Going From A Cot to A Bed
From the day I found Sophia trying to climb out of her cot we knew it was time to re-configure her cot bed to a bed. At just 21 – 22 months old it may have been a little too early for her but we just couldn’t risk her falling out and hurting herself. I believe the usual age is around 2 years old.
Just a couple of days later when she was having a nap we heard a loud bang from the floor upstairs, which was closely followed by a lot of crying; too clever for her own good… That was the last day she slept in her cot and so the transition was upon us. I got out my tools and set to converting the cot to a bed.
We are parents who are willing to have a go at things without constant guidance and advice. No child is the same and parents all do things differently, so there is not always a set way of doing things that suits all children. So, that night we did things as we normally had but didn’t expect the problems that were to follow.
Our little girl sleeps in either pyjamas or a footed sleep suit. Over that she wears a gro-bag or sleep bag. The mattress is a nice pocket sprung one with plenty of support and comfort and her curtains have black out linings so she has a lovely comfortable bedroom. That night she went to bed as normal; dinner, some TV and one to one time followed by brushing teeth then milk.
And So The Problems Begin
I put Sophia in her sleep bag and set her down in her bed. The first problem was that she didn’t like the thin duvet on her bed. When I tucked it round her she complained and kicked it off. Next, when I gave her a kiss and left she started to get out of bed and cried. She was very unsettled so I went back to settle her in bed again. This went on for a number of times as she followed me to the door every time I left.
Sometimes she would appear to settle but within minutes she was at the door crying again. As we knew nothing different we tried leaving her for a while but she would not stop crying and wailing. It was so difficult and so one of us would return and put her to bed. Now we would stay there, stroking her hair until she dropped off. This could take up to 15 minutes and often, just as we thought Sophia was asleep she would sense one of us leaving and start all over again.
A few days passed and nothing changed. She would wake in the night at any given time and start crying and calling out. It would last for hours. The problem is that we also have a 4 month old who needs her sleep too. The longer Sophia carried on the more frustrated and angry we would get.
I tried picking her up, putting her in her bed and leaving. Then as soon as she got to the door again, repeat the process. I thought she would eventually get the idea and stay put… Wrong! I work shift so it was even tougher than normal. We have a young baby and my wife was exhausted. All I wanted to know was how to get my toddler to sleep.
It got to the stage where we just did not know what to do and we were starting to get angry with Sophia, when actually there was a problem that she couldn’t help. It was time to give in and get advice. If there is one thing I recommend it is to seek advice at any time you are unsure. Try your own method and feel your way but don’t persist for too long before you get the correct advice as to what you should be doing for your own and your child’s benefit.
Our health visitor came round and talked through our problems. She was excellent and had all the answers. She listened and nodded as we spoke and we soon realised she had heard it all before, probably every week from different parents. She told us about the different methods of how to get a toddler to sleep in their bed and how to get a toddler to sleep through the night. One thing we learned straight away was that Sophia’s bed time was probably a little early. This important to her routine.
We even went for a look in Sophia’s room. There were so many little things we hadn’t even thought of that could be upsetting her; toys that are fun in the day time can look different at night in the shadows. Was her room too dark or too light? Where is the bed in relation to the room and other furniture?
The Solution – A New Routine
After the health visitor left we had a new plan of action. It’s all about routine and setting some rules, which is what we set about doing. The important thing her is to realise that toddlers, even under 2 years, are bright little things and they can play you. Both parents must decide on how they want to do things and stick to it. Both must be consistent and supportive of each other. Otherwise the child will know how to manipulate the situation to get what they want.
Out of three methods that were explained to us we chose the ‘direct approach’. It takes less time but can be tough in the beginning. In our circumstances we wanted the quickest way possible to crack this nut, albeit a very adorable nut!
