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Q. My 2-1/2-year-old daughter sleeps in our bed, and my second baby is due in a few months. I think four in one bed is a bit much, and I'd like to transition my daughter into her own bed in her own room. How do I do this without upsetting or scaring her?
A. You're right to be sensitive about this transition; no doubt, your daughter derives feelings of comfort from sleeping in your bed. She now has to learn to feel safe sleeping on her own, which takes time.
First, talk to her about making this change. Let her know you understand that she may be scared at first, but that you're confident she can learn to feel secure in her own bed. Remind her of all the challenges she has faced and overcome. And if she doesn't have a "lovey," help her attach to a stuffed animal or blanket she seems to like. Loveys can provide comfort when you can't.
After you've set the stage, pick a start date and end your child's bedtime routine by lying down with her until she falls asleep. Then, incrementally, move yourself out of her room. After a few days of lying beside her, sit a few feet away from her bed and move closer to the door each night until you're sitting outside her room until she falls asleep.
If she awakens and comes into your room, walk her back to her room and comfort her there. Don't revert to letting her sleep in your bed. It will only undermine her confidence. With your love, comfort, and consistency, you can help her make this change and boost her confidence to boot.
Claire Lerner, LCSW, is a child development specialist at Zero to Three, a national nonprofit promoting the healthy development of babies and toddlers (zerotothree.org).
Originally published in American Baby magazine, September 2004.