Ask any parent: sleep training their infant is tough. It takes hope, a lot of practice, and sticking to a specific sleep training program. When your baby starts sleeping through the night and eventually enters toddlerhood, the change in their sleep habits can be a welcome relief.
Sometimes sleep problems continue after your child moves out of their crib and into a toddler bed, or even into a “big kids bed” when they’re a little older. Some kids have persistent nightmares, trouble sleeping, or behavioral problems that affect their quality of sleep. In those cases and many others, their bedroom is the last place your kiddo wants to end their day.
That’s why it’s important to make your child’s bedroom a positive place so they can get the best sleep possible. We tell you how below.
Don’t use bedtime as punishment
Have you ever heard a variation of this classic line in movies or television? “No dessert and straight to bed!” Or, if a child is acting up at the dinner table: “that’s it, go to your room!”
We totally get it; sometimes kids need to be separated when they’re misbehaving, and sometimes parents just want some peace and quiet while they’re eating dinner. However, using bedtime as a form of punishment, or the bedroom as a “time out” space isn’t the best idea. If you want your child’s bedroom to be a space that’s seen as warm, safe, welcoming, and relaxing, don’t send them there when they’re misbehaving. And especially don’t use naptime or going to sleep as a punishment. That may make your child associate sleep with feelings of resentment and anger. Sleep is a healthy, natural behavior, and it shouldn’t be used as a threat.
Let them decide how to decorate
Your child’s bedroom is their own safe haven, so it makes sense to let them choose how it looks. Of course, it’s still your house, so you make the rules and set the boundaries! But why not let your child have a little fun by giving them free rein over some of the decor?
For example, maybe you can choose big pieces of furniture together, like the bed, desk, and chair. That way it will fit into your budget and you’ll know that your child likes those pieces. Let your child pick what color to paint the walls; or, if she enjoys changing her style every once in awhile, you might prefer to use peel-and-stick wallpaper or vinyl decals to add flair. Where you decide to compromise and where you decide to let your child take over is up to you. They’ll appreciate the opportunity to control some of those choices, though.
Let them play and get messy
This can be especially tough for type A parents who love cleanliness and organization, but letting your child’s room get messy and lived in is a great way to give it positive associations. Despite how it may look to our eyes, some kids do have a method to their madness; they may leave their toys strewn around if they had to abandon it mid-game so they can dive right back into it. Even the youngest kids respond to an environment with their favorite toys or stimulations.
Remember that everyone has to share common rooms like the living room and kitchen, but your child’s bedroom is their sanctuary. Teach them how to keep it neat and clean, then let them handle that job on their own. Decide what’s okay–there’s a difference between a messy room of toys and clothes, and a dirty room with used dishes–then let your child have at it.
Create a sleep-friendly environment
Creating a sleep-friendly environment for your child won’t singlehandedly fix any sleep problems they’re having, but it can’t hurt in making it a positive space. Do a visual sweep of your child’s room for any electronics with distracting lights, or small lamps with bright bulbs. Hide the lights on electronics by moving them around or positioning other objects to block them. Swap the bright bulbs for ones that you can dim, or bulbs with softer, warmer light. Bright lights can make it harder for kids (and adults) to fall asleep, so avoid those an hour or so before bed.
If there are a lot of streetlights that shine into their room after dark, or their room gets a lot of light on long summer days, look into hanging up some blackout shades or curtains. Not only will they keep the room dark enough for sleep, but they can help block out street noise and retain heat during the colder months, too.