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Lest we think I have everything figured out in the sleep department, I'll first submit my confessions. One, I fell into co-sleeping and bedsharing by accident. Two, I've worked with a sleep consultant because I'm no where near perfect and sometimes we as parents just need help from an expert. And three, my second child has only half transitioned out of our bed so my success rate is merely 1.5 children currently sleeping in their own beds.
My overall sleep philosophy is a fairly simple one—I want my children to love sleep. So, everything we do in relation to bed and nighttime is geared towards fulfilling that goal.
More and more I hear of adults struggling with sleep. Quality sleep is such a crucial part of health that I don't want anything to deter my kids from enjoying our bedtime routine, falling asleep comfortably and embracing the night. It's a lofty task, but one that will surely serve my children well their entire lives if my husband and I put in the grunt work now.
For our children, sharing a room and sometimes a bed in the early years has been the norm. Much of what we do, I learned from the book, "Three in a Bed: The Benefits of Sleeping With Your Baby" by Deborah Jackson. Thankfully, this book was recommended to me when my daughter was just a few weeks old so I was quickly able to quell my plans for separate nursery sleeping. We took to bedsharing (identified as sleeping on the same surface) and co-sleeping (identified as sleeping in one room, but different surfaces) easily. Our sleep rhythms jived and we were all as rested as we could be under the circumstances of a new baby.
When the time came, by daughter migrated to her own bed and room without fuss. And last month, we began the same transition with my son. Here's a little of what I've learned along the way of our ever-changing sleep situation ...
Understand That Every Child's Timing Is Different
Some babies yearn for their own space to stretch and move long before their first birthday. Others are nearing kindergarten before the jump to a single bed feels comfortable. Every child is different and it's 100% okay to do one thing with one child and something different with another. My daughter had just turned 2 when she embraced her own bed and room. My son is going a different route and just recently moved from what he calls "mama bed" to a crib-sized mattress on the floor in our master bedroom.
Although change can be hard, they understand it. With a parent's guidance they can embrace change too.
Know That Small Steps Are Crucial
My son is vastly differently than my daughter. Truly, some days I wonder how I could have birthed such opposite little people! With this difference, I knew his transition to his own bed would be different than her experience. In preparation for a third child, I felt it was time to graduate him from our bed, but just the same, knew he wasn't ready for the full boot. So we took a small step and compromised. He is no longer in our bed, but he is still in our room. When the time is right, we'll take another small step and he will join his sister in her room so he can still have a nighttime companion.
Have a Conversation
I'm constantly amazed at all my children absorb from the world around them. Although change can be hard, they understand it. With a parent's guidance they can embrace change too. The first step is talking about it. Openly and honestly, with words they can comprehend. I said something like this, "Max, you are growing up to be such a big boy and Mommy needs some more space in her bed. I set up a bed just your size right next to me with a special Spiderman pillowcase that only you can sleep on! In a few nights I am going to help you try out sleeping there. It will be new, but I will be close by. I'm excited to do this together!"
Make It Fun
That Spiderman pillowcase? It was the clincher for us. With a big sis, Max doesn't have much to call his very own, so having something in a special place that is Max-only was very enticing. Also, before we ever attempted sleeping on his own bed, we read stories there and snuggled just because. He also got to jump on his mattress like a crazy monkey after one special reading of "No More Monkeys Jumping On the Bed"! Making fun memories surrounding beds/bedtime/sleeping has been a great building block during our transition.
Who knows your child best? You! If you sense they're ready to transition to their own bed, give it a try. If it works, fabulous! If it doesn't, let it go! A failed transition isn't even close to a failure. It's a learning experience for you and for your child. Have a conversation about it and try again later. The fact of the matter is, your child likes to be close to you, often needs to be close to you, because you are a safe place. Honor that. Being a safe place comes in handy when they're small and will prove to be a true blessing as they grow and experience much bigger transitions than moving to their own bed or bedroom. Keep your end goal in mind and ignore what everyone else is doing. You are your child's best parent.