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By Amanda Thielen
Before my daughter was even born, my husband and I spent months making sure her bedroom was perfectly pieced together. When I was pregnant, we were living in my in-law’s unfinished basement. I turned into a hormonal dictator and made my husband work day and night to build two bedrooms downstairs (I actually bought everything to build a bathroom and finish the living room too but the pregnancy hormones only got me so far).
As we built her bedroom, I dreamed of sitting in it with her, reading to her at night, and putting her to sleep in her crib. Like many other things I expected during the first couple of years of her life, it didn’t happen. For the first two years, my daughter would not go to or stay asleep unless she was being touched. We quickly figured out that co-sleeping was our only option if all three of us wanted to get some sleep.
I was surprised that I actually didn’t mind having her in our bed for the first year or so, and I had heard a little about the benefits. Research has found “early co-sleeping children, as preschoolers, were reported by their mothers to be more self-reliant and reportedly exhibited greater social independence (e.g. ability to dress oneself, work out problems with playmates by oneself) than either solitary sleeping children or reactive co-sleeping children” (Keller & Goldberg, 2004). The researchers concluded that “increased emotional security early on promotes independence as the child becomes older” (Keller & Goldberg, 2004). Over time, I became proud that we had made the decision (even though she kind of made it for us).
Co-sleeping was great…until it wasn’t.
After some time I realized that my relationship with my husband was beginning to slip. Studies have shown that sexual intimacy is necessary for a healthy marriage and that a lack of alone time with your partner is an obstacle to sexual activity (Messmer, Miller, & Yu, 2012). It was hard to have an intimate relationship when I was pregnant and another human being was growing inside of me, but even harder when that little person was sleeping in between us.
Something needed to change.
Around the time she turned one, we tried to move her back into her own room. My daughter, Em was against the idea from the start and thus, our first mistake was made.
This mistake may be in part to do with Em’s inherited stubbornness, but forcing her straight into her own room and bed without any transition set us back so far that we had to wait months before even conversationally approaching the topic with her again. I think we would have made it worse and kept trying but had to give up when the basement flooded and everything had to be taken out of her room.
By the time she was two my husband and I were more than ready to try the transition again; Em still wasn’t too sure. I knew, though, this time had to be different. It needed to be more gradual.
We started talking to her about the move at least a month before taking any action and through our discussions, she gradually seemed more comfortable (at least talking about it.) We decided to start by having her toddler bed against ours before moving her into her room to give her some time to adjust. She fought that sleeping arrangement for a while, but through positive reinforcement (and a little bit of bribery) it became part of her routine. I started getting a bit scared that she was getting too comfortable with the new sleeping arrangements and was unsure of how she’d react when we moved her back into her room.
The Big Move
Then, one day during a conversation that lasted less than a minute , she was convinced.
Me: Hey Em, remember the other day when we were at your friend’s house. You played in their room really nicely. Did you know that they sleep in their own rooms and not with their mommy and daddy? What would you think about being like your friends and trying out sleeping in your big girl room?”
Em: *bright-eyed* Okay!
Seriously, that was it. Similar to the way peer pressure works against your child, positive peer modeling works wonders with little ones achieving positive new milestones as they strive to imitate people in their life they admire.
Hours after we had that pivotal conversation, my daughter was demanding I start moving all the furniture into her room that had not yet made its way back after the flood. The moment my husband got home, the first thing Em said to him was, “move my bed to my big girl room…now,” (she reminded me a bit of myself during my pregnant days of hormonal dictatorship.) Nonetheless, we were all excited. My husband moved her bed into her room and we spent the day putting everything else back in its place.
Then nighttime came. The first thing she said, or rather, screamed when we told her it was time to bed was, “Daddy, put my bed back NOW!”
She didn’t want to sleep in her room. We didn’t know what to do. We knew we had messed up before by forcing it but we were careful this time. She had seemed so ready though, so we decided to stick it out. We discovered the first time around that if we stay with her until she falls asleep she has a sixth sense that awakens her as soon as we leave, so we decided to try to put her to bed and leave the room. We have a video baby monitor, so we can see, hear, and talk to her when not in the room, but I was unsure of how it would go.
How did it go?
The first night was a bit rough. I tucked her in and told her that if she needed something that I could hear her on the monitor and could come help. About 30 seconds after I left the room, this happened;
Me: Yes, Em?
Em: I need something.
Me: What do you need?
(Repeat 4-5 times).
Clearly, I hadn’t explained the concept of what something meant, or maybe she just couldn’t think of a good excuse. I sat in the other room trying to stifle my laughter, knowing that even when big changes are frustrating it’s important to see the humor in stressful situations. After about an hour and visiting her room twice she fell asleep on her own. Our approach seemed a little bit more effective this time around, but it still wasn’t enough.
I figured out that she wasn’t spending enough time in her room to feel comfortable in it and that she was still scared and unsure about sleeping alone. I started playing with her in her room during the days, helping her to feel and understand it was her safe and special place. For the first few weeks, we focused on making sure we responded when she called for us on the monitor, even when we could tell she was making up excuses. Firmly but gently we reminded her that she was safe and we were listening, but she needed to go to sleep.
I also realized that I had let our reading routine slide and saw an opportunity there; so we started reading her 3-4 books before naps and bedtime. We also put together a quiet playlist that helped a ton, you can check it out here. I continued using the baby monitor to talk to her after I left the room to remind her that I was there and could hear her. I even had my husband sit on her bed and took Em into my bedroom to show her what we see on the monitor. We also eased her fear by talking about characters in her books that are pictured sleeping in their own rooms.
Things started to get better. All those little strategies put together finally did the trick. I realized that there is no cookie-cutter way to transition your kid from co-sleeping to his or her own room, but I also realized that the transition is possible for anyone to accomplish. It’s the little things that help.
Summing it up: How to stop co-sleeping
Is your child starting to show interested in transitioning but still seems unsure? By making the process gradual as well as identifying their fears and applying small strategies to remedy them you can have them sleeping in their own room in no time.
Do you have experiences with co-sleeping? Have you made the big move with your child, transitioning them from sleeping with you to sleeping on their own? I’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences, please share them below!
For more information on Safe Co-sleeping please visit the links below:
Featured Image by Bastion Jaillot via Unsplash.
Keller, M. A., & Goldberg, W. A. (2004). Co-sleeping: Help or hindrance for young children’s independence? Infant and Child Development, 13, (369-388). doi: 10.1002/icd.365
Messmer, R., Miller, L. D., & Yu, C. M. (2012). The relationship between parent-infant bed sharing and marital satisfaction for mothers of infants. Family Relations, 61(5), 798-810. doi: 10.1111/j.1741-3729.2012.00743.x