Co-sleeping is a wonderful, wonderful thing. It’s a decision I never really anticipated making, but now that I’ve experienced it with my oldest, I hope I get to experience with every other child I end up having. But as with all great things, at some point you realize it’s time for a transition. And in this case, that transition means a move from co-sleeping to a toddler bed. Whether it’s overcrowding, time to welcome a new baby, or just the right time for your toddler, you will reach a point where your co-sleeping toddler needs to move out!
Related Post: 12 Ways to Make Co-Sleeping Safer
So how do you do that? Or, as so many like to point out, are you destined to sleep with your child until they leave for college? Hardly.
My husband and I co-slept with our son until he was 2 and then began the transitioning process. And believe it or not, it was way easier than we thought! Just like with breastfeeding, the co-sleeping transition seemed to be 1,000 times easier for my toddler than for me…which was a relief because I ended up being the only one that needed to cry-it-out. 🙂
Obviously every child (and parent) is different, so some tips may work better than others, but this is what worked for us. And as I said, we were able to pull it off without any crying-it-out (at least from the toddler).
Think About Weaning
I’m a huge fan of breastfeeding, so I’m not suggesting that you stop breastfeeding before you’re ready (I breastfed my son for about 22 months). But I will tell you that life will be a whole lot harder for both of you if you attempt to transition a co-sleeper while also breastfeeding them. So it might be better to wait to transition until you are ready to wean. This will make it much easier for your toddler to sleep through the night and is the first big step towards them falling asleep without having to be physically attached to you.
Related post: 10 Things I Didn’t Know About Weaning a Toddler
Get Them Used to Sleeping Alone in Your Room
Before you get them in their own bedroom (or even in their own bed), there are a few different steps that you can take to prepare them for the transition. The first is to get them used to sleeping alone in your room (or wherever they’re used to sleeping). So after you’ve got them to sleep, leave the room! Let them experience waking up alone. Don’t stay with them for nap times. Do everything you can to let them build some independence in the environment they’re used to before exposing them to something totally new.
Get Them Used to Falling Asleep without Cuddling
Once they can sleep alone in your room, start to physically distance yourself a bit. I still stayed next to my son, but I stopped cuddling. At first I just got him used to me having my back turned and then I would only sit in bed. Eventually we moved to holding hands and before long, he could just roll over on his own and fall asleep.
Make It Exciting
Now for the fun (and terrifying) part! Getting them into their own room. My biggest advice here is to make it really, really exciting…irresistible even. I’m sure if you’re really creative, you can easily do this without spending a penny, but for us it helped to indulge a bit. We timed his transition around his second birthday, so we used that opportunity to add a few new items to his room:
- A themed toddler bed. My son was obsessed with Mickey Mouse and we found a pretty cheap toddler bed online that incorporated a crib mattress that we already had. We got some fun Mickey Mouse sheets to go with it and bam!! It was a huge success! He was soooo excited to sleep in his very own big boy bed.
- A star machine. My son got a star machine as a gift and it was a huge hit! It only works in the dark (perfect) and we only kept it in his room, which made his bedroom that much more exciting. This became one of his favorite bedtime routines. He would literally jump right into bed knowing the star machine was coming.
- New stuffed animals. We didn’t actually need to buy new stuffed animals, but we reintroduced them as if they were new. One thing that happens with most co-sleepers is they never really get attached to their stuffed animals – because they’re attached to you! So we started putting his favorite stuffed animals in bed with him and voila! It was another exciting element to sleeping in the new big boy bed.
Start with Nap Times
Every transition I’ve ever had to do has always been easiest when I started with nap times. Transitioning a co-sleeping toddler is no exception. They’re so much more tired that they fall asleep way easier (and quicker) and I was always less likely to be tired on my own. I started with nap times and before long, he was comfortable in his new bedroom, which made nighttime transitions much easier.
Incorporate Fun New Things to the Routine
Another thing that often happens with co-sleeping families is that you have far less steps in the bedtime routine than non co-sleepers tend to have. You just don’t need it. They’re fine just sleeping next to you. So now it’s time to make sleeping in their own room seem totally fun and exciting. As I said, one of our new routines was using the star machine and looking at all the stars on the ceiling. We also added reading books, singing songs, and a little cuddling (I know I told you to stop that!! More on that below…). Anything you think will work, give it a try!
Two Steps Forward, One Step Back
This is more of a warning than a tip. Be prepared to have bad days, regress a bit, or reintroduce things you thought you were done with. What’s most important is that you’re making progress in the right direction. We were in a great routine of my son sleeping alone in our room, but when we moved him to his own room it shook things up quite a bit. He was excited, but it was still a lot. So we brought the cuddling back and spent a little more time together. But once he was comfortable again, we slowly pulled that back again. This isn’t a race, so plan on giving your toddler some time to adjust. Often one step back enables you to take two steps forward! Transitioning from co-sleeping is a big deal for them, so it’s unlikely to happen overnight.
Follow Their Queues
The reality is that your toddler is most likely more ready for this transition than you are…so follow their lead when you can! When I brought the cuddling back, I was constantly trying to pull away to get back to our non-cuddling routine. But he would just cling tighter and tighter to me. Finally one day I was so tired I just said “Fine, we’ll cuddle as long as you want.” Guess what happened. 30 seconds after I would have attempted to pull away, he pulled away on his own. Giving him a little control over the situation was all I needed. One day a few weeks ago, he looked at me during nap time and waved goodbye. He wanted me to leave! So I left the room and 5 minutes later he had fallen asleep on his own. My little co-sleeper was transitioning himself!
Let Them Back in Your Room, But Not Your Bed
During our co-sleeping transition we had many nights that were just too tough to push through. Either my toddler wasn’t feeling good or I was just too tired to soothe him back to sleep in the middle of the night. I was too afraid to bring him right back to our bed, but I just couldn’t handle sleeping on the floor anymore. So we came up with a great compromise. We would let him come back to our room, but he wasn’t allowed in our bed. We got an amazing toddler air mattress that we put next to our bed and he could sleep on that if he had to. It was close enough that we could hold hands, but my husband and I still had our bed to ourselves. I told my son before we went upstairs that he could only go to our room if he slept in the air mattress and that was good enough for him!
For the most part, co-sleeping parents are naturally patient people (at least with their kids!). We’ve let our kids take their time, avoided crying-it-out, and made unbelievable sacrifices to our own schedule to make sure our little guys are comfortable. So this transition is no different. Give it time and it will be well worth it! We made a few different efforts along the way to get our son into a crib and they never worked. He just wasn’t ready. If your toddler is scared or freaking out, then try to give them more time! It won’t be long before they truly are ready. When all was said and done, it took less than a week to get my son consistently falling asleep in his bed, but about 6 months before he was sleeping through the night alone in his room. This may seem long to a lot of people, but we managed to avoid crying-it-out and no one was pushed farther than they could go. It worked for us!
Good luck with your own co-sleeping transition! Let me know if you have any other tips for how to transition a co-sleeping toddler into their own bed!