The bedrooms have always been my favourite rooms. I spent ages creating a nursery for my first son. My ‘little man’ is now 4 years old and it’s time for a ‘big boy bedroom’. He’s growing up and changing from the toddler/preschooler stage into an almost ‘school child’. J has his own interests and fascinations as his own personality continues to develop. For well over a year now he has had an obsession with Star Wars which has led to an interest in space and Earth. I’ve tried to keep Star Wars out of the bedroom as J is not the best sleeper. When I was offered the opportunity to partner up with Stickerscape I was drawn to their collection of space wall stickers (which they kindly gifted me a selection of my choice). I thought this would be a great way to bridge the gap between letting him have a ‘big boy room’ decorated to his interest but not making it too ‘busy’ and likely to keep him awake looking at everything!
(J’s neutral bedroom as a toddler)
Children go through many stages of personal development. When they are very young they are in the ‘sensorimotor stage’ (google the theorist Piaget if you want to read more indepth about all this) where they are very sensory driven to touch, sight, sound etc. Children will be effected by the environment. When it comes to bedrooms this can lead to a good nights sleep or overstimulation so not so easy to ‘drop off’. Busy walls, too much natural light, lots of toys in the room can be too much for young children. Whereas the use of lullabies, soothing decoration and clear spaces can help calm young children. For example, my 7 week old baby is in my bedroom. I have neutral walls and no photos on walls near his cot. In his cot he has a night light which plays lullabies. The combination of light and sound means his senses are calmed to support him in going to sleep (I wont say its a magic spell for sleep but it has certainly helped us).
Children then move into the preoperational stage where they become very egocentric. The world becomes about what they like and what they are thinking. So we may know that bedtime is a good thing and that they’ll wake up feeling so much better if they go to bed at a good time. But if they decide that it’s not what they want and they’d rather play or ask 100 random questions, it can cause a lot of frustration where no one gets a good night sleep. In this situation a carefully thought out bedroom can be helpful. If favourite toys are downstairs or hidden away in toy boxes then it becomes less tempting and less of a focus for the child. If the bedroom is decorated in a way that is interesting to the child then they will be more likely to go in their room and stay there happily.
For J he is in this stage. I can explain bedtime to him over and over but if he hasn’t finished his game of lego, or wants more stories or simply doesn’t want to go to bed then no matter what I say he will not make bedtime easy. J is autistic and this comes with its extra challenges. Not only is he in this egocentric phase but he also has neurological differences that kick in. For example, he likes things to be ‘just right’. However that version of right might not be the same as mine, and because he often has ‘mind blindness’ (when a person assumes that if they are thinking something then everyone else must be thinking that too, that everyone must automatically know that he is thinking so do it ‘his way’) he gets frustrated easily. So, his bedroom needs to be ‘right’. If toys are out and visible then they will need to be arranged a certain way, if the room is full of daylight then its day time so everyone should be awake and if there’s lots of stimulating things on the wall (eg: star wars characters) then we have to talk about them or he will sit there retelling the various stories of each movie.
So, with all this in mind how do we create a bedroom that creates a better bedtime?
Here’s what works for us:
- Letting J have a say in how it’s decorated.
I showed J the different space themed sticker options on the Stickerscape website (there is a HUGE range of themes and patterns, eg: Peppa Pig, rainbows, spots, nature). He wanted the star constellations and the full moon (my personal favourite). I also choose the watercolour planet stickers as they had such a brilliant ‘arty’ feel to it but not overwhelming. They come in two different sizes so you can choose which fits best in your child’s room.
It was important to let J be involved as any change in routine for him needs to be talked about first else he can often find it stressful to deal with. When they arrived he knew he’d be at nursery so I would be putting the stickers up whilst he was gone and would be ready when he got home. I’m glad I did it whilst he was out the house as once I started I didn’t want to stop. They were really easy to put on the wall, and are great quality. You don’t get the plastic ‘outline’ that you sometimes get with cheaper wall stickers
(If you want to see just how easy it is then check out the Stickerscape stories hightlights on our Instagram page).
2. Creating a sensory tent
J likes to be ‘enveloped’ in things so will want multiple blankets, pillow over his head and lots of soft toys around him. For children with autism (and many ‘neurotypcial’ children) the pressure is calming and the covering up makes them feel secure. Obviously this isn’t ideal as he gets very hot and I end up trying to sneak in to unwrap him (but he then puts it all back on again). So, I brought a Dream Tent to give him that enclosed feeling that he was needing. This meant he didn’t have everything on his head. He still has the blankets until we can get a weighted blanket instead.
The other advantage of the Dream Tent is that it meant he couldn’t see everything in his room. This meant he wasn’t staying up reading his posters on the other wall (he loves fact posters so has them in the ‘day time’ part of his room) and wasn’t distracted by the light on the video monitor etc. I positioned his wall stickers and gro clock so he can see them from the opening of his tent. This way he has something to focus on and help him to feel happy in his room.
