How do you establish a post-cosleeping bedtime?

Reader question time:

I would like some suggestions on having a bed time with the family bed. My daughter who is almost three has been co-sleeping with us from the first day we brought her home from the hospital. I would like her to sleep in her own bed in our room with a bedtime. This has proven to be very difficult. She can’t fall asleep without me next to her. Any tips would be appreciated.

This is a classic question for attachment parenting, I think, and I know that we’ve had mixed results with this. In fact, I seem to be a bit more focused on detaching from the kids at bedtime than their mom is, but that’s another story. 🙂

What we did to transition our little ones out of our bed is to actually have their bed adjacent to our bed and I built a bed frame so that their little mattress was the same height as the big bed. My imaginative name for it?
The “sidecar”.
If you think about it that way, you can envision a sidecar just like on a motorcycle where that’s your little girl’s bed, her space, with her stuffies, favorite sheets, etc., and it’s right next to the bed you’re in, so if she’s scared, lonely, whatever, she can just ooze over and be with you.
Use that as a transitional strategy: bedtime involves her cuddling up all cosy in her bed and you lay on the big bed and hold her hand, have your arm over her shoulders, whatever, as she falls asleep. If you find she’s in the big bed, keep picking her up and putting her in her own little sleeping space so that she gets used to waking up there, not with you and daddy.
After a while of this (with admittedly mixed results 🙂 we created a gap between the two beds so that it was actual work to move from one to the other. Then you can start seeing the light at the end of the tunnel!
Now what I do is with my 6yo we usually cuddle and go to sleep in my bed, then once she’s asleep I always, 100% of the time, pick her up and put her in her own bed, which is in the same room, but across the room and at a very different height. We’re in the same space, but it’s definitely not cosleeping any more, just more like roommates.
It’s a trade-off: I really don’t like having little people in the same bed, cosleeping or not, because as they become more mobile, they seem to become little limpets who aren’t happy unless they’re curled right up into you. Which usually means you can’t get comfortable or are even pushed off the bed entirely!! Not so good.
That’s how we addressed this issue with our three, but we’re just one data point. Dear reader community, can you offer up some help and ideas for this tired mama on how to transition her 3yo from a family bed into her own space?

2 comments on “How do you establish a post-cosleeping bedtime?

  1. Here are some thoughts for you that you may or may not have tried:
    1) Provide your child with self-soothing tools. A special pillow, blanket, stuffed animal, etc. can all be helpful. Encourage self-soothing behaviors with your assistance throughout the day, particularly when she’s upset or in need of comfort.
    2) Make prepping the bed a big deal. Take your girl shopping to choose new bedding,etc. Hang something special over the bed, for example. Involve her in creating this sacred space.
    3) Create bedtime rituals with your daughter’s input that make the transition from awake time to sleeping time smooth and special.
    4) Let your girl choose her bedtime. “Would you like to go to bed at 7:30 p.m. or 8 p.m.?” Or whatever times work for your family. Then, explain that bedtime means that parents have their quiet time and this is your daughter’s quiet time to be in her own bed. Then let go of any expectations about when she falls asleep. In her space, she can read, play, have the lights on or off, put jammies on or not,fall asleep in her bed or on the floor, etc. Soon, when you let go of control you don’t need, she’ll start to take control of her own experience during this time and likely her sleep needs will prevail.
    5) Be sure avoid trying to enforce or dictate when your child should fall asleep. This simply doesn’t work for anyone. We all have our own natural rhythms around sleeping and there’s truly not a way to force falling asleep. Give her some control in this area and you might experience a natural shift.
    6) Be patient. Just like “weening” of any kind, this is a process that will be fraught with ups and downs, but eventually — with consistency and compassion — I believe you will achieve what you seek.
    Best wishes and sweet nights’ sleep for you and your family!

  2. God bless the good mom,
    This is a tough one. Like the first comment, the answer will probably be a combination of many different things. The bad news is that each child will require you to learn an entirely different set of skills for their bedtime. I think Dave’s “sidecar” is an ingenious solution.
    As a grandpa I realize it takes a very smart village to raise kids in a loving manner. My only contribution to my now 4 y/o granddaughter’s bedtime is that Grandpa Neil and Ceili have a ritual when I do what she calls “a sleepover”. It goes exactly like this every time: She chooses two books for me to read to her, she chooses her pajamas and which Mr. Froggy she wants to cuddle with, we close the door so we don’t bother her parents, she crawls in and I sit right next to her leaning against the headboard with physical contact with her. After a 2 minute “mood setting” silence I begin to read. If she gets up, or looses the physical contact I merely stop reading until she returns. After the second book I turn off the big light and just sit and sooth her, mostly in silence, and let her know I will be slipping out in 5 minutes whether she is asleep or not.
    Please don’t ask me why but this has worked for us from the start and the magic is that I sleep better each time I “sleepover” basking in this wonderful connection to my grandangel. NEIL

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