How to Transition Your Co-Sleeping Toddler to Their Own Bed

Toddler and mother sleeping in bed

Verywell / Photo Composite by Zackary Angeline / Getty Images

After a long day, you’re exhausted and looking forward to a good night’s sleep. You and your toddler, who co-sleeps with you, settle in for the night. Soon, your little one is sleeping soundly. But for you, it’s a different story: Your sleep is anything but sweet.

“Children can be restless sleepers.  They can kick you and steal the covers.  If a parent’s sleep is frequently getting interrupted by the child, that is a recipe for disaster,” explains Lisa Messinger, MD, FAAP, a pediatrician with Northwestern Medicine outside Chicago.

Are you considering co-sleeping with a toddler? Perhaps you are ready to reclaim your bed? Here, we’ll discuss the pros and cons of co-sleeping, how to stop the practice when you're ready, and how to address a backslide into your bed when nighttime fears or sickness may arise.

Pros and Cons of Co-Sleeping

Co-sleeping is the practice of sharing your bed with a child regularly. It can be a time to snuggle with your child and help build a secure attachment. For parents who nurse their baby to sleep, it can be convenient to have that child at arm's length. The impulse to keep your child calm by keeping them close may continue through the toddler years, since many 1-to-2-year-olds may fight sleeping independently due to separation anxiety or fears.

But sleep is supposed to be a time of deep rest and rejuvenation for parents and children. Co-sleeping may work against this goal for the following reasons.

Interrupted Sleep

Studies show that kids who co-sleep actually wake up more frequently at night and sleep for fewer total hours per night than children who don't.

“Co-sleeping does not promote healthy and restful sleep. If you've ever slept with a child, you know you aren't getting long stretches of deep sleep and neither are they,” explains Elizabeth King, Founder and CEO of Sleep Baby Consulting. “Children and babies need this sound sleep for their development and brain growth, and parents need it for their health and well-being as well,” she notes.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) does not endorse co-sleeping with children under age 1 due to safety concerns related to sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). For babies, it's safest to have your child sleep in your room but not share the same bed. The AAP has not formally issued similar recommendations about safe sleep environments for toddlers, but several studies have found that bed-sharing beyond infancy is also associated with negative impacts, including maternal health issues and sleep deficits in kids.

Discouraging Independence

Co-sleeping can also make it difficult for a child to learn how to develop some necessary life skills.

“People begin to learn how to self-regulate as babies,” says Mayra Mendez, PhD, LMFT, a licensed psychotherapist at Providence Saint John's Child and Family Development Center in Santa Monica, Calif. “When you’re co-sleeping and that child is constantly turning to the parent to regulate for them, that’s not healthy development for the child."

When to Stop Co-Sleeping

You may decide co-sleeping is a workable and enjoyable arrangement for a period of parenthood. At some point, however, you'll want to make a shift. Each family is unique, and so is their decision on when to teach a child to sleep in their bed. Experts say that while there is not a set age that's best for making the split, there are a lot of factors that play a part in the timing of it.

“Sometimes parents will stop co-sleeping with kids by the time they are a certain age, or sometimes they stop when a new baby comes along," says Dr. Messinger. "There are also many factors, including cultural [traditions], that affect behaviors around sleep."

The impact that co-sleeping has on your child is also a consideration. If you decide to continue the co-sleep arrangement past the toddler stage, experts say you want to take potential long-range implications into account.

“I have worked with adults who co-slept with their parents throughout childhood and developed severe anxiety around sleeping alone later in life,” King notes.

Ultimately, your family dynamic will help determine when you should stop co-sleeping. Once you make that decision, putting a plan in place helps to assure a successful transition.

How to Stop Co-Sleeping

Having an idea of what comes with a transition away from co-sleeping helps set expectations. Experts provide practical, actionable steps to help you through the process of getting your child comfortable and secure falling asleep (and staying asleep) in their own bed.

Talk to Your Child About the Next Step

When your child understands your expectations for wanting them to start sleeping in their own bed, it can help them feel more a part of the process.

