If you’re like most parents, you probably can’t take more than a couple of steps in your house without tripping over a doll, a stuffed animal or a Tonka truck. You are most likely more than familiar with the sensation of getting those hard, tiny Lego pieces embedded in the bottom of your bare foot, or having to spend ten minutes scooping your child’s dripping army of bath toys out of the bathtub after he’s had his bath every night.
In fact, this is likely a familiar scene in any household that hosts one or more children, despite every parent's declaration that their house would never be overcome by their children's toys. I suppose this might not a good time to look back and laugh at our old naive selves?
I often believe that toy companies must sit around brainstorming all the different places they should convince parents they need to stockpile toys in order to entertain their kids: the car, the living room, the bathtub and the crib, just to name a few. Surely, they must also have close ties with the companies that design and build storage containers and systems. Right?
Of course, toys are a fun and necessary part of any child’s life, but personally I don’t think there should be any toys in the crib at all. The crib is for sleeping. If it’s filled with brightly colored plush toys or gadgets that strap on to the rails and make sounds or play songs when your child pushes buttons, it is all far too distracting and stimulating for bedtime, and then sleep becomes the last thing on your child's mind.
Which Toys Get the Boot?
Even a mobile is off-limits if you want your child to learn to sleep properly. While the child may seem to be staring calmly and intently at the adorable flying elephants above her head, the colors and movement are actually firing up her mind and keeping her awake.
If you put your child to bed in a crib full of toys to amuse himself, he is far less likely to just close his eyes and go to sleep. Bedtime is obviously a time when you want to be helping your babies and toddlers wind down, but instead you may just be winding them up!
This Goes for Grown Ups Too
I tell this to all of my clients, whether they are little, or all grown up. I will tell an adult client struggling with insomnia to limit all activities in the bed so that you send a clear message to your body and brain that when you are in this specific location you are meant to sleep. That means putting away phones, tablets, and laptops, as well as turning off your TV. Better yet, kick that TV out of your bedroom and make your bedroom a screen-free space.
The very same advice holds true for children. While the toys might not seem as stimulating as electronics, your child will play with them when she should be going to sleep, even if she’s tired. Kind of like you staying up later than you should just to check Facebook one more time…
There is one Exception...
Despite my general no-toys-in-the-bed philosophy, I do make an exception when it comes to that one special “security” toy, like your child’s favorite stuffed animal or plastic action figure, or soft lovey… whatever it may be. I’m referring only to that one toy that they cart around all day, or stuff in their pocket, or can’t leave the house without. These beloved toys offer soothing comfort and help your child feel relaxed and safe. In this case, having a limit of just allowing one comfort item in your child's bed will allow that item to serve its purpose of being a soothing item in their crib, rather than a distraction that delays sleep.
Anything you can do to minimize distractions when it’s time for bed will really help as you are establishing good sleep habits and routines. The more simple and plain your child’s surroundings are, the easier it will be for him to drift into dreamland. As for older children, teens, and adults - keeping your bedroom a screen-free space will help strengthen your body's connection that the bedroom is for sleep and not much else.
If you need help creating a soothing sleep environment for yourself or for your child, don't hesitate to set up a quick call with me and learn some of my simple recommendations for creating a sleep space that can help you gain a quick win in the sleep department. If you think your, or your child's, sleep issues go beyond making some changes in the bedroom, then we can discuss how I can help you overcome those challenges and get you sleeping well again.
I am a Pediatric Sleep Consultant who works with families to help them resolve their littles' sleep issues. As a mom of two littles herself, Katie has walked in the shoes of her clients and is passionate about helping them re-discover peaceful sleeps in their own homes.