I always planned on co-sleeping with River. Then he was born and quickly proved to be the Worst Sleeper Ever. We tried many things to get him to sleep better, but eventually I stopped trying to fight it and exclusive bed-sharing and frequent nightly nursing sessions became the norm. It stayed like this until I night-weaned him at 18 months old, and then he slept great at night, while still co-sleeping. A few weeks before Austen was born, we tried to get him used to sleeping in his own bed. There were a lot of teary nights, and most of the time he would wake up and want to move to our bed, and so we let him. I wasn't exactly sure how bed-sharing with two children was going to be, but it wasn't a huge concern to me. I knew it was something that would work itself out and that we would find something comfortable for all of us. Surprisingly enough, co-sleeping with two kids in a queen size bed wasn't bad. Our sleeping arrangement might be a little unconventional, but it works, and we all enjoy it.
River is older and more confident and understanding of different situations, and when he turned the big 3, it felt like a good time to introduce him to his own bed in his own room. There were some frustrating nights when we would have to put him back in his bed repeatedly before he finally fell asleep, and some nights when he cried for a bit before falling asleep; however, it went surprisingly smooth for the most part. Here are a few things that made it a smooth transition:
- I make sure he knows what to expect. While it's impossible for every night to be exactly the same due to my husband's work schedule and the fact that we only have one car, I try to keep a routine. After dinner, he and Austen take their bath. He gets to pick out what pajamas he'd like to wear. We brush teeth while singing the ABCs. He picks out about three or four books for me to read to him. What we do is more important than when we do it. Sometimes his bedtime is at seven, sometimes it's at ten, but most of the time it's around 8:30.
- After I read to him and before I leave the room, a lot of talking happens. We talk about what we did that day. Funny things that happened, sad things that happened, embarrassing or sweet or interesting things. Lots of descriptive words and lots of questions. I tell him things that he did that made me proud and happy. We talk about tomorrow: what are we going to do? Where are we going? What are we going to eat for breakfast? I tell him I am really proud of him for sleeping in his own bed, that he is such a big boy. I talk about his blanket, his bed, and his cool PJs and his colorful pillows. I tell him I will be right in the living room and I'll see him in the morning.
- I use positive language. This is something that is actually really tough and takes a lot of practice before it becomes a habit. Most parents, myself included, want to make sure children know what not to do, when really, we should be telling them what we do want them to do. This is something I've found very helpful from the book Easy to Love, Difficult to Discipline, by Becky A. Baily, Ph.D. (Seriously, it is an awesome book! It has helped tremendously the past couple months, not just with River, but with myself, as well. Get it on Amazon for about ten bucks.) For example, instead of telling him, "Don't get out of bed. Don't turn on your light. Don't make loud noises," I tell him, "Stay in bed. The light stays off. Please be quiet, because it's time to sleep." I speak to him in a soft, whispery voice, even when I get frustrated with him, which demonstrates how I want him to behave.
- When he gets up repeatedly, I simply pick him up and put him back in bed. I explain to him with very short and sweet words that it is bed-time and he is to stay in bed. He is old enough now and understands enough that crying a bit is okay. I know the difference between his annoyed, disappointed cry, and his distressed, overwhelmed cry. If I do feel he is too distressed and overwhelmed, I will spend some more time with him, sitting on his bed and scratching his back to help him settle. Though, ultimately, I want him to learn to fall asleep when I am out of the room. So far we haven't had a night where he has become distressed. If we do, how he is handling the situation emotionally will come first, before getting him to sleep alone. Sometimes littles just need to be with their mamas.
Doing all of this ensured the transition from co-sleeping with his family to sleeping in his own bed in his own room is a peaceful one. It has been an (almost) tear-free journey, and although he is sleeping in a way to which he is completely new, it was hardly a bump on the road. You can hardly tell he's never slept alone before! We shared sleep with our sweet boy for three years, and I have no regrets. I never paid attention to the opinions of others when it comes to our children sleeping in our bed. We all knew when the time came for him to move to his own bed, and I'm glad we waited until he was ready.