How to Transition From Bed Sharing to Independent Sleep

Struggling to transition your toddler from bed sharing to independant slip? We've got a sleep consultant's tips to get the whole family sleeping soundly.

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Here’s the thing with sleep: it’s all preference.

I mean, don’t get me wrong, I have a very strong argument for why everyone should be sleeping in their own space and getting consecutive sleep every night.

First, let me introduce myself. My name is Melissa, child-therapist turned sleep consultant. I became a sleep consultant because I saw my child-clients struggling to sleep through the night. When asked, parents revealed that even as an infant, their child always had sleep issues.

So, I did some research. One article states that by the age of 6 months old, babies were developmentally capable of “sleeping through the night” (6+ consecutive hours). It goes on to say that 75% of 5 month-old’s were sleeping through the night and if the skill was not learned by 18 months the chances of becoming an independent sleeper without intervention reduced. The article makes strong cases for why sleep is so important for child development. The importance of sleep for the development of the body, brain, and emotions drove me to become a sleep consultant.

At the end of the day, you need to do what works for your family. However, keep in mind that the American Academy of Pediatrics does not recommend bed sharing as it is not best practices for safe sleep. For these reasons, I don’t recommend bed sharing either. If you are choosing to bed share, then make sure you are following safe sleep standards.

However, for those of you who accidentally ended up bedsharing, maybe out of desperation for sleep, and are ready to transition your kiddo to their own room, keep reading! Depending on your child’s age, this task can be very challenging. If you can see the transition through to the end, it is so worth it! 

Oftentimes, the problem isn’t how to move them OUT of the parent’s bed but how to get them to STAY in their bed, how to handle night wakings, and how to teach them independent sleep. Here are my top tips when making this transition:

What to expect:

Crying: I know, I know! No one wants to hear their child cry. It literally (and biologically) speaks to our soul as parents. But keep in mind that crying is simply a form of communication. Where you or I would use our words to let someone know we don’t like what is happening, kids use their cry. It helps some parents to think of bedtime like you would dinner time. If your child asks you for ice cream for dinner, you’d likely say no and there would likely be tears. But you wouldn’t give in because you know your kiddo needs a nutritious meal. This is a healthy boundary. We do the same thing at bedtime, set healthy boundaries even when our kids get mad!

Negotiation: This can look different depending on the age. If you have an infant, negotiation is going to sound a lot more like crying. Your infant may even do some behaviors like sitting up and refusing to lay down or throwing their lovie out of the crib. For toddlers this will probably be more verbal. Toddlers are smart, they ask for little things over time. You start with the door cracked an inch wider and end up sleeping all night in their bed (or them in yours)! Your kids will probably try everything their little brains can think of to try to get you to go back to the way it was.

Three to five days before seeing progress: Any time you change a routine or habit, it takes time! Give it a week before you call it quits or declare it’s not working. The older the child, the longer it takes.

What to do:

Step 1: Make a plan. Your plan will include your commitment to moving your child in their own sleep space (even though you know it’s going to get a little harder at first), a consistent bedtime routine, what to do when your child wakes in the middle of the night, and what time morning is. 

The biggest change you will be making will be moving your child from your bed to their own sleep space and staying there all night long. This change should happen on night 1. Depending on your kiddos’ age, you can make this really fun. For toddlers and older, try letting your child pick out sheets or a new lovie to sleep with. Let them be involved in this new change. Try to make it exciting!  For infants, the best you can do is set the new boundary consistently and firmly and know that they will adjust to it soon. 

You’ll also want to think about the steps of the new routine, bedtime expectations, and how you want to implement this. We are being more kind as parents by making all the changes at once. If you make little changes over time, we put our kids in a perpetual state of change, which produces more anxiety, and more unwanted behaviors. Here’s a good sample bedtime routine:

Bath and brush teeth

Jammies

Read a book

Sing a song

Lay down awake

Step 2: Set a start date: This helps you, as the parent, commit to the change and gives everyone a better chance of success.

Step 3: Slowly move out of the room: On night 1, after completing the routine, lay your child in his or her bed and sit in a chair (not in the bed) while your kiddo falls asleep. You can offer comfort by patting or saying a sleep phrase like, “It’s sleep time.” Be careful not to pat your child to sleep, creating a new sleep prop. Remember, you are simply there to offer comfort and support, but it is your child’s job to fall asleep independently.

 Over a few nights, slowly move yourself out of the room. So, on night three move your chair to the middle of the room and on night six move your chair to the door. This helps ease the transition for everyone and slowly teaches your child that they are capable of falling asleep alone.

Step 4: Night Wakings: This is usually the part where parents bring their child to the parent bed. So, moms and dads, I want you to mentally prepare yourself for a few tough nights and see this transition through to the end. If your kiddo wakes in the middle of the night, give them some time before you respond. This delays gratification and prevents overstimulation from seeing you. If your kiddo hasn’t fallen asleep in 10 (ish) minutes, then go in and sit wherever you sat at bedtime until your child falls asleep. Repeat this process every time he or she wakes in the middle of the night. Nothing before 6am is considered morning. 

Things to consider:

Siblings: Yes, if your child cries, they will probably wake the house up. Just warn everyone that the baby might cry and if it wakes you up, know everything is okay, and to just go back to sleep. Remember this is all temporary and EVERYONE will be sleeping through the night in just a couple of short weeks.

Remove the chair away from the crib: If you have an older infant or toddler in a crib, it’s important to remember to move the chair away from the crib after your child falls asleep. Walking and climbing infants and toddlers are smart. They will notice that the chair is close enough to use to escape from their crib. So, Let’s make sure we don’t give the opportunity for your kiddo to learn to crawl out of the crib by removing the chair all together after they fall asleep. If your child is in a bed, this doesn’t really apply, as they can get out of the bed with or without a chair. 

Illness: If your child becomes sick, we forgo the 10-minute wait time and respond immediately in the middle of the night. Offer comfort and doctor advised medicine but continue to expect your child to fall asleep in their own bed by themselves.

One last tip: Remember, these things take time and our kids are smart. As the parent, we set the emotional tone. Our kids look to us to see how to react. If you are calm through the process, chances are your child will accept the new routine and minimize tantrums much more quickly. So, try to keep your cool as the parent and keep reminding yourself that your child’s behavior is likely very normal. Outbursts and bed-time tantrums are temporary. Consistency and persistence are key when changing a bedtime routine. The calmer you are the easier the transition.

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