Waking up with an elbow in your crotch and a freezing little foot in your face isn’t the most relaxing way to start another day. Co-sleeping has its benefits; sharing a bed with your little one can help you feel bonded and her feel safe. By the time she’s a toddler or preschooler, though, your beauty sleep — and sanity — hinge on getting her to sleep in her own bed. It doesn’t have to be a battle.
Timing the Transition
Just as you can sense when he’s about to fling carrots across the table or throw a level-five meltdown in the checkout aisle, you’ll sense when it’s the right time to boot your child from your bed. Moving a toddler or preschooler into his own bed isn’t something that has to be done by a certain birthday or milestone. If you’re unable to sleep comfortably, if there’s not enough room for your partner in the bed or if you feel your child isn’t developing the self-soothing skills he should, it’s time for a change. The transition to his own bed can be a stressful one for a child, so wait to start the move if he’s already the throes of some other stress like potty-training, a new baby or a move to a new house.
Breaking the News
She’s not yet ready for the harsh truth about Santa Claus, but your toddler or preschooler can deal with the cold hard fact that it’s time to sleep in her own bed. Rather than trying to casually deposit her in her own bed, have a talk in the days leading up to the move about what a big-kid honor it is to sleep in her own bed. Say something like, “Your bed is a special place made just the right size for you, and that’s where you need to sleep. We’ll be right across the hall all night, but you need to stay in your bed with Mr. Bunny and your cozy rainbow sheets until the morning.” A reward system can help motivate her to stay put; AskDrSears.com recommends making a sticker chart and awarding a sticker each time she stays in her bed all night. After three or four nights of stickers, treat her to a new toy or a favorite dessert.
Making the Move
If he goes to bed in your bed one night and his own the next, he’s probably going to summon all the stubbornness he has in his tiny body and try to return to your bed over and over again. Help him get used to the transition slowly by moving him gradually out of your room, with you sticking by his side at each step. Bring a sleeping bag into your room and let him sleep on the floor next to your bed; you might have to tough it out on the floor one night yourself to get him to stay there. After a few nights on the floor, put him to sleep in his own bed, and move your trusty sleeping bag to his room for a night or two of camping out there. Next, spend a few nights sitting in a chair next to his bed until he falls asleep, then try sitting by his bed as he starts to fall asleep but slipping out before he’s out completely.
Making it Stick
She didn’t learn how to press all your buttons overnight, and she’s not going to learn to sleep on her own that quickly either. A creaking door, running feet and a sudden weight dropping onto your bed are probably going to pull you out of REM sleep often in the weeks following the transition. Let her break in successfully and she’ll never want to leave. Unless she’s had a serious nightmare and needs soothing, you can try asking her to go back to her room by simply saying, “You need to go back to your own bed now, monkey. I’ll see you in the morning.” It’s a rare child who will actually abide, so you’re going to have to follow up by crawling out of bed, scooping her up and returning her to her own room, and repeating this step as many times as it takes for her to give up. You’ll feel like a zombie the next day, but letting her sleep in your bed into middle school will have far more awkward repercussions for everyone.