Step one was our new bedtime routine. Dinner used to be at 17:00 hours, followed by some children’s TV and play time. Then it was up for a bath before cleaning teeth then bed around 6:30p.m. Now she has dinner between 5:00p.m and 6:00p.m. and then its play time. Actually play time after dinner is more of a quiet time with activities like puzzles or coloring in. 30 minutes before bed time we tell her she will be going to bed in 30 minutes. She then knows what is coming. During this time she has some milk. With 10 minutes to go Sophia is told it is time to go and brush her teeth and get ready for bed. With teeth brushed and pyjamas on its time to say goodnight to everyone.
Before she goes to bed she has a story or two to get her relaxed and she then goes into her bed with a kiss. There are some great toddler bedtime stories and story books are a nice gift to get for birthdays and at Christmas. You download free bedtime stories for kids online too; short stroies may be best to give more variety. This website is a good resource for free kids stories. Before we leave we tell her she must stay in bed, mustn’t cry and that if she stays in bed she will get something special in the morning; something like a new breakfast cereal or a different toy to play with. After that, we leave and don’t go back.
Did It Work?
So, this was the approach but did it work? Yes and no is the honest answer. Sophia was crying and getting out of bed to sit by the door. There was a slight problem because the advice we followed was to put her in bed then leave and not return, no matter how much she resists. This seems to apply to a child who is still in bed but not settled. On the other hand, the instructions for keeping a toddler in their bed were slightly different. They said to return and put your child back to bed and tell them to stay there. Then return every time, put them back and leave again.
Sophia was doing both; should we have returned or left her? We were not sure. Another problem was that whilst we were leaving her crying upstairs, unbeknown to us she had a dirty nappy. We were so intent on not going back to her that she was suffering a little bit. You are damned if you do and damned if you don’t.
The First Few Nights
We decided on the direct method and we stuck to it. The first few nights were really bad; one night Sophia went down at 7:00 p.m. and straight away she was at the door crying and wailing. This went on until gone 1:00 a.m.! We were told to leave her no matter what, unless she needed help. She would eventually fall asleep sat up against the baby gate in her doorway.
As the nights passed she sat at the gate calling out and crying herself to sleep. We were concerned that she could be getting cold. We were reassured by our health visitor that if the temperature drops she will find her way back to bed to keep warm.
After a Week
Eventually we got to the stage, after about five days where Sophia settled at the baby gate and later in the evening we picked her up and put her in bed for the rest of the night. By this time she was not waking up through the night either. It was still difficult leaving her as she pleaded for us to stay but it was gradually starting to work.
Cracked It At Last!
The direct method is supposed to take around 7 days. In our case it took a bit longer, more like 15 days. The reasons for this was because we tried to find days when it suited us to go for it and not tire ourselves out too much with the commitments we had around those days.
One evening it just happened; the usual routine was done and when she went to bed Sophia just said night night and laid in bed. I walked out the room but left the door open and there was silence. When we went to bed later we closed her door and still couldn’t believe that she had settled herself. Finally we were there.
Some Tips We Picked Up Along The Way
- If your child gets out of bed and won’t go back, put a soft blanket or small duvet on the floor. If they do fall asleep anywhere other than in their bed, at least they will be comfortable.
- Use a night light if it helps your child to settle. Kids night lights come in all shapes and sizes but its important to get one that is not too bright and potentially intrusive to their sleep pattern. We use a small plug in night light that gives off a gentle pink/ purple glow. As the ambient light falls the night light gets a little brighter. As the room gets lighter the night light fades.
- Have some special treats available. When your child wakes in the morning and has stayed in their bed through the night, give them a lot of praise. Don’t forget to actually give them their treat, otherwise they will wonder what the point is.
- When you start this process is important. Choose a time when you don’t have to be up too early in the morning to start this process. That way you will find it easier to tollerate.
- Choose one favourite cuddly toy of theirs to take to bed (them, not you!). They will find it reassuring and comforting, rather than having 10 different toys with no individual attachment.
- Day time naps are important too. It is not only the bedtime routine that needs tweaking but the rest of the day too. We were allowing our daughter to have a morning nap around 10:30 a.m. This suited us as we could then get out for more of the day later. In fact, putting your child down for a after lunch nap is better for the whole routine and sleep patterns. Don’t let them sleep past 2:30 p.m.