Can sleep training a toddler after co-sleeping be done? While it may seem akin to teaching your husband how to replace the toilet paper roll (read: wildly unsuccessful), it’s totally doable. Will it be easy? Probably not. Worth it? Most definitely.
I don’t think you would be reading this blog if you and your toddler were both getting a great night’s sleep together. That being said, it IS a big transition and you may have some qualms, so I am here to reaffirm with you why this is one of your better ideas, when the best time to make the transition is, and how to execute sleep training your toddler after co-sleeping as seamlessly as possible.
Basically, you have two things to tackle here:
- sleep train your toddler
- transition your toddler from co-sleeping to their own room
I recommend that you do these simultaneously and I will share all my advice, tips and tricks below.
So read on to learn:
- Why you should sleep train your toddler
- When you should transition from co-sleeping and sleep train your toddler
- How to sleep train your toddler after co-sleeping
Why you should sleep train your toddler
If you’ve been around here for a hot minute, then you know what a huge advocate I am of everyone getting great sleep. Newborns all the way to adults.
Sleep is LIFE! It’s an ice-cold fizzy drink on a scorching dry day. It’s a breakfast-in-bedless Mother’s Day, it’s a potty-trained 4 month old. Nay, a 1 month old… you get the point. Everything is better when everyone is well-rested. And for everyone to be well-rested, your toddler needs the skills to self-soothe, initiate sleep on their own, and put themselves back to sleep without your interventions.
I have done allll the research, read allll the books, and done this work with thousands of babies all over the world, so you can feel confident that I can help you and your toddler achieve this, all while fostering attachment. If you want to hear more about why sleep training is so great, check out my blog post What’s The Real Deal With Sleep Training.
When you should transition from co-sleeping and sleep train your toddler
You know that saying, “There’s never going to be a perfect time to (insert big life-changing event)”? Well, that mostly applies here too. Waiting for the “perfect” time is unrealistic, however there are definitely undesirable times and you should hold off until it’s a more desirable time.
You should plan on it taking 2 weeks to get the foundation laid for independent sleep in your toddler’s own room. This means I would choose to start when you will be home for 2 straight weeks, and will be able to maintain a relatively normal schedule (read: No out of town overnight guests are coming, and you are able to offer the nap at the same time each day, in the same place).
You also want to make sure your toddler is not sick and ideally not teething. It’s also best if we start this process when your toddler has a full sleep tank (ie. not overtired) however that may be tricky if sleep has been a dumpster fire as of late…. If this is the case, refer back to my previous statement, “There is never going to be a perfect time”.
How to sleep train your toddler after co-sleeping
Now that you have the WHY and the WHEN, allow me to walk you through the steps for HOW to sleep train your toddler after co-sleeping.
Prepare your toddler for the transition
The great thing about toddlers is they understand what you say and can share their own feelings with you. So you can explain the upcoming change ahead of time and begin to include them in the process.
Toddlers are often strong-willed and beginning to experiment with being in control. There will be many things about this process that will be out of their control, so give them the power of feeling in control whenever you can. I don’t mean letting them eat dessert in their new bed before falling asleep. I mean, letting them pick out new sheets for their bed, which stuffies will join them in bed, which books to read before bed, which color to set the nightlight at (if you have a nightlight like the Hatch. Which I recommend you do. More on this later), which pajamas to wear, etc.
Basically, you want your toddler to feel valued and included; this process will be a lot smoother for both of you, if your toddler is part of the process and has some degree of control over it.
Choose your sleep training method
This is where you make a plan and choose a sleep training method that words best for you and your toddler.
You are the expert on your child, and I do not believe in a “one size fits all” approach to sleep training. Every baby, parent and family is different, which is why I have four different sleep training methods, and in my Sleep Training Essentials Course, I teach you how to tailor each method to best fit your little on.
Since your toddler can get out of bed and will likely protest more because they are older and would prefer to continue sleeping with you, I would recommend considering my two Modified CIO approaches and my No-Cry approach.
- Modified CIO and Modified-Modified CIO involves going in to soothe your little one based on their variability and progress towards learning to self-soothe.
- No-Cry involves being there with your little one as they fuss/cry and learn to self soothe.
I recommend getting my Sleep Training Essentials Course as it walks you through each method as well as the four phases of sleep training and how to implement them. I also specifically address sleep training older babies, and I teach you how to tune in so you can be responsive to your little one’s needs.
