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My husband and I have practiced attachment parenting with our son, and as part of that we’ve always co-slept with him. It’s an arrangement we’ve been happy with for many reasons. However, lately our king-sized bed has begun to feel a bit small. Charlie will turn 4 soon, and he’s starting to take up more and more room. Often I wake up with feet jammed into my back or a little head ploughing its way onto my pillow.

Having read Dr. Sears’s The Baby Sleep Book, my husband and I suspected that the process of transitioning Charlie into his own bed might be a slow one. We both figured that we’d just have to deal with the lessening space while we gently and patiently tried to encourage him to take this step.

Last summer, we’d tested the waters a few times, asking if he’d like to sleep in his toddler bed. He’d blithely answer, “No. I like sleeping with Mommy and Daddy in our bed.”  He loves to camp, so we suggested he could “camp” in our bedroom, sleeping in his tent beside our bed. (The tent is so small his toddler mattress barely fits in it.) He loved the idea, so several times we set the tent up.  Each attempt ended the same way:  I’d tuck him in, make sure he knew where his flashlight was, and begin singing to him. At that point, he’d happily announce that he wanted to go back to the family bed and fall asleep next to me.  It seemed pretty clear that Charlie just wasn’t ready to transition away from co-sleeping.

But something has changed in the past week. Lately, Charlie’s been showing signs of reaching a new level of maturity. He seems more aware of what’s going on around him, more confident about his abilities, less fearful of change.  Three nights ago, without any prompting on our part, he asked if he could sleep in his tent. And he actually fell asleep! He didn’t make it through the night. Waking up sometime after midnight, he crawled back into our bed and snuggled me as though we’d been apart for over a week. But we were so proud of him for having fallen asleep in the tent, and we told him so.

The next night in the tent, he decided, while I was singing him to sleep, that he preferred to be in the family bed. I thought that might be the end of the transitioning  for a while. But tonight, he asked if he could sleep in his toddler bed in his own room. I made him a little tent over the bed to make it seem cozier, but I suspected he might balk once I tucked him in. After all, this would be the first time he’d ever gone to sleep in his own room. But I was wrong. Although it took him a lot longer to fall asleep, fall asleep he did.

He may wake up in the middle of the night and ask to come back to our bed, but even if he does, I’m so proud of him.  He’s taking such big steps on his own, without our having to coax or provide incentives. It’s encouraging to see that our gentle, patient approach to this whole process may be working well and especially gratifying to see him initiating the process himself a year or two before we expected him to.