“Let your child know what is coming and that you are excited and proud of them sleeping independently," King states. Children's brains are designed to mirror our emotions so if it is stressful for you, your child will feel that and mirror that stress."

Create a Safe Sleeping Space for Your Child

Whether it is a separate bed in your room or another bedroom, make sure the space your child is going to sleep in is safe. If your child is still sleeping in a crib, it's essential to have only a firm mattress (no soft bedding) in it to reduce SIDS risk. Childproof the room by making sure your toddler has no access to electrical outlets or stairs that could put them at risk for a fall in the middle of the night.

Make Their New Sleeping Area Fun and Inviting

You can decorate your child’s room or space in fun ways. This tactic is typically the most successful for older toddlers.

“Get their room ready with special things to have around bedtime," says Dr. Messinger. "Things like night lights, a flashlight, a cool bed, or a stuffed animal [if they are beyond age 1] can motivate a child to sleep there."

Appeal to Their Sense of Growing Up

Little kids are thrilled by the prospect of being seen as more grown-up. As they transition to their own space or their own room, let them know it is a sign of becoming more independent, on a level they can understand.

“Most children like the idea of being a ‘big kid’, so talk about how your child is getting so big that it is time for them to sleep in their own bed,” Dr. Messinger says. Talk it up so it’s a positive, exciting experience.

Establish a Routine and Keep It

Repetition is key. Put a bedtime routine in place so that your child knows what to expect. After your toddler goes to the bathroom and brushes their teeth, incorporate some comforting together time into the routine, like a bedtime story. Then, you may develop a ritual for saying "good night" before you leave the room—maybe a special song, wish, or hug.

How to Handle a Backslide

We’ve seen it on sitcoms: A child is put to bed, then creeps out of their room back into mom and dad’s bed. Whether this happens regularly or just periodically, like after an illness or travel disrupted their sleep, it’s important to remain committed to your plan of keeping your beds separate.

“Stay consistent. Once you've decided to make the change you need to stick with it," says King. "If your child learns that they simply need to ‘wait you out’ in their crib and will eventually be brought back to your room, the habit will be more difficult to reshape."

You may run into more than just subtle resistance. If crying and tantrums enter the picture, a loving but firm approach can help get their sleep habits back on track.

“We want to be supportive of our children's feelings and emotions but that doesn't mean that boundaries need to change," says King. 'Consistent boundaries actually make children feel more secure, confident, and safe. Consistency is the key!"

A Word From Verywell

Yes, it's sometimes easier to let a fussy toddler climb in beside you at night than to coax them into their own crib or bed. When you try to help them sleep independently, they may test your limits with negative actions or could struggle with separation anxiety. But ending a co-sleeping arrangement may be the healthiest choice for your family. If you create a plan to transition a toddler into their own bed and stick with it, nights of uninterrupted sleep could be the reward for the entire family.

3 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  2. Covington LB, Armstrong B, Black MM. Bed sharing in toddlerhood: choice versus necessity and provider guidelinesGlobal Pediatric Health. 2019;6:2333794X1984392. doi:10.1177/2333794X19843929

  3. TASK FORCE ON SUDDEN INFANT DEATH SYNDROME. Sids and other sleep-related infant deaths: updated 2016 recommendations for a safe infant sleeping environmentPediatrics. 2016;138(5):e20162938. doi:10.1542/peds.2016-2938

Additional Reading

By LaKeisha Fleming
LaKeisha Fleming is a prolific writer with over 20 years of experience writing for a variety of formats, from film and television scripts, to magazines articles and digital content. She has written for CNN, Tyler Perry Studios, Motherly, Atlanta Parent Magazine, Fayette Woman Magazine, and numerous others. She is passionate about parenting and family, as well as destigmatizing mental health issues. Her book, There Is No Heartbeat: From Miscarriage to Depression to Hope, is authentic, transparent, and providing hope to many.Visit her website at www.lakeishafleming.com.