Dear Mama Drama:
My husband and I have been practicing the family bed with our son who is now eighteen months olds. We all sleep in the same bed, with him either in the middle or on the outside of me with a portable bed-rail next to him. He also sleeps in our bed during his naps. As he is getting bigger we think he is ready to begin sleeping in his own bed in his room.
We want to make this a smooth transition that maintains the trusting relationship we have built with him. Do you have any recommendations on how to proceed?
It’s great that the family bed option has been so successful for you. In our culture there can be a lot of pressure against safe co-sleeping. Making choices based on your own beliefs and family relationships can be challenging in the face of disapproval or judgment by others. Being thoughtful about how you move your son to his own bed will help you continue your pattern of attachment parenting. Offering choices and allowing him the time he needs to transition will maintain the trust you have cultivated.
Some families choose to create a bed in their bedroom for their child when they begin the transition from the family bed. This can be a pallet at the side or end of the bed or even a toddler sized mattress on the floor. Others go straight to the toddler bed in their child’s room. Making a big deal about the new bed and having your son help choose the bedding can be helpful in engaging him in the process.
You can begin with offering him the choice of taking his nap in his bed or in mom and dad’s bed. When he is mostly choosing to sleep in his own bed for nap, put him down for nap there without the choice. You can provide other choices about blankets, animals, or stories to read to continue supporting his independent decision making. If the bed is off of the floor, be sure to use the bed-rail so he does not fall out.
Once he is comfortable napping in his own bed and knows where he is when he awakens, offer him the choice of going to bed at night in his own bed. Following the same pattern as with naps put him to bed there regularly once he is choosing it consistently.
While your son may be going to sleep in his own bed, he may not stay there all night at first. You can choose to allow him to sleep part of the night in your bed or keep him in his own bed. There is no set time period to complete this process. Listening to the needs of your son and trusting your instincts are the guidelines to go by.
There are many books on attachment parenting that can support you in handling parenting decisions as your son grows. One of my favorites is The Baby Book: Everything You Need to Know About Your Baby from Birth to Age Two (Revised and Updated Edition) by William and Martha Sears.