What does your child’s room look like? How much furniture is in it, are there toys in it, are those toys hidden or easily accessible, how many stuffed animals are there on his/her bed? This is part 2 of our Sleep Hygiene discussion focussed on Bedroom Environment, following up on the last Bedtime Routines post. You’ve completed your bedtime routine and gone to tuck your munchkin in, but is their room a place where a young child could easily fall asleep? Getting children to sleep well is very high on my list of parenting priorities so I design their whole room around sleep. When my little ones move from a crib to a bed they’re basically just enlarging the nearly empty rectangular sleeping space. When we just had 1 child, his bedroom consisted of a mattress on the floor (why have a bed frame that makes for a falling hazard in his room?), a blanket, a stuffed animal, and a dresser with just clothes in it. That is literally all that was in his room. So how did the transition from crib to bed go? Seamlessly.
Young children don’t need mobiles, they don’t need elaborately decorated bedroom walls or countless glow-in-the-dark stickers on the ceiling; they just need a nice place to rest. I once saw a well-known psychologist who specializes in couples and sexual relationships speak at a conference and he said, “Bedrooms are for sex and sleeping” so set them up to be conducive with those 2 actives. For your kids, this translates to “Bedrooms are for sleeping”. Now that we have 3 boys sharing a room, it looks a bit like a gypsy den with mattresses spread all over the floor but the only other furniture in their room is 1 nightstand to hold a lamp and an alarm clock. They can jump around in their room during the day with less risk of hurting themselves on excess furniture. And when bedtime comes, that room cries out for sleep. If you have a smaller living space and need to store some of your child’s toys or other gear in their bedroom, you can adapt this principle by doing your best to keep toys tucked away in the closet, under the bed, in storage bins with lids – anything that makes it clear that once clean-up is done, the toys stay away until the morning.
As your child gets older, they’ll start to request having more of their own belongings in their room and be able to have more decorations on their walls. At what age? There is a huge discrepancy in when your child will be ready for a more ornate room; I’d say somewhere between 3 and 5. You know your child better than anyone so you’ll get a feel for when they’ve got the bedtime routine down so well that they won’t even be tempted to touch that T-Rex at tuck-in time. You allow things to enter the bedroom bit by bit over time to test the waters, gently guiding your munchkins along the path to independence.