Sometimes co-sleeping lasts longer than it was originally expected to, and a member of the “family bed” must resort to the couch or a blow-up air mattress on a nightly basis.
If this is the situation in your home, it may seem like nothing will ever change. How do you get the kids back in their own bed?
It happens innocently enough; parents who share a bed with their infant because they believe in the benefits of co-sleeping. Or it may have not started in such a concrete manner. Perhaps one parent brought a fussy baby into bed every now and then. Then all of a sudden, months and months have passed and the one-time-newborn is now a 30-pound toddler sleeping diagonally across the parents’ bed. Such is the case of the accidental family bed, and most parents who have found themselves in this situation can attest to the difficulty of getting out of it. The books, strict bedtimes, baths, extra-long romps at the park during the day no longer help at this point. The remedy to this situation is, usually, Dad moving to the couch.
One Mom’s story
Bridget Mann, who co-slept with both of her girls, said eldest daughter Laney stayed in the family bed until she was almost 3 years old. But once Laney was transitioning out, her younger sister Kiera moved in.
“First we tried her sleeping in her own bed and she cried every night,” Bridget said. “Then I started making a little bed of blankets and cushions for her at our bedside. She really felt special in that, being all by herself.”
The transition took about a year for Laney to sleep in her own bed, Bridget said.
Her advice to parents looking to reclaim their sleeping sanctuary is taking the child’s point of view into consideration.
“From an evolutionary perspective, it is a survival instinct of children to want to sleep with their parents,” she said. “That’s why making them feel really safe before bed is really important.”
Secondly, make the transition slowly and in small steps.
“Read your child and your own emotions and let that be a guide to what you do,” she said.
Advice from the professionals
Many parenting books and health care professionals will tell you exactly the same thing.
“Structure, routine, and consistency work for all age levels and more importantly, all developmental levels,” said Jayme Tortorelli, a registered nurse and mother. “For example, it is very important to give toddlers choices whenever possible. This could be something like picking out a night light together or asking them what stuffed animals they want to sleep with.”
Other advice professionals routinely tell parents is to make the child’s room colorful or consider having one parent sleep on an air mattress next to the child’s bed for the first few nights. When all else fails, and your family is experiencing unnecessary stress because of lack of sleep, you may have to take a more hardline approach, such as letting the child cry in bed for progressively longer periods before checking on him.