Q. Our 2½-year-old has been in the habit of sleeping in our bed. How can we get him into his own?
A. Very gradually. Like any pleasant addiction, sleeping next to Mommy and Daddy is tough to quit, no matter how cleverly and empathetically you help him do it. You and your child are bound to lose sleep over the next few weeks (or more), so go in expecting it and take your pick of one of two methods. Plan A (my first choice): Move your son straight into his room, and bunk with him for the first few days or week while he adjusts to his new sleeping quarters. Then ease yourself out. Go from sleeping in his room the whole night to just part of it; from lying down with him while he falls asleep to sitting up next to him; and so on. Then tiptoe out the door.
Or Plan B: Put a futon, small mattress, or sleeping bag on the floor at the foot of your bed, and tell your son that soon he’ll sleep in his room, but for now this is his special place to snooze. After a few weeks of this, let him know that it’s time to sleep in his own room and that you’ll be nearby if he needs you. Keep the extra mattress in your room so he can come in and flop — without waking you. Or else get rid of it and escort him back to his room every time he comes in. If visitations continue, you may have to enlist Plan A to help him make the final transition. And if he doesn’t already sleep with a favorite stuffed animal or other love object, encourage him to cuddle up with one now.
It’s hard to keep perspective when you’re sleep deprived (and you will be), but try. All children eventually sleep on their own. Yours has been on Earth for a mere 30 months, and he deserves your continuing compassion and patience, even at 2 A.M.
Trisha Thompson is a contributing editor to PARENTING and a former editor-in-chief of BabyTalk.