We’re used to thinking of bed-sharing as something parents do with nursing babies, but it starts happening all over again once kids pass 2 years of age. It may start during a vacation, an illness, or a stressful time (new school, new house, divorce, etc). And surprisingly, bed-sharing (at least once a week) peaks at 4 years of age. 

Bed-sharing with your toddler or preschooler can be a wonderful experience as long as you’re not doing it for the wrong reasons (such as avoiding intimacy with your partner)—and as long as you and your partner both like sharing the bed with your little one. In one study, researchers looked at 944 families and found that bed-sharing toddlers had no negative cognitive or behavioral outcomes.

Bed-sharing is also much, much safer at this age than during the early months. But make sure your room is totally childproofed. Crawl everywhere and tug on everything to check. Watch out for cords, appliances, sharp corners, electric outlets, windows, sharp grills, things in the garbage can, pennies or staples on the floor, plastic bags in the closet, and so on. And never put medicine in your nightstand.

To keep everyone cozy in this arrangement, consider getting a bigger bed. Or consider putting a little bed next to yours…or perhaps put your mattress on the floor with a mat and sleeping bag next to it for your child. 

Cozy or not, the day will eventually come when it’s time to wean your child from nightly bed-sharing (although most of us continue to bed-share on occasion for many years to come). Here are some simple, gentle, and effective ways to do it.

In the Daytime…

Give your tyke lots of comforting routines like special time, a daily massage, or cookies and milk every afternoon. And build their sense of confidence by giving them options (“Should we have cereal or eggs for breakfast?”) and playing the boob

Also, use confidence-building techniques like:

  • Playing hide-and-seek. This teaches your tot that when you go away, you always come back.
  • Practicing patience-stretching and magic breathing to boost their ability to handle frustration and to endure short separations.
  • Playing on their bed during the day to boost their familiarity and comfort with it.
  • Let your child overhear you talking to his teddy or dollies about how cozy it is sleeping in their own bed.
  • Looking at their Beddy-Bye Book with them every day to help them build the right expectations.
  • Acting out bedtime with his dollies.

At Night…

To many little kids, a dark bedroom can seem like a scary cave. Your tot will handle their new independence better if you can show them that it’s a comfy nest instead.

First, turn off the screens…or better yet, keep them out of the room altogether. Next, ease the transition to night by dimming the lights and playing soft white noise (like rain on the roof) an hour before bedtime, so the switch from bright light to darkness is not so abrupt: give massages, sing lullabies, do bedtime sweet talk, and use a lovey.

For the first three or four nights, sleep next to your child’s bed all night. Once they’re sleeping well in their bed, move your sleeping bag or cot two feet away from the bed. When they’re okay with that, move halfway to the door for a few days…then next to the door…then just outside the door. Check in on them every 10 to 15 minutes after lights-out to reassure them that you’re still thinking of them.

Once they’re ready to stay in their room on their own, keep the door open. Use a gate to keep them in their room, and provide a mat, pillow, and blanket by the door in case they choose to sleep by the door instead of in the bed.

Be flexible.

You may make progress, but then have a couple of rough nights when things slide back again. That’s okay. Being alone for even five minutes can be hard for a fearful child, and your most important goal is to lower your sweetie’s anxiety level and help them feel safe enough to start enjoying bedtime again.

Don’t make a big deal about their success!

This can backfire by making your child feel more pressured because it is obviously so important to you. It may also make them feel like a failure if they backslide a bit. So be positive, but understated. During the day, gossip about their victories, but don’t overdo your happiness about it.

Stay at home.

When your angel is sleeping, they need there to be a person whom they trust completely (not a new babysitter). Waking up and having no one familiar to comfort them can cause them to quickly regress and send everything back to square one.

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