Need to know
- A guide to training your child to sleep in their own bed
Co-sleeping is a wonderful nurturing experience for some families and many people support allowing the child to leave the family bed when they’re naturally ready. But if your family needs are changing and you feel that everyone would benefit from having an individual sleep space then it’s time to make the transition.
Transitioning your child to their own bed is a necessary step towards a more restful sleep, but you might also feel sad at losing the closeness you get from sharing a bed. You can maintain this connection by putting emphasis on the early morning snuggles and making time for bedtime chats.
Why it’s important
Whether you’ve been co-sleeping for a while or maybe your child has recently started to come into your bed, this will be a difficult pattern to change for everyone.
Children can easily develop sleep crutches that are associated with your presence. The idea of sleeping in their room may increase anxiety because you’re removing the “sleep onset association” that helps them drift off.
Consistency is the major factor in achieving success and it is also the most difficult thing to get right because you will attempt to do this while you are exhausted.
In exchange for an initial investment of 3-5 nights of bad sleep, you will:
- Teach your child independence
- Create good sleep habits
- Protect your intimacy and relationship with your partner
- Improve your child’s behaviour and your mood
Tips and strategies
You can take as long as you and your child needs to progress through each of these steps. It is best to start on a Friday night to minimise the impact on performance at school or at work.
Step 1: Engage your child in the change – make the move to their bed exciting and emphasise that they have the skills to do this. You might want to invest in a night light, new sleep toy or bedding of your child’s choice.
Step 2: Adapt the bedtime routine – change the bedtime routine so that some of the steps, like reading a book/singing a song/listening to an audiobook, happen in their bedroom. This signals the new sleep pattern.
Step 3: Make your child feel secure – it’s important to leave the room while your child is still awake, but you can offer to come back in 5 minutes to check on them or leave the door open so they can still hear you. You can stretch out the 5 minutes to 10 minutes to 20 minutes until they fall asleep. Sometimes this step can take a couple of weeks and that is ok. Slowly progress from lying next to your child, to sitting on the bed and then on the floor until you can leave the room. This can be a very gentle approach if you are guided by your child’s reaction to the changes.
Step 4: Always take your child back to bed – success may seem short lived when they jump into your bed in the middle of the night, this is where consistency is important. Your child may scream and cry, but you need to consistently take them back to their bed with little interaction. It’s ok to sit by their bed until they calm down and important to leave again when they are drifting off. This might happen multiple times a night, which is why consistency is important. If you give in, your child always knows that there is a chance you will let them go back to your bed.
Step 5: Praise and reward – make a big fuss as your child progressively sleeps longer and longer in their room – it’s a big change and they are doing it! You might also want to consider a small reward to create a positive association with sleeping in their bed.
Step 6: See your doctor – if you are still concerned about transitioning your child to their bed, go and see your doctor, there may be underlying reasons that need to be addressed first.
Remember, illness or changes in circumstance can bring back old habits, follow the steps above to get everyone back on track.