Co-sleeping, or having young children sleep in the same bed as their parents, is a common practice for many families. However, there is a lot of debate around when is the right age for kids to transition to sleeping independently in their own room. In this article, we will explore the different viewpoints on this issue and provide guidance for parents on when kids are developmentally ready to stop sleeping with mom and dad.
The benefits of co-sleeping
Many attachment parenting advocates encourage co-sleeping beyond infancy and even into early childhood. Reasons cited for co-sleeping include:
- It can make breastfeeding easier, especially during the night.
- Being close to parents helps a child feel safe, secure, and comforted.
- Co-sleeping may help prevent SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome).
- It promotes parent-child bonding.
- Children often sleep better next to their parents.
- Seperation anxiety at bedtime may be reduced.
Therefore, many attachment parents believe it is perfectly normal and beneficial for children to sleep with their parents well into the toddler, preschool, and even early elementary school years. They argue that a family bed arrangement meets a child’s emotional needs and that kids will naturally transition to independent sleeping when developmentally ready.
Drawbacks of long-term co-sleeping
While co-sleeping is recommended for infants, other experts argue there are disadvantages to continuing the practice long-term:
- Co-sleeping beyond infancy can create unhealthy sleep associations for a child. They may then struggle to self-soothe and fall asleep independently.
- Bed-sharing could impair a child’s quality of sleep. Movements or noises from parents can disrupt a child’s sleep cycles.
- Always sleeping next to parents can hinder a child’s independence and self-confidence.
- Potential safety risks of accidental suffocation or strangulation in an adult bed.
- Impacts intimacy and privacy for parents.
- The family bed often ends up being a point of conflict.
As a result, many pediatricians and sleep specialists recommend moving kids into their own room by the time they are 1 year old, or even as young as 6 months.
Is there an ideal age for stopping co-sleeping?
There is no universal agreement on exactly when children should transition to their own bed and bedroom. However, child development experts suggest looking for these general signs of readiness in your child:
- They are sleeping through most of the night independently.
- Naps are peaceful and without protest when separation occurs.
- Bedtime rituals are positive.
- Anxiety about monsters under the bed or darkness has diminished.
- Bladder control has improved for most nights.
- Curiosity about the world leads to greater independence and autonomy.
- Peer and social relationships outside the home are becoming more important.
Many experts recommend age 3 as a general guideline for transitioning out of the family bed, as most children will have reached important developmental milestones by this point. However, every child is unique. Use the readiness signs above as a better indicator than age alone.
Age-by-age guide to transitioning from co-sleeping
Infants (0-1 year)
The first year of life is developmentally appropriate for co-sleeping. Gradually transition baby into a bassinet or crib in the same room as parents over the first few months.
Toddlers (1-3 years)
Separation anxiety peaks between ages 1-2. Slowly help your toddler get used to falling asleep independently by establishing positive bedtime routines. Move toddler into their own room by age 3.
Preschoolers (3-5 years)
Preschoolers gain greater independence and start interacting more with peers. Continue reinforcing positive sleep habits and nighttime separation. Most children can sleep independently by age 5.
Early elementary (6-8 years)
Fears may resurface at this age. Be patient and consistent with bedtime routines. Praise progress to build confidence. Children this age should be able to sleep alone.
Tips for transitioning out of the family bed
If your preschooler or young child is still resistant to moving out of your bed, try these gentle transition strategies:
- Involve your child in decorating and personalizing their new big kid bedroom so they feel ownership over the space.
- Purchase a new mattress or bedding as an exciting upgrade.
- Let your child pick out a beloved stuffed animal or blanket to cuddle for comfort.
- Use a transitional object like a special stuffed animal that starts in your room then moves to their bed.
- Spend time reading, singing, and unwinding together in the new bedroom before saying goodnight.
- Use a night light or keep the door cracked for security while your child adjusts.
- Use positive reinforcement like rewards when your child sleeps in their own room.
- Be patient during setbacks and remain calmly consistent with the new routine.
Setting a schedule for the transition
Following a structured schedule can help the transition out of co-sleeping go more smoothly. Try sticking to these steps:
- Talk to your child during the day to explain that soon they will sleep in their own bed like a big kid. Hype up this rite of passage while also validating any worries.
- Start spending time in the new room before bed for storytime, cuddling, etc. to set the stage.
- For the first 1-2 weeks, do your normal bedtime routine together then sit in your child’s room until they fall asleep.
- Over the next few weeks, gradually decrease the time you stay in their room at bedtime.
- Next, sit outside the room and periodically check on your child as they fall asleep independently.
- Finally, transition to saying goodnight then letting your child self-soothe to sleep on their own.
What if my child won’t stay in their room at night?
Some kids will make multiple attempts to return to the parent’s bed overnight at first. Gentle but consistent reinforcement is key:
- Walk your child calmly back to their room each time, using as little interaction as possible.
- Offer reassurance but avoid negative attention. Stay neutral in your tone and response.
- Consider using a gate or shutting doors if your child leaves their room at night for safety.
- Remind about staying in their room in a matter-of-fact way the next morning.
- Use rewards like a star chart each morning they stay put successfully.
When to seek outside help
While minor setbacks are normal, if sleep struggles persist beyond a few weeks or your child remains highly distraught, it may be time to consult your pediatrician or a sleep specialist. They can assess if an underlying issue like anxiety is contributing and provide customized guidance to get your child’s sleep back on track.
The bottom line
Moving from co-sleeping to independent sleep is a big transition for kids and parents alike. With patience and consistency, most children can successfully make this milestone leap between ages 3-5. While every child develops differently, look for cues around self-sufficiency and decreasing separation anxiety as a signal your little one is finally ready for their own big kid bed.