T1 started his life out sleeping in a First Years Close and Secure Sleeper (it actually goes in your bed and I plan on using it with T2 as well), moved into the swing, and then transitioned to a pack-n-play at 4 months. Until October of 2012 he slept alone in a crib, and then we decided to potty train, which meant he needed to be in a bed where he was freely able to use the bathroom whenever he needed (of course, he still won’t go pee alone, but that will come with time I hope!). I liked the Montessori approach that puts the mattress directly on the floor, which meant we didn’t have to buy a bed frame, he would be able to easily get in and out of bed (and he loves being able to lay on his side and play with his trains as he goes to sleep!), and also gave us the space to keep the futon in his room that we use for guests and reading books.
On October 20th we put him in a big boy bed for the first time.
The first few nights, he came out a few times to ask for milk* or tell us he had to go to the bathroom again, but things were going surprisingly well. I thought maybe this was it. He was both potty-trained and sleeping in his own bed at night!
Two weeks later, he started coming into our bed in the middle of the night. He was starting in his own bed, but then I’d be tapped by a little hand in the middle of the night asking to sleep in mama’s bed.
When That Husband is out of town, I actually don’t mind having him sleep with me as there is more than enough room. There were still several issues to work through though. The first was that to get him to go to sleep, I had to lay down with him until he drifted off, which would sometimes last 1-2 hours. So much for time to myself in the evenings. And knowing that soon I would have a husband out of town over half the week with a baby waking up to eat every few hours and a toddler demanding I lay with him at all times while he is sleeping, I knew that this wasn’t going to be an appropriate long-term solution.
To make things worse, T1′s nighttime needs were eating up all of my alone time with TH! For the 3 nights that we were together, TH would take over the bedtime routine, and he found it was easiest to lay down with T1 in his room until he was sleeping. This would happen at around 8pm at night, and so I would go to sleep before he would come out of T1′s room. Soon that transitioned into TH sleeping in T1′s room the entire night, and we had zero time together to talk and be adults without T1 demanding our attention.
Over Christmas with my family here we had him sleeping in our bed all the time, because my parents were using his room. I started to worry that we were officially a co-sleeping family for good, something I was not interested in maintaining for the long-term.
And so in January, a few weeks before my due-date, I launched Operation Take Back The Night. We would establish a routine, we would follow it every single night, and sleeping in mama’s bed wouldn’t be an option. Our routine involves the following:
Put on pajamas
Read two books
Talk about our day
Hug and a kiss
Tell him that he is allowed to play, as long as he stays in his room
All of it worked fabulously, except the part where he is allowed to play as long as he stays in his room. I’m not worried about a little time spent winding down (look at me, playing Candy Crush and reading tweets before I fall asleep!), but there were nights when That Husband would come home at 11pm and T1 would still be playing with his toys! This isn’t good for him developmentally, and means that he is overly tired and throws extra tantrums the next day.
I asked some mom friends for advice, and they suggested putting a lamp on a timer in his room. He’s allowed to play until the lamp turns off, and then he needs to lay down and go to sleep. I bought this timer, and it worked really well the first night. Unfortunately, the next day T1 broke the timer (he is obsessed with electronics) and we were still having issues with him wanting to have the lights on while he went to sleep. Our latest solution involves this adorable little elephant night light, which he can hold in his hands while he’s sleeping if he wants. He loves watching the colors change and can sit with us for 15 minutes straight asking what color Ellie is each time a change happens. I’m adamant about not letting him play with it in the daytime and only giving it to him when the nighttime routine is all done so that elephant is associated with laying in bed and sleeping.
My mom made one small change to the routine that helps as well. We still give him time to wind down and play with his toys with the lamp on, but 15-30 minutes later (depending on how late at night it is) we go into his room and turn all of the lights off and give him Ellie the elephant.
In no way do I think this is the end of our sleep issues. Since That Husband went on paternity leave he has had two straight weeks of dad sleeping in his room (we prefer to split duties, I take the baby and husband takes the toddler), but starting tonight I’ll be doing the night routine all by myself for 4, sometimes 5, nights a week. I’m sure I’ll be filling Twitter on in on all the gory details as we adjust to this new normal.
What has your big boy/girl bed transition experience been like? How have you made it work with multiple kids?
*I dreaded weaning him off of milk at night, but it was surprisingly easy. That Husband told him he didn’t need milk at bedtime anymore because he is a big boy, and that was pretty much it. For a few weeks he asked for it, but he seemed satisfied with the answer each time. Now he just asks for water.