The transition to sleeping alone for a child who has been co-sleeping can be difficult, for both the parent(s) and the child. The process of moving your child to his own bed and room needs to be a gradual process, even if they say they want to sleep alone.

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First, you need to prepare your child’s individual sleeping space making is safe, secure, and comfortable. Additionally, once you make the determination that your child is ready, you need to prepare for an adjustment period and possible regression.

Is My Child Ready to Sleep Alone?

The answer to this question is dependent on a number of factors. There is no set age; it is up to you and your child to decide what is best for both of you. Either you or your child may want more privacy, your child may be asserting some occasional independence, or perhaps school makes an earlier bedtime necessary. Whatever the reason, communication is the key to success. Talk about the impending move with your child, emphasizing the advantages – your own special bed, room for your stuffed animals, etc.

Prepare Your Child’s Sleep Space

Even if your child’s room is not close to yours and initially appears dark and scary, you can take steps to create a sleep space that provides a sense of ownership, safety, and comfort. A soft nightlight can give your child a sense of warmth and security. The addition of a sound machine, a cd with six or eight favorite restful tunes, or a long-playing music box can mask traffic noise, footsteps, and the normal nighttime house noises.

Consider an oversized stuffed animal. My daughter purchased extremely large stuffed animals that could double as pillows for each of her daughters when transition time came. She chose their favorite specie and breed – a lion for one, a dog with floppy years that resembled the puppy in a favorite book for the other. She explained that they were not only companions, but would protect them. Transition was extremely smooth and she has since shared this idea with many other parents who have also experienced success.

When you pick out bed treatments, go for softness and your child’s favorite color. Spend a bit more on sheets with a high thread count for extra softness.

If your child would enjoy doing so, have your child shop with you. If you child does not indicate any eagerness in participating, consider a complete room do-over in a theme they will love. Unveil your efforts, explaining the benefits of each component – the light, the sound machine or other music provider, the new and comfortable bedding.

Whether your child participates in decisions about the room, or you do the preparation, your goal is to make the transition feel positive, special, and exciting.

A Period of Adjustment

We have addressed the importance of a bedtime routine in previous blogs – especially important prior to having your child move into their own room. Your child’s bedtime routine should include such activities as picking up and putting away clothes and toys, a bath, tooth brushing, dressing for bed, and a story.

You do not want sleeping alone perceived as abandonment with resultant fear. If your child is uncomfortable sleeping alone, try sitting with your child the first few weeks until sleep comes. You may worry that sitting with your child may establish a bad habit, but the reality is this is a great way to transition into sleeping alone. Gradually, the need to sit with your child will decrease, and then disappear.

Other suggestions to help with adjustment:

  • Spend time with your child in her room and bed during the day; read stories, talk, and snuggle.
  • Start having naptime in the new room and bed.
  • Start having a portion of the bedtime routine in the new room – donning pajamas, bedtime story, etc.

Dealing with Resistance

For the most part, we have made the assumption your child’s transition will go smoothly. However, what if your child does not want to sleep in their own room.

Do not give up. You can respond four ways if you are greeted with complaints and crying each night at bedtime.

  1. Use a reward system. A sticker chart, extended story time, a special breakfast the next morning may all promote compliance.
  2. Promise a visit in a few minutes. If sleep is not achieved when you return, encourage and comfort your child, then leave again. It is hoped that, by the third visit, your child will have fallen asleep.
  3. Use gradual withdrawal. Put your child in bed, and stay with him until he falls asleep, moving further and further away each night until you are no longer in the room.
  4. Finally, try allowing your child to cry. Start with five minutes and, if he is still crying at the end of that time, go back in, provide comfort and meet any reasonable needs, then leave again. Increase the time for crying between each visit.

Remember, whatever method you try, keep calm with a loving, comforting tone of voice.

Possible Regression

Kids regress during times of stress. My youngest son lost his birth mother when he was four years old and regressed, needing to sleep with his father. As a newlywed, this was not comfortable for me, but I realized his need.

Stress may give your child nightmares, with the need to sleep with you again. Allow co-sleeping to resume temporarily, and then transition your child back to their own room. Another idea is to allow your child to sleep temporarily on an extra mattress placed on your bedroom floor. My daughter has “sleep overs” with her daughters who are ages five and eight if she thinks they need it – a family death, stressful week, anything that interrupts the family dynamics and schedule. They bed down on the floor of the master bedroom on sleeping bags with plenty of pillows and their favorite stuffed animal.

Remember, co-sleeping provided your child with a feeling of being loved as well as comfort and a sense of security. You want their experience sleeping in their own room to be just as positive. Make sure your child is ready to make the transition, provide a safe and comfortable place for them to sleep, and work with them to make the transition as smooth as possible so you can achieve success in this important step of raising your child.

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