Change is hard for most people, and for little tots that don’t have a lot of experience with change, it can sometimes be harder. For most toddlers who are co-sleeping, that is all they have ever known for their sleep space so it is important to not only take time to think through the decision of transitioning your little to their own bed but spend a lot of time preparing your child for the change.
Make sure that you are ready to make the change. Ask yourself a few questions surrounding the possible change. Once you're ready to move your co-sleeping toddler to his own bed gently, try these expert tips!
Bed Rails (especially on a higher bed) can be a lifesaver to prevent your toddler from rolling out. Another great option is to simply start with the mattress on the floor or in a low-frame Montessori style bed. Get on your hands and knees and crawl around your child’s new sleep space to see if there are any additional safety concerns within their reach.
Involve your toddler in what they want their new sleep space to look like by bringing them into decorating decisions (themed bed sheets/night lights). They may also communicate that they want their door open or door closed. Getting their input doesn’t mean you NEED to do everything they ask (like leaving all the lights on in their room and the house), it just opens up the opportunity for compromising on a solution to meet everyone’s needs.
Going from sharing your bed to sleeping on their own is a big deal, so a security item may help your toddler ease into their new sleep space. I recommend introducing this item — blankie, small stuffed toy, favorite figurine, etc. — by pairing it with your co-sleeping toddler's current sleep routine for a few weeks before the transition.
Talk about it
It’s not fair to spring such a huge change on a toddler so spend A LOT of time talking to them about the transition (2-4 weeks, depending on your child). Create a social story that talks about how their new bed/room will look and how their routine may look different. You could do this by drawing pictures together and sharing the story, or creating a bedtime book with pictures of your child and their bedtime routine with the new sleeping arrangement in their own bed. Role-playing with toys is also a huge help. Children thrive off repetition and it serves as an outline of what to do when real bedtime comes along.
We never want to change too much at once for our toddlers. If you want to stop co-sleeping to make room for a new baby, try to have a 3-6 month buffer on the transition so your toddler doesn’t feel left out. The same goes for starting a new school, switching to a new nanny, death in the family, or moving. One thing at a time.
This is where we get into the "how-to" portion! Most parents have a co-sleeping toddler for a good reason, most of that being your child’s emotional wellbeing. Once you’ve picked the best night possible to transition, expect to spend some time with them in their new sleep space. Being in a different room can naturally bring some anxiety and your child may have a harder time falling asleep. Be there for them. You can start out in their bed for a few nights, then move to the floor, then the middle of the room, then the doorway — all the while staying present until they fall asleep. If tot wakes in the night, repeat the same process by going back to the position you left off from.
Spend some time preparing your toddler for the change, and then expect to spend at least 2 weeks coaching them through the transition. Your little one will have the easiest time with this transition if you take it slow.
Joanna Martindale, the owner of Baby Sleep Concierge, is a Board Certified Behavior Analyst and a Certified Maternity and Child Sleep Coach. Seeing how much more present of a wife and mother she was after creating a sleep plan for her oldest daughter, Joanna set out on a journey to help other parents in desperate need of sleep.