I was six months pregnant when I had reached my final straw, my toddler had to get out of my bed. With a rapidly growing belly it was already difficult to get a decent night of sleep, but my sleeping three-year-old would kick, toss and turn, and snore in my ear, making it actually impossible. I’ve always been a lenient mom, a softy at heart, but this was something my husband and I desperately needed. For so long we had fought over this problem; I didn’t want Leo to fearfully cry himself to sleep, he considered it a standard that every child learned. But that big ole belly finally gave me the push I needed to train my son to sleep in his own room. I did this very progressively, in very small steps, and over the course of a few weeks. There is no quick fix when you’ve let this go on for this long, so patience is key to being successful and, more importantly, to create a positive experience.
1. Position the toddler bed at the foot of your bed. Lay horizontally across the bottom of your bed, next to the toddler bed.
I won’t lie, the first step is rather difficult and this is when he cried and pouted most. I think because it was all so foreign and new. But because he was still so close I was able to hold his hand as he laid down, he was able to see my face as he drifted off to sleep. It’s a good idea to buy a new blanket with their favorite character, or maybe visit Build-A-Bear for a new sleeping buddy, anything to give them new excitement about bedtime. Do this for about one week.
2. Keep the toddler bed at the foot of your bed, but go back to laying in your regular spot.
More tears. Now you’re out of sight and out of reach, a huge step towards sleep independence for your little one, but a very important one! Do this for about two weeks.
3. Move to your little one’s room. Have your little one sleep in their bed, while you lay on the floor nearby.
This is where your heart gets a little soft and you worry about them sleeping more than two feet away from you, but remind yourself that they will be perfectly safe! The first step in their own room is for your little one to lay on their bed while you lay on the floor near them. Once they doze off, you head back to your room so they wake up alone. This helps them realize that sleeping and waking up without you in sight is still safe. In order to create new excitement about bedtime, we actually purchased a junior loft bed for my son. This is one that is elevated off the ground, equipped with a fun ladder and “fort” space underneath, but because it was a junior version it wasn’t nearly as high as some you may have seen. If you’re not looking to purchase a new bed, consider having them bring different toys to bed each night so they don’t feel alone. Do this for about ten days.
4. Have your little one lay alone in his room, while you consistently check on him every five minutes or so.
This was the second most difficult step for us, just behind step one. He was alone in his dark bedroom by himself for the first time. I still keep the television on for him, my husband disagrees, but I hate the idea of him feeling afraid. Going to sleep afraid only leads to bad sleep and scary nightmares. Still, he would cry and tell me he was “afraid of the monsters,” but I told him I would check in on him every two minutes (which I did every five) and we both pushed through. Do this for about two weeks.
5. Stop checking in. Do your bedtime routine and let your little one doze off all on their own.
This last step kind of happened on its own. I was going in his room one night for step four and he said, “You can go mommy, I’m not afraid anymore.” Occasionally he will backtrack and tear up when I leave his room, but I never backtrack with our steps. Give an inch, they take a mile! It’s just his tired, cranky little self being exactly that.
I know what you’re thinking, SUCCESS! My hard work had granted my wish, we had mastered our own sleep training, but boy did my heart hurt. Throughout all of this he was growing, just another thing he didn’t quite need me for anymore. In that moment I was so incredibly proud of him, he is quite an amazing little boy.
So that is the five steps I took (and recommend!) to get a toddler out of your bed and into their own at night. On paper they look quick and easy, but in reality they are so tough when all you want is to lay your head on a soft pillow. But that is why I took the time to make minor adjustments little by little. I love my boy, but my goodness, my husband and I sleep so much better these days. The training is well worth it. Now I am off to conquer my six-month-old’s sleeping habits, wish me luck! Let me know if you have any other steps or advice for mommas looking to work with their infant or toddler!