Friday, 29 March 2013

fragments are . . .

...random snippets of thought that just might come in handy

Daytime/night time ~ how to help your child spot the difference

Also worth pointing out that this method works very well with Smiler, whose additional needs mean that at eleven this is still how he knows whether morning has broken yet!  A great way to support his independence while clock hands and digital numbers continue to remain a mystery.

On your shopping list :

• Blackout blinds or curtains with a blackout lining for any windows or glass panels in or around the door.  You need to be in control of the light that gets into the room ~ this is also a really good opportunity to start shutting your child's bedroom door, if you don't already.  If your parenting preferences dictate that the door be kept open, try and make sure that the hallway is dark.

•  Soft light source such as a mood light, powered by an ordinary mains plug.  You don't need to splash out on anything fancy, just a table lamp with a low watt bulb and an in~line power switch (not a 'touch' light though.  Take a look at the sort of thing that I mean...)

•  Timer plug through which you can plug in the lamp.  Personally I'd go with an electronic seven day one, as opposed to those ones with all the teeny tiny clicky bits (like the central heating/hot water ones with two ons and two offs and red and blue peg pieces...), because they tend not to be very accurate.

•  Clock with very clear hour and minute hands.  This one depends on the age of your child, but I would certainly recommend putting it there before you think your child would pay any attention to it!

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The idea :

The premise is simple ~ while your child may be far too young to tell the time, you still want them to develop some sense of rhythm of day and night, so you provide a clear visual cue and, used alongside verbal reinforcement, your child will begin to work it out.  Adults often  underestimate what their child will be able to understand but, as with so much parent / child communication, the most important element is consistency and, as the adult, it is up to you to provide this.  Remember Alice in Wonderland, and 'say what you mean, and mean what you say'?

Try and imagine yourself in your child's place.  When you wake up, you have no way of knowing if it is time to start rattling those cot bars so that someone comes and gets you, or if it is two am and cot bar rattling and shouting would definitely not be appreciated by the grown ups.

Have you ever done that thing where you lay out on the sofa to get comfy for five minutes, and then wake up an hour later all panicky cos you're afraid you've slept through picking the children up from school?  Although we all have an internal clock of sorts, sometimes (no pun intended) it just gets messed up.  So, imagine how your child feels if they wake up in the night all panicky that they may have missed breakfast (oh the horror!).  They can't tell the time from a clock, you really don't want them to get in the habit of coming in to you every time, because they need to learn how to get themselves back to sleep, but to do that, they need some measure of reassurance.  Some children learn to self soothe with a specific toy or (we all know someone who has one...) a blanket, for some reason always shortened to blankie. . .  When they can, by simply glancing around their room, know that it's time to get up out time to sleep.

* * * * *

Setting up :

Plug the timer in, synchronize it with the clock in your bedroom, and set it to switch the lamp on at a time your child tends to wake up ~ actually, not when they awaken, but when they usually decide it's time for you to be awake too, and begin trying their best to make you aware of that.  Even if this time is a little earlier than you would like, set the timer.  This is a first step in helping your child make the link between the lamp being on or off and you getting them up or not.  Having said that, I don't mean 3am, even if they often wake around this time ~ 5am, or 5:30, or if they usually doze til 6:30 (fantastic!), set it to then.  Set the timer to switch the lamp off a couple of hours later ~ you wouldn't want them to sleep in and miss their slot!  Make sure the lamp is somewhere they will be able to see easily, but not so close to them that the sound of it clicking on, or the light emanating from it will wake them up.

* * * * *

Very important to make sure the lamp is not somewhere they can reach, as they may pull it down on themselves.  Remember cords are fascinating for young children ~ any cord or lead must be out of their reach as it is a strangulation hazard

* * * * *

What to do :

So, when you hear the usual 'I'm awake, come and get me!' noises from your child's room, check your clock, and :
If their lamp will be off :
Do whatever you usually do when it's night time ~ if that means ignoring them, go for it.  If that means going in and telling them it's still time to sleep, carry on, but as well as following all the usual 'no picking up / no chatting' guidelines you usually follow (says I, not knowing whether you subscribe to any such parenting protocols whatsoever!) add in a 'your lamp is off because it is night time.  When your lamp is on, then it will be morning'

If their lamp will be on :
Fantastic.  Go on in, give them a big squeezy cuddle, and, importantly, show them that the light is on.  Take them to it so there's no room for confusion, point at it, and encourage them to do the same.  Plenty of 'you're right sweetheart, your light is on so it's morning time and we can get up' type chatting tends to do the trick.

* * * * *

The more closely you are able to stick to the same pattern of response, the more quickly your child will learn what to expect, and the more quickly they will adjust their behaviour.  At this point you can gently roll that timer forward to what you consider a slightly more reasonable (but still realistic) wake up time.  Change the timer a little at a time, maybe fifteen minutes, and leave several days between steps to make it easier on your child.

This hangs entirely on your reaction to your child, both when the light is on as well as when it's off.  After a few days I stopped going in unless I knew (from the clock by my side of the bed) that the light was on.  I then went into their bedroom singing The Sun Has Got His Hat On (I'm a terrible singer by the way!) and clapping, doling out squeezy hugs and Eskimo kisses.  By staying away until the time had arrived for a positive, enthusiastic, completely over the top reaction, the two children (12 months and 25 months at that point), quickly realised there was really no point in screeching for attention any earlier.  We would hear them babbling to one another and playing with the toys they had to hand, then suddenly they would both start calling and we knew their light had clicked on.

The advantage of putting an impartial system such as this into place to regulate routine is that it provides a firm base to build upon.  By controlling the light levels within the room you'll find their sleep is not thrown out by, for example, the clocks going forward (which reminds me, British Summertime begins this weekend.  Yep.  Even if there is snow on the ground). Since the light and timer were entirely portable we even took them on holiday with us, and as time went on, once the children understood the expectations we gradually manipulated the times ~ for example they went to bed later on Friday and Saturday nights (due to weekday commitments such as work, toddler groups, appointments and so on), so Saturday and Sunday mornings started half an hour later than the rest of the week.


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