February 26, 2013

Guest blogger Rachel Cedar: The Bedtime Routine Star Chart

Rachel Cedar is the founder of You Plus 2 Parenting & Beyond the Basics of Toddler Development who regularly teaches workshops at the Prenatal Yoga Center. She specializes in helping expectant and new second time parents and parents of toddlers navigate the challenging and often confusing early years of parenting. She is a social worker & therapist and is mom to two young boys in New York City.

Most parents dream of a bedtime routine that is easy and calm and full of cozy pajamas, snuggles in bed and a child who falls asleep peacefully on cue. But reality quickly takes over when you are plodding through yet another challenging evening of your toddler fussing through bath, clenching his jaw during tooth brushing, jumping out of bed a million times and multiple excuses that keep you in his room long after the lights have gone off. Ah bedtime…it is undoubtedly one of the hardest parts of the day with little ones and that much more challenging when you add an infant who has drastically different needs often at the same time.

While we can’t give you more energy or patience, we do have one effective tool which may just make your routine run a bit more smoothly.

Bedtime Routine Star Chart

Toddlers are visual learners first and foremost which means they really need to see, watch & observe before they can DO. When a child sees pictures of an activity or routine, she can better process the routine and imagine her role in it. Often when I am working with parents who may have a tough time during the bedtime routine when many “things” need to happen in order to get from point A to point B, I recommend making what we call a Social Story or Star Chart. Really it’s a picture sequence that shows the child what needs to happen in order for her to be ready for bed. After she completes each task, she earns a mark (stickers tend to do the trick!) and once she completes all her jobs for a few days in a row, she will be rewarded with an extra treat or privilege.

This type of strategy works and appeals to toddlers for the following reasons:
• Toddlers love having a “job” that earns them praise and acknowledgment.
• They are goal driven when they can see what needs to happen next…checking off lists, following directions, and accomplishing goals is especially motivating for little ones.
• They have a visual of their accomplishments once they earn their stickers.
• A visual representation of the routine makes it feel that much more predictable and “safe” so even when something is different (ie. mom isn’t home and grandma is putting child to bed) the chart keeps her focused and secure.
• Your child feels more in control during the routine because she is “choosing” to accomplish her task rather than being told to do so by mommy.
Making your own bedtime routine chart doesn’t have to be difficult.
• Search Google Images for pictures that match your routine (e.g “toddler brushing teeth”) then save the images and copy in to any sort of document program, or download ours on our website here.
• Create a graph with the days of the week & the image. Label each activity clearly & simply.
• Consider laminating your chart so you can use it multiple times.
• Hang chart in the child’s room (the back of the bedroom door is a great spot) at her eye level.
• Walk her through the routine…ask her “What is happening here?” until she is clear about what each job means.
• Explain how she will earn her stickers and what she will earn when she completes a few days in a row

When you are ready to start your routine, take your child to the chart and say “Honey…it’s time to start getting ready for bed! What is your first job on the chart?” and then remind her that once she does it, she will earn a sticker. Stay encouraging and refer back to the chart… “Okay, you have on your pajamas and you have brushed your teeth. What’s next? Can you show mommy?”
You will also feel more confident and in control using this tool…it gives you something to refer to and direct your child to. Also, it feels good to praise our child for a job well done and that alone will help you stay more calm and collected.
So if you are struggling through bedtime and looking for a way to streamline your routine and make it a bit more easy on you and your toddler, put together a chart and turn this challenging time into something a bit more fun and focused. You can think about making a chart for your morning routine as well!

For this and other useful tips please visit our website: www.youplustwoparenting.com and attend our workshop “The Bedtime Routine: Feeding & Sleep Strategies for Moms of Two” on Tuesday, March 12, 2013 at 2:30pm. Register in advance here.




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