's sleeping deeply. If you think she is, move your chair outside the door and give it another couple of minutes if you feel it’s necessary.

Keep up the good work

You’ll need to sit with your daughter and repeat this procedure every time she wakes in the night until she has gone back to sleep again. You can customise this technique to suit you better – for example, you might want to sit by the bed on your chair, or lean against the wall until you’re sure she is asleep. Depending on how well she’s coping, repeat each single step for three nights only and keep any interaction with her to a minimum.

This sleep method normally takes around three or four weeks to complete. It’s likely to be challenging and frustrating for the first few nights, but eventually your daughter will learn to settle herself and you shouldn’t be hearing the pitter patter of tiny feet late at night!  

Related links

  • Sleep separation As seen on the show, ‘Sleep Separation’ helps your child to get to sleep by herself, so you can get some proper rest…
  • Sleep problems: When controlled crying doesn’t work: It’s all-too-easy to get into bad bedtime habits but the key to a restful night – for you and your baby – is to help her learn to settle by herself. Controlled crying is one method you can try with a baby over 6 months…

Find out more

  • National Sleep Foundation Check out its module on Children and Sleep.
  • Solve Your Child’s Sleep Problems by Richard Ferber, MD The sleep bible for parents of kids aged 1-6 who aren’t sleeping well. Covers common sleeping problems, including night waking and difficulty settling, and offers advice on developing good sleeping patterns and daily schedules to prevent sleeping problems developing in the first place.
  • Big Enough for a Bed Sesame Street Kids’ favourite Elmo learns to seep soundly in his big kid's bed with the help of his blankie and teddy. Bright illustrations will appeal to toddlers.
  • My Own Big Bed by Anna Grossnickle Hines A little girl explores the problems and joys of her first big kid's bed. From “what if I fall out?” to “what if I get lonely?” your child will be reassured by the solutions the little girl finds and learn that a big bed means space for more toys!

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