Maintaining success through the transition
Now that you have a plan for how you are going to sleep train your toddler and transition them from co-sleeping, there are a few strategies and tools I am going to share with you that will help you through the
ups and downs.
1. Incentives are going to be key
You want your toddler to buy in to this change and for this to happen, there needs to be a good enough reason to sleep in their own room as opposed to sleeping with you.
I find that the more effective incentives with toddlers are “earning” quality time with mom or dad. Basically, you are trading in time with you at night for extra special time with you during the day. Think going to the park, an ice cream date, the pool, indoor play gym, etc.
Some families have success with a sticker chart, where your toddler can cash in a certain number of stickers for the super fun “reward” of a playdate with you.
2. Set clear and consistent boundaries
Anyone who has a toddler knows it’s key to be at least a few steps ahead of them at all times. The same goes when sleep training a toddler after co-sleeping!
In this particular circumstance, you are going to want to have your expectations planned out ahead of time so you can set clear expectations for your toddler and maintain those boundaries. This is my nice way of saying you don’t want to be in a situation where you fold like a road mat at your toddlers protests and end up inadvertently teaching them that THEY are the one in charge.
So to avoid this from happening, decide ahead of time what hills you will be dying on and which battles you will choose to ignore. You might decide that your hills will be in bed by 8pm, have to stay in their room, door closed. But if they end up playing with their stuffed animals or reading books past 8pm you will ignore it.
This is just what worked for me; you do you. But the most important thing is that you maintain your boundaries without engaging in heightened emotions. You want to avoid a power struggle, as it will not end in your toddler drifting peacefully off to sleep while you enjoy your evening. Trust me.
If toddler power struggles sounds like something you could use some help with, I have a “Toddler Power Struggles” guide in my Toddler Guide Pack.
3. Be responsive
Since your toddler has grown used to sleeping with you by their side, you need to find effective strategies to helping your little one feel content and safe without you.
This is likely going to be a tough transition for your toddler, so being responsive means providing age appropriate responses to their emotions.
This comes back to knowing how to be consistent but also tune into your little one’s needs, which I teach you how to do in my Sleep Training Essentials Course or we can walk you through during an individual consultation.
There are also little things you can do to help your toddler feel connected with you, even when you are not there. One thing in particular that I find works is recording yourself singing a lullaby and playing it on Bluetooth in their room as they fall asleep. You can also put a picture of you and your toddler somewhere near their bed so they can look at it when they wake up.
It’s totally normal to have toddler bedtime battles, even with toddlers who were sleep trained as babies! Check out my Instagram reel for 3 ways to avoid toddler bedtime battles:
How to handle night wakings
I know you don’t want to hear this, but your toddler will most likely wake in the night and get out of bed to come find you. Here is also where having clear and consistent boundaries will be essential.
You need to help your toddler understand what your expectations are, and then you need a plan for how you are going to consistently respond when they push the boundaries. Which they will.
Some parents have a bed set up on the floor of their room and the expectation is that their toddler starts the night in their own room, but if they wake in the night and want to be with their parents, they can come sleep on the floor bed. Again, you do you. The most important part is setting your expectations clearly and staying consistent.
One thing that works really well for my family is using the Hatch as an “ok to wake” clock. I teach my little ones that once the light turns green, it is time to get up and come out of their room for the day. Do they ever push the boundary and come out in the night or early morning? Never! Just kidding, of course that has happened, however they know it is always met with the same calm and consistent response; I tell them it is still night-night time, gently walk them back to their room, kiss them goodnight, tell them I love them and I will see them when it is morning.
Now, if your toddler is waking because of nightmares or anxiety, then it would be a different response. I recommend grabbing my Toddler Guide Pack where I address “Toddler Separation Anxiety, Fears and Nightmares” and “Toddler Getting Out of Bed”.
Recap on sleep training a toddler after co-sleeping
I want you to feel confident and empowered that everyone can get great sleep, even after co-sleeping for some time. It helps to understand WHY teaching independent sleep skills is so important, and then you can begin to plan when to make the transition from co-sleeping to sleep training in their own room, and how to go about this as smoothly as possible.
Just remember, the most important pieces are choosing a plan, clearly communicating that plan and your expectations to your toddler and staying consistent while being responsive. Remembering this will help make sleep training a toddler after co-sleeping a reality, not just a pipe dream!