Co-sleeping or bedsharing is quite a controversial topic, both in the medical world and in the mom world.
Most mothers I know that end up bedsharing, though, aren't doing it by choice; they're doing what I call reactive co-sleeping. As one mother I worked with put it, "She just ends up in my bed every night!"
And I get it. When it's the middle of the night, you're sleep deprived and exhausted and all you can think of is getting some sheep jumping across your eyelids, all you can think of doing is the quickest way to make it happen.
Logic, long-term planning, and child psychology are not at the fore of your mind at that point - and nowhere near it.
I know. I've been there.
But I will tell you this: it only gets harder.
For most reactive co-sleeping moms of infants, the process is relatively smooth and straight-forward.
When it comes to toddlers, though, that adds a whole new dimension.
Whether the toddler was sleeping with mom or dad since birth, or a vacation, illness, or other circumstance caused a regression that's been going on for months, toddler habits are hard to break. Partially because of the length of time, and partially because of the natural strong will of toddlers.
But there will come a time, whether because your little one has come to an age that you believe he should be in his own bed, or you've got another baby on the way, or you're simply feeling too mombie-ish for this to continue any longer, that you're ready to get your little one out of your bed and into his own.
So how do you do it?
When are you going to do it? How are you going to do it?
Take into account things such as vacations, visits to Bubby, teething, illness, the start of potty training or a new kindergarten or childcare. You want to set yourself up for success, so make sure there is nothing else that's going to bungle things up. Give yourself a at least 2-4 weeks to get everything moving smoothly before you shake things up with travel, potty training and the like.
Prepare yourself and your toddler.
Having a lovey or blanket is a great way for your toddler to snuggle with something and feel safe and comfy in his own bed. If your toddler does not yet have a lovey or blankie, you can pre-empt the move by introducing a special stuffed animal or blanket (or even your pillow case!) that he can use to feel cuddly and secure in his own bed.
If you've got a toddler below the age of 3, it's best for him to be in a crib. (Children below 3 generally do not have the self-control to be able to remain in a bed that they can physically get out of.) Make sure you've got the crib set up on the night you're planning to start.
If your toddler is over the age of 3, and you feel he's ready for a bed, make sure you've got that set up, too.
If your toddler is old enough, let him know about the change that's about to come. Discuss some of your expectations with him so he'll know what to expect. Don't be surprised if he's not so excited about it - he is likely very used to sleeping with you and will find the change of scenery difficult. It can often help to have a visual representation of what your expectations are - and he may enjoy coloring in a picture to make it his "own."
Toddlers are tricky ones. While some children may acclimate to their new environment without any protest, those children are few and far between. (And those are not usually the babies that parents end up practicing reactive co-sleeping with!)
Remember that our children learn through our interactions with them, and your toddler will only know what you expect of him by how you act and react. Remaining consistent, as always, is key to ensuring that you will be successful in the transition.
Let her know you notice when she does the right thing, and let her know that you like it. For children above three who will be in a bed, building a system of natural positive consequences that happen as a result of staying in bed the whole night can be very valuable in encouraging them to do it again as well.