Moving a Child Gently to His Own Bedroom

A Gradual, Child-led Transitional Approach

This was a compilation of several posts on this subject... all merged together for Katie Granju to use in her book, Attachment Parenting: Instinctive Care for Your Baby and Young Child. I think she probably just used excerpts, though, so here it is in its entirety for anyone who may be interested.

When my son Trevor was 5 years old, I became engaged to be married. For 15 years, I had been a single mom. I had shared a family bed with my son his entire life, and my daughter (19 years old at that time) even slept with her brother and me occasionally. As we discussed our upcoming life together as a family, my husband-to-be asked if I would consider moving Trevor to his own bed. I decided, after much agonizing over the idea, that I would like to have privacy with my husband in our bed and that Trevor was probably old enough to start moving towards his own bed. I agreed to try it but insisted that the process be slow, gentle and respectful of Trevor's needs and wants, and Dave agreed to be patient.

The process started well before Dave came to live with us and continued for several months after we were married. Before any changes were made, I talked to Trevor and let him know what our ultimate goal was. I also assured him that I wouldn't abandon him in his room or leave him crying or frightened. I let him know that he could come into my bedroom any time he needed me. Here are the steps we used:

  1. I started sleeping all night with Trevor in one of the twin beds in his room.
  2. I'd lie down with him in his bed and then move over to the other twin bed sometime during the night (because I usually had fallen asleep when we laid down together).
  3. I'd lie down with him in his bed and then move over to the other bed when he was sleeping soundly (i.e., snoring).
  4. I'd lie down in the other twin when he got in his own bed, and I'd stay there all night.
  5. I'd lie down in the other twin and go to my bed sometime during the night.
  6. I'd lie down in the other twin and go to my bed as soon as I heard him start snoring.

There was no set time frame for each step. We stayed on each step until Trevor seemed completely comfortable with it. If I mentioned the next step and he didn't seem sad or worried about it, we moved to the next step. If he seemed worried or sad, I let it go for another few days, weeks or whatever.

Even after we moved to a new step, we were flexible and occasionally regressed a bit. For example: if Trevor woke up after I moved to my own bed, he would come in and climb in bed with me. I usually tried to get up and go back to his room with him then and sometimes ended up staying in the other twin bed all night, but sometimes I was just too tired so I let him stay in my bed with me the rest of the night. Even now, if he's sick or has a nightmare or just feels lonely, he is more than welcome to climb in bed with us until he feels like going back to his own room.

After Dave and I got married, we intentionally took a few steps back. At first, we all started out every night in Trevor's room. Initially, I'd lie down with Trevor first then move over to the other bed with Dave once Trevor went to sleep. Sometimes we'd get up in a couple of hours and move to our bed, but sometimes we fell asleep and stayed there in the twin bed all night.

The next step involved both Dave and me starting out in the other twin after we had both participated in a long and involved bedtime routine with Trevor. Again, sometimes we'd move to our bed, sometimes not. I anticipated that this would go on for many weeks, but one night, in a move that totally shocked me, Trevor said, "You can go sleep in your room, Mommy. Just leave your light on until I go to sleep; then turn it off." So I did even though I found it disorienting. I really thought it would be a long time before he got to that point.

For weeks, we kissed him goodnight, read his books, etc. then went to our room and sat in bed reading until he went to sleep. Then we'd turn off the light and go to sleep ourselves. At some point, we stopped leaving the light on, but it happened so gradually and naturally that I don't remember exactly when that was. Now, it doesn't matter to Trevor whether we go to bed when he does or not, whose light is on or isn't, etc. When he's ready to go to sleep, he goes to bed. It's amazing. Not one single time did I force him to stay in his room, refuse to lie down with him, leave him feeling sad and lonely, do anything that made him cry about bedtime and beds. I can't believe how pleasant bedtime is around our house.

Some of my fellow attachment-parenting friends have suggested that I abandoned the notion of a family bed because of my husband's wishes, but I don't see it that way. I see what happened in our family as a compromise that was worked out in such a way that the needs and wants of all three people in the house were considered and everybody had to give some and take some.

Dave wanted only the two of us in our bed, and, at least initially, he wanted it to happen right away. He wanted it to happen before we were married, and he wanted Trevor to go to bed before we did, by himself, without significant or lengthy involvement from one or both of us. He also wanted me to take care of it before he came to live with us. He didn't want to be involved in the process.

I wanted Trevor to move to his bed at a pace that was comfortable for him. I didn't want him to feel that he was being pushed out of our bed. I wanted him to eventually be in his own bed all or most of the night unless he was sick or frightened or lonely. I wanted to have time alone with my new husband. I hoped for some uninterrupted time to talk to my husband and make love with him.

Trevor wanted to sleep with his mama, and he didn't care where. He wanted to know, if he woke up and found himself alone, that he could find her quickly and easily.

It took us nearly a year to get to our goal, but Trevor now goes to bed in his own bed and stays there all night most nights. He doesn't want anyone lying down with him (and I don't mean he doesn't ask for it... I mean he says, "You're making me hot [or crowding me], Mom... don't sleep in my bed with me."). I sit on his bed and read books and talk and snuggle and hug and kiss until he decides, in what is becoming fewer and fewer minutes, to scoot down and put his head on the pillow. I turn off the light, turn on his nightlight, tuck him in, kiss him again and leave the room. He is free to get up or call out to me or Dave, but he seldom does. He is usually asleep within minutes of my leaving the room. I used to leave the hall light on, but he has started asking me to turn it off because it's too bright.

So... did Dave get what he wanted? Ultimately, yes... but he didn't get it as quickly as he wanted, it didn't happen before we were married, it didn't happen without his involvement, Trevor doesn't go to bed by himself, he doesn't go to bed before we do unless Trevor decides he wants to do so (and he does do this quite often), and there is a definite bedtime ritual that often involves both Dave and me.

Did I get what I wanted? Yes... I did. If I had not remarried, I probably would have just let Trevor decide for himself when it was time to sleep in his own bed; but I am very comfortable with the process and the pace we used to encourage that to happen a bit sooner. I think the pace and process were comfortable for Trevor and respectful of his needs. I don't think he feels that he was pushed out of my bed, and he truly seems to enjoy sleeping in his own bed now. I wanted him to feel comfortable and welcome to come to our room any time he wanted or needed to, and he does. I have time alone with my husband, but we never close the door to our room unless we have guests sleeping in our house.

Did Trevor get what he wanted? Well... not entirely, it's true. He doesn't sleep with his mama any more, but he actually seems to like sleeping in his own room and in his own bed. He has laid claim to that room now in a way he had never done before, and he DOES close the door sometimes when he's in there playing if he doesn't want to be disturbed (or if he's doing something he doesn't want us to know about - like JUMPING on that bed). The process of getting him to sleep in his own room did start out with him sleeping with his mama, and he knows without doubt that anytime he wakes up and wants or needs to be with me, he merely has to walk across the hall to my room and climb in. He knows he is always welcome. As one of my friends noted, he may not have gotten what he wanted to begin with, but he likes what he has now.

I have no qualms about the way the transition was handled, and I would, without reservation, recommend the methodology we used to parents who are trying to work towards a goal of getting their school-age or older child to sleep in his or her own bed. I believe with all my being that babies and toddlers (or beyond) who are still nursing belong in bed with Mama; but, when the time comes for an older child to be in his or her own bed, there are respectful and gentle ways to accomplish that goal. I truly believe that we found one of the ways.

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