Q&A Café: Ending Co-Sleeping
This week’s question comes from reader Nikki:
“I’m curious as to how many still have toddlers co-sleeping with them…my daughter is going on 4 and still in bed with me. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy every second, especially being a single parent. But how old is too old? And what have others done to encourage sleeping in their own bed? She has her own room and we have attempted her sleeping there but lately she has seemed to regress and I don’t want to push the issue, fearing that it could make her feel as if sleeping in there is a punishment of some sort. I would absolutely welcome some advice!!!”
Thank you for your question, Nikki! I think this is a subject that many co-sleeping families think about from time to time.
We know that co-sleeping with our babies will help them become secure and independent as they grow, and we assume that when they are ready they will vacate the family bed by themselves. I believe that this happens naturally with all children, albeit at different times – and not always when we want it to happen! An older child will be able to vocalise the fact that they want their own sleeping space, whereas pre-verbal youngsters may find other ways of showing us.
I have never personally had an older co-sleeping child. My 3.5yo son was not a co-sleeper, and my co-sleeping baby is still very much a baby (and no plans to move him out of our bed yet, so I may well be thinking about this in a few years!)
In answer to your question of “how old is too old” – there is no right answer to this. Only what you yourself, and your child, are comfortable with. If you are perfectly happy to continue sharing sleep with your daughter (and vice versa), there is no issue. I’ve known children to vacate the family bed on their own steam at three years old, and others who remained there (at least part-time) until they were 7 or more. All children are different. It does sound, from what you’ve said, as though your daughter probably isn’t quite ready for those changes – regressing is usually a sign that something isn’t right.
However, if you wish to make changes, that’s okay too! By co-sleeping for this long you have set a firm and solid foundation of trust and comfort for your daughter, and that will certainly help her feel more secure as the changes are made. She will be okay.
There are many different approaches you can take, none of which are one-size-fits-all.
I have been reading a lot about the RIE approach to childcare recently which I find very interesting – RIE philosophy is all about the idea that children are a lot more capable than we give them credit for, and should be respected as the fully-functioning, whole people they are. With that in mind, one way of transitioning an older child out of the family bed would be to prepare them fully in advance, before making the changes in one hit and supporting them through whatever difficult feelings they may have, in whatever way that you feel is right. The RIE philosophy hinges on the fact that allowing your child to struggle is completely different than allowing them to suffer. Struggling is an inevitable part of life, and allowing her to struggle with your support could be very beneficial to her, and to the connection you share.
Mama Eve wrote a wonderful post to me when I was struggling with Squish’s sleep a while back when I was unable to co-sleep. It’s definitely worth a read, along with the rest of her blog!
Obviously, not all children would respond well to that approach – and, indeed, if you’re not in a hurry to reclaim your bed then perhaps a more gradual approach could be the way to go. This could entail purchasing a single/twin bed for your daughter and having it in your bedroom, next to your bed to begin with. You could begin by sleeping in there with her for a while, then cuddling her to sleep in her own bed before sneaking into yours to sleep yourself. As time goes on, she will eventually be comfortable with sleeping alongside you in her own bed without your assistance. At a pace that you’re both comfortable with, you could move the bed to the end of your own bed and eventually into her bedroom.
Perhaps, if you are craving some space but aren’t quite ready to move her into her own room, you might stop your transition at the point when she is sleeping in her own bed but still in your bedroom.
However you choose to tackle this, one thing is for certain – preparing her for the changes to come will be very beneficial emotionally for your daughter (and for you!). With that in mind, I’ll share with you some ideas that may help prepare her for solo sleep.
#1 – Her very own bedroom
Decorating a room with a preschooler, although messy, is a fantastic (and fun) way to get them involved and make them feel as though they are an important, active contributor to the new routine, rather than just a passive participant. Pick up some free colour charts to go through together, look at interior design blogs online to get ideas, talk to her about what she wants her special room to be like, and go nuts!
She may like to draw some posters for her wall, or even help you paint a mural. Princesses will appreciate an inexpensive voile canopy over the bed, and maybe a twinkly beaded curtain in the window. Animal lovers may like a jungle theme, with various creatures painted on the walls. The sky is the limit, and it needn’t be expensive! There are plenty of ways you can beautifully decorate a room without even having to paint it, if money is an issue (a post on this coming soon!)
#2 – Write your own ‘bedtime story’
This is a great activity to do together when preparing for anything new and daunting – whether it’s a visit to the dentist, moving house, a holiday or transitioning to solo sleep. With your daughter, make a book/wall chart/scrapbook with each step of her new routine. You could include pictures of her brushing her teeth, in her jammies cuddling her favourite toy, snuggling up with mummy in her brand new bed and finally, going off to sleep by herself. You could draw pictures together, or take actual photographs – in fact, the ‘staging’ required to do this may well be fun and will help prepare her for the real thing.
She can keep her special book by her bed – maybe put a big picture of you and her sharing a lovely cuddle on the front for her to look at. Or, if you chose to make a wall chart, it could hang next to her bed. Then, when you are actually doing the new bedtime routine, you can get her to check her book or chart and tell you what step comes next.
#3 – Offer a comfort object
Not all children take to comfort objects such as cuddly toys, blankies and the like. If she was going to become attached to something, she probably would have done by now. One product I found when my then-2 year old was struggling with the transition to a toddler bed was the Go Glow Light. When it’s placed in the base, it has a soothing glow, and the child can remove it and use it as their very own torch – this will be useful for the inevitable trips to your bed in the middle of the night! The only argument I have with these is that they only seem to make TV character ones (not our cup of tea but no judgement to those who like that kind of thing!).
#4 – Stay positive!
Kids are really, really good at picking up on our feelings. They know when we are anxious about something and it can really affect them. If/when you decide to make the change, do it with a smile on your face and positivity in your heart. She will sense your solidity, and it will help her adjust.
Whatever you choose to do, it’s exactly that – your choice. Sleep problems are only a problem if it’s a problem for you. The arrangement you have may not work for everyone, but if it works for you, there’s really no need to change things.
So, Alternative Mama readers, can you offer any support or words of wisdom to Nikki? When did you stop co-sleeping? Was it entirely the child’s choice, or did you nudge them along? Please share in the comments below!