We are co-sleeping with our son. At some point in the future, we will need to transition him out of our bed. What is the best way to do this? Cold turkey vs. gradual? Specific age vs. signs he's ready (and if so, what are those signs)? Other things we should consider?
That is a really difficult question.
Easy answer is that it really depends on your child. :) Yeah, I guess you never thought of that, right?
Generally speaking... For a kid, there is no real difference between putting him into a bed, or something else. He will nevertheless cry because he isn't sleeping with his parents anymore.
Some of the answers here somewhere had a really good suggestion.
You have to develop a routine. Like this: Shower / bath, washing teeth, reading a story, and staying with him, until he falls asleep. The staying part is only necessary for the first few times, so he can at least feel that you are with him for now.
After that you can gradually get further away so to speak. Until you just stay there for a few moments, after reading the story, then you kiss him goodbye and tell him that you won't leave the house. You are just going showering or something. Let him hear for a while that you are there. Or read a book in his room or whatever. Just let him know that you are still there, he is not alone.
And after a while you can skip that too. You will feel when.
For the when and what signs... I really don't have a good answer for that, I'm sorry. :(
Generally I would say around 1 yo he should be sleeping in his own bed. The signs? There won't be any since a child will always love to sleep with his parents. And if you don't get him out, he will sleep with you even when he is a 5-year-old.
That's the hard part of parenting. A child will never ever learn anything when you don't make him / let him.
Hope this could help.
It's hard to see how to do this in a gradual way. He's either sleeping in your bed or not. Not much gradual about it. Everyone agrees that consistency is the trick.
As for ways of doing it, and hints of how to help, the answers to my question might be useful: How can I get my 12-month baby to sleep in her bed?
Our kids made it very obvious they wanted their own beds. The first at 3, the second before 18 months.
They got to the point of being fidgety and grumpy when in our bed, often kicking away to get their own space, and seeming irritated to be with us.
We made a point to get them beds, letting them pick bedding, and praising attention around the bed.
There was then a gradual process to wean them into it - putting them down in their bed at night when tired, but not asleep. They have to learn to actually fall asleep in the bed. Breast-feeding, or otherwise just cuddling in the bed really helps them. It maintains the way they're used to falling asleep.
Once they're asleep in the bed you can leave them all night.
The bedtime can be cut back slowly from lying with them to sitting with them to standing. Rather than cutting them off, it's best to reassure that you're always there and close. If they know you're available there is no need to cry out.
At the moment our 2-year-old will actually get herself into bed. If she's put into bed she just says good night, rolls over and goes to sleep.
Basically, it comes down to removing the stress for the child, and making it a pleasant experience, with as much routine as possible. A bath with calm bubbles (lavender works wonders), warm milk, hugs, and tucking into bed with a story. Get a routine, same time, same habits, and then it sticks easily.
The Baby Book By Dr. Sears has an entire chapter addressing this very subject. He is pro-cosleeping and introduces a number of ways to "wean" from the process depending on your particular needs. His suggestion that he favors was way too old for my tastes, but since he offered mid-range suggestions as well, my husband and I found a comfortable middle ground and how to apply it pretty easily.
I suggest reading the book yourself (I've given my copy to my sister long ago and don't remember details). However, I do remember that at the most extreme, he suggested letting them sleep with you until they WANT their own bed. The sign the child is ready is that the child requests having his own bed. Even Dr. Sears admitted for many this might mean seven or eight years with kid in-bed and that for many, this may just be too much (my husband and I were definitely in that group).
With our own daughter, basically what we did was to continue to put her to bed the way other families do (because she went to bed before us anyway) in her bed once she had one (around 18 months-2 years). If she came and joined us in the middle of the night that was okay and it reassured her to know this was an option (and she still does at six some of the time but less and less often). For us, this gradual option worked really well. As she became more ready to truly sleep through the night on her own - she did so.
We had always put her to bed sooner than we went to sleep anyway, but she was pretty used to having us with her until she was asleep. To help her adjust we slowly moved away physically during "fall asleep time." We introduced age-appropriate calming things like back-rubbing (just a gentle touch in a circular motion, not massage), lullabies, bathtime, bedtime routine with teeth brushing and all in consistent order... stories and such as she gained in age to help put her in a sleepy mood.
As a baby, she fell asleep being held. In order to teach her to fall asleep more independently, we had to start by sitting in the room while she fell asleep. For a long time, we had the rocker I used for nursing her in her bedroom so she could fall asleep with one of us in the room, but we could sit in the rocker and read to ourselves or use the laptop to still be getting something done quietly while she fell asleep. Then we would work on something in the room next door and check on her every ten minutes or so (which usually meant we only had to check on her once or twice).
Dr. Sears has suggestions like, put a mattress at the foot of your bed for a while so they are in the same room and feel they are with you, but you have more space and all kinds of additional ideas we didn't use but might work great for you. I'm sorry I don't remember more of the specifics.
When he wants to - when you offer him his bed (please, make it a bed, not a cage! (cage = bed from which he can't get out by himself)), and he wants to sleep there :).
And there will probably be quite transitional phase of 'I like to play in this cool bed for a while, but at night I want to sleep with you in yours'. :)