Q: We recently moved. We spent weeks travelling and staying in hotels. During this time we co-slept with our toddler. Now we are getting settled into our new home and understandably he doesn't want to sleep in his own bed. It is a new bed for him, a new bedroom and new surroundings. He is sleeping very well when he co-sleeps. We are happy to continue to co-sleep but would prefer for him to begin sleeping in his own bed again. How can we best support our toddler to sleep in his own bed in his room?
A: Remember that this is the sensitive period for order. During this period of development the very young child, who has not yet developed internal order, relies on order within his external environment to regulate himself. Order can be spatial, social and temporal.
Spatial order relates to your child’s physical surroundings. As pretty much everything has recently changed in his physical environment, he will need some time to re-orient himself to the new space. Pay particular attention to where you keep his personal belongings, work/play activities and communal belongings, and make an extra effort to have a place for everything and everything in its place. Impress upon the rest of your family how important this is for your toddler.
Social order relates to the relationships in your toddler’s life. This includes relationships with parents, siblings, neighbours, close friends who you see regularly, extended family members and other neighbourhood members. When we move, we leave behind a multitude of connections in our old community, and forge new ones in our new community. As adults, we have the communication tools, and the internal order, necessary to adapt to this significant change in ways that do not manifest outwardly (although moving house is listed as one of the most stressful life changes we can experience as adults!). Our toddlers are not equipped for these changes, and are particularly affected by changes within their immediate home environments (one parent starting work and spending less time at home, one parent ceasing work and spending more time at home etc.) Co-sleeping is a very sensible way to connect with your toddler and reassure them that some things are still the same, so following your instincts in this regard was a good call.
Temporal order relates to your child’s daily rhythms, routines and rituals. When your toddler’s day unfolds in the same basic way every day, they are comforted by the predictability and sameness of their life. Trying to keep disruptions to the flow to a minimum is a great way to keep your toddler on an even keel.
So bearing in mind that all this change has been super disruptive, you may need to consider a staged withdrawal, rather than a cold turkey approach. Try moving your toddler’s mattress into your bedroom, next to your bed - which will get them out of your bed, but still close enough to reach out and touch you in the night. Then move the mattress a distance from your bed. Then move their mattress into their room and you sleep on a camping mattress in their room for a couple of nights. Then try to start bedtime alone, but always responding to calls for help/attention without anger or frustration. Soon enough, with a good measure of Calm, Compassion, Clarity, and Consistency (I call these the 4 C’s) bedtimes will return to their pre-move routine.
I will leave you with a couple of thoughts on how we can make things harder for ourselves in the long run when negotiating with our toddlers:
- When we show heightened emotions our toddler tunes into our non-verbal communication and sense the underlying tension. This disrupts their social sense of order.
- When we ignore our children’s expressions of loneliness, sadness, or fear, we shut down the only means of communication they have at their disposal. The less developed your young child’s verbal communication, the more important it is for you to wait, and listen to what they are showing you through their behaviour.
- When we change the rules, change our expectations, and change our responses from day to day, moment to moment, situation to situation, we make it difficult for our toddlers to find a firm footing in their emotional world. Trying to be as consistent as possible brings much fruit in our relationships with young children.
Thank you to Montessori teacher and trainer Meghan Hicks for helping us with this question. If you have a question for Meghan please email [email protected]. If you have questions about transitioning a toddler from co-sleeping to sleeping in their own room, leave a comment below!