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What's the best time to move my child out of our family bed and into her own bed?
There's no prescribed "right" time to move a child out of a family bed, nor any rule that says "a child must be in her own bed by age 3."
Make the change when you and your child are ready to – not because you're following some arbitrary deadline. Having another baby on the way, wanting more privacy, and feeling that everyone will sleep better separately are all perfectly legitimate reasons for wanting to end this sleeping arrangement.
But keep in mind that the toddler and preschool years are a tumultuous time. So if your child is currently toilet training, giving up the pacifier, beginning preschool, or hitting any other major milestone, consider waiting on this one.
"It's best not to make your child deal with more than one change at a time, if you can help it," says our site sleep expert Jodi Mindell, author of Sleeping Through the Night.
How do I start the process?
When the timing seems right, start with a few small changes. The idea is to gradually wean your child from the family bed, so she doesn't feel as if she's being abruptly kicked out (and by the people she loves most in the world!).
If she still naps, have her nap in her own room, to give her practice sleeping solo there during the less-intimidating daylight hours. For nights, you can put a futon or a mattress on the floor at the foot of your bed. Tell your child that someday she'll spend the night in her big-kid bed in her own room, but that for now this is her special bed – giving her the security of being close to you while also getting her accustomed to independent sleeping.
If your child doesn't have a comfort object, like a teddy bear, blanket, or baby doll, try offering her one now and encouraging her to sleep with it. At this age, she may not take to a comfort object if she's never used one before. But if she does, it'll help her make the final move to her own bed – after all, she may be forced to leave you behind, but no one can stop her from taking her "Beary" with her.
After a few weeks, explain to your child that it's time for her to sleep in her room at night, and remind her that you'll be right next door (or down the hall) if she needs you.
Another alternative, suggests Mindell, is to move your child straight into her own room but to sleep with her there for the first week or two while she gets adjusted.
"Once she's sleeping well in her new space, move yourself out very gradually," says Mindell. Go from lying down with her to sitting next to her as she falls asleep, then from sitting on the bed to sitting on the floor, and finally move from the floor to the door.
It's important to be consistent so that your child knows what to expect and has time to get used to the new routine.
What should I do if my child resists moving to her own bed?
Over the next few months, you may wear out the carpet between your room and your child's. But you have to expect protests and middle-of-the-night visits – it's only natural for her to continue to seek comfort from you at night, especially if she's had the security of sleeping with you since birth. So decide what your priority is.
If your priority is to not be woken, keep the extra mattress on your bedroom floor for a while, so that your child can wander in and go back to sleep there if she wants.
If your priority is to get your child to remain in her room through the night – and if you're willing to lose some sleep to accomplish this – then do away with the extra mattress. When your child comes into your room, calmly lead her back to her bed and sit with her for a few minutes. (Repeat as often as necessary.)
You can encourage an upbeat attitude about her new sleeping quarters by letting your child decorate her room with favorite stuffed animals and toys, her own drawings on the walls, and a night light (or two).
Talk up and celebrate this transition as the big graduation that it really is, complete with balloons, cake, and gifts of new bedding featuring her favorite characters. Then inaugurate opening night with a peaceful-but-simple bedtime ritual that you'll be able to stick with (for example, a bath, a story, a song, and a few minutes of cuddling).
If your child has a sibling, even a baby sister or brother, consider letting them share a room. They may whoop it up for the first few nights, but soon enough they'll settle down and provide each other with the company and comfort they need to make it through the night.