Co-sleeping can be a wonderful phase in your life. Your baby is close to you, so you don’t need to sleep with the baby monitor pressed against your ear. Breastfeeding can feel less of a chore, if it’s something you can do without having to haul yourself out of bed. You can also start your day with impromptu kisses and cuddles from your favourite little person.
It’s not all sunshine and lollipops though. You’ll also experience more than your fair share of kicks to the face, hair pulling, nasal probing and, if you’re particularly unlucky, the occasional helping of nappy contents leaked across your side of the bed.
There is no set end-date for co-sleeping; it’s something that you must decide as a family. Some parents choose to let their child decide when co-sleeping ends, whereas others prefer to nudge things along gently in the right direction.
There is nothing wrong with wanting your own bed back.
How To Transition From Co-Sleeping To Solo Sleeping
Whatever age your child is when you tire of being kicked repeatedly in the head during a rare and precious REM cycle, you might find the following tips useful for gently moving on from co-sleeping with your toddler:
#1: Set The Scene
Your child needs time to get used to his new sleeping area. It’s a good idea to set the bed up long before the transition, if you can. Even just a few weeks will give your child time to adjust to the idea of the bed. Spend time in his bedroom during the day, reading books and playing quiet games, to help him feel comfortable with the new bed.
You might like to take your child out shopping to choose his favourite character bedsheets, and maybe even a special night light – anything to help make the bed a comfortable and cosy place to be. Some parents even go so far as to string fairy lights around the curtains to make the room beautiful.
#2: Talk It Out
No matter what the age of your child, it is always worth explaining what you are doing. Your baby might not understand exactly what you mean, but listening is a great way of learning, and your tone and facial expressions will help to communicate a message. As he reaches toddlerhood, your child will be better able to understand, and it will be even more important to discuss the change beforehand.
Many toddlers like to know what will happen ahead of time, so it’s worth starting to talk to him before the move. Begin with a general discussion about how, one day, your child will have a bed of his own. As the time comes nearer, start adding in specifics about where he will sleep, and when.
#3: Give Him Control
As you are probably already aware, toddlers like to have some control over their own lives. While they can’t make all decisions for themselves (mostly because they would spend their days naked, eating kiwi fruit and chocolate, and little else), they do need to be involved in at least some decisions throughout the day. Give your child ownership of solo sleeping by letting him choose his own bedding. This will help him to feel excited about the bed, feel proud of his contribution, and (hopefully!) look forward to sleeping in it.
#4: Start With Naps
If your child is still napping during the day, this should be your starting point for solo sleeping in the new bed. Encouraging your child to nap in his new bed will help him to get used to his new surroundings, and to discover that sleep in this environment is possible. Keep to your usual nap time routine, but simply change the location, so that it all takes place in the new bed.
#5: Don’t Rush Things
Make the transition slowly, and follow your child’s lead as much as possible. It’s perfectly fine to give him a nudge in the right direction, but try to let your child adjust to the change in his own time. Most days are full of new experiences, overwhelming emotions and new situations, so your child already has enough on his plate.
Give him time to adjust to the idea of sleeping alone, and get excited about this next stage of independence before he takes that important leap into his own room.
#6: Start With Stories
Now it’s time to include the bed in your bedtime routine. After his bath, take your child into his bedroom to pick out which pyjamas to wear, choose his bedtime stories, and then snuggle down in the new bed to read them with him. You could even include a storybook that covers the move to a big bed!
Go through your usual bedtime routine, and if he asks to be taken to your bed to sleep, allow this. It might take him a while to adjust to the idea of sleeping alone in his new bed at night, and trying to force the issue could lead to more reluctance.
#7: The Next Step
Some children will fall asleep in their own bed within a matter of days without much fuss, and the transition will feel easy for the whole family. Other children might take longer to make the move, but one night they will simply fall asleep in the new bed after story time. If you want your bed back sooner, you might find it useful to set a deadline. Work towards the deadline together, discussing what will happen, and then put your child to sleep in his bed that night for the first time.
#8: Stay Close
If you choose to introduce a deadline, your child might it comforting for you to sleep in the same room for the first couple of nights. This can be part of your deadline plan, allowing your child to understand that you won’t be there forever, but will help him to settle into his new room.
If possible, put a single mattress or camping bed on the floor of the room for you to stay on. This allows your child to get used to sleeping alone in his bed, but with the added comfort of knowing you are close. Each night, move your bed a little further away, until you are out of the room (aka, in the long-forgotten luxury of your own bed).
#9: Always Respond
Your child has no reason to fear sleeping apart from you if he knows you will always respond to his cries. Each time your child wakes, make sure you are there to comfort him. Dig out that baby monitor to make sure you don’t miss an opportunity. A sleepy child who has stumbled, crying, into your room at night is likely to be more reluctant to go back to his own room.
#10: Set Limits
Toddlers need limits; they will push boundaries and engage in testing behaviour where there are none. You need to set limits for your toddler during the night, just as you do during the day. These limits will depend on your own unique situation. You might want your child to sleep in his own bed all night, or you might be happy for him to come into your bed if he wakes. Whatever you decide, make sure you set limits in a respectful way, and be consistent, so that your child knows what to expect.
#11: What To Expect
You have your bed back! Congratulations, now is the time to sleep like a starfish. Make the most of your newfound room, but don’t expect every night to be as good as this. There will be good nights and bad nights, sleep regressions, illnesses, and difficult bedtimes. Not every night will be easy, but you’re past the first hurdle, so treat yourself to an early night.
No matter what happens from now on, remind yourself that this stage is a very big step for a tiny human being to make and, eventually, you’ll be having trouble getting him out of his bed.
Recommended Reading: What A Cabinet Maker Taught Me About Babies And Sleep.