3. Storage Units
As I said earlier, if children can see their toys then they will most likely want to get out of bed and play. It’s just too tempting. In our house the large majority of toys are downstairs. However there isn’t room for everything, plus J does like to play in his room during the day. So, there are lots of his wooden toys, vehicles, sensory toys, books, globe etc that are in his bedroom. We brought a low level storage unit which could double as play space and storage. The toys are put away into the boxes at night so they are ‘out of sight, out of mind’. During the day either I will get stuff out and set up for him to explore or he will set up what he wants that day.
I put some books near his bed and others in a book shelf near his tepee. This way if he wakes up in the morning and it’s not time to get up then he can lean over and get books to look through without needing to get out of bed. If J is out of bed then I need to be awake. Another part of his autism is that he can often lack danger awareness, and the added side of his hypermobility means he isn’t always spatially aware either. As much as I make his room as safe as possible, I need to be able to keep eye on monitor to see what he’s up to. If I can encourage him to stay in bed with books then it gives me that extra bit of sleep or at least time in bed to wake up gently.
Oh, and any storage units such as his wardrobe and the cupboards on the main unit have a child lock on it to stop him from ‘exploring’ when he’s not meant too.
4. Blackout curtains
Natural light can make falling asleep difficult. From a sensory point of view natural light is a stimulant as the brain is programmed to see day time as when you are awake. Although this is helpful in the mornings, in the summer it can mean that it stops the brain from relaxing into sleep mode. We originally used a blackout blind that sticks to the window but this became a bit of a pain to put up and down every day so we brought some blackout curtains. They are plain so as not to add more stimulation to the room, plus it means as he grows older and his interests change that we don’t have to buy new curtains.
5. Night lights
Opposite to natural light, artificial light such as night lights or sensory lights can help calm a child if they don’t like the dark or if they benefit from having some sensory stimulant to keep them in bed and relax them into sleep. J has various lights in his room. He has a lullaby bee in bed with him. When he was younger he used the lullaby music to help him go off to sleep. Now he has decided he doesn’t like music and just has the lights. They project onto the inside of his tent so it’s not pitch black for him. He then has the gro clock which acts as a gentle night light. It actually compliments the space stickers well as it gives a sort of ‘night sky’ look to the room.
Then he also has sensory lights which help distract him from environmental sounds, help him to relax and makes him feel at ease in his room (he is a sensory seeker when it comes to lights and has always gravitated towards things like the bubble tubes, light toys you get at fireworks and even staring at general lights like torches really close up). His sensory lights either have a timer or I go in and turn them off once he’s asleep.
6. Minimise clutter
This links into what I wrote earlier about having toys out where they can be seen. If there’s lots of things out such as photo frames and ornaments for example then it becomes another thing that can distract them from sleep. J has a framed autographed photo of a Storm Trooper and a wooden cloud decoration on his window sill but this is hidden by the curtains at bedtime. The rest of his room things are in boxes, on a high up shelf so he knows he cant reach it without a grown up or just not in his room.
I found the advantage of the wall stickers is that it means his room can be personalised to his interest but as they are stickers it doesn’t encourage him to get up and play or fiddle with them. It also stops the room looking too plain and neutral for him now he’s older and wants a ‘big boy’ bedroom.
These are the main things that have worked for us in creating a room that suits our 4 year old whilst taking in account of his autistic needs.
Other ideas that we haven’t yet tried but to bare in mind are:
–Smells: this is another sensory stimulant. If your child is sensitive to smells then left over smell from cooking, smells from outside coming in open window etc may overwhelm them. Or your child is a sensory seeker then a calming scent may help them. Lavendar is a scent that’s often used for sleep. I have seen microwavable soft toys which have the smell on it, or lotions that can be rubbed on the child.
–White noise: I know some families who swear by white noise. They say that constant white noise helps fade out environmental sounds and calms the child down. You can get white noise via apps on ipads/phones or buy lullaby toys which sometimes have a white noise function.
–Things to fiddle with: Some children need to be feeling certain textures to relax. Others simple want something to keep them occupied in bed. Some families create blankets with tags to fiddle with gently, or use ‘baby toys’ which are soft and have different texture parts of them. Just make sure that these are safe items without small pieces to avoid choking or any strangulation risks. There is a debate about technology being allowed in bedrooms. Personally we have a strict no Tv and no ipads in bedroom rule. Its just too stimulating for J and he’d be even harder to get to sleep. Fiddle toys can be used to replace technology whilst giving your child something ‘to do’.
Bedtime and sleep isn’t perfect. I don’t think it ever will be however it is a huge improvement on what it once was and I credit that to the changes we made to his room that go with the development stage J is in and his needs at the time. Sleep is important (for everyone) so a positive bedroom environment is the best tool you can have.
Stickerscape have kindly offered a £20 e-voucher to use on their website for one lucky winner. To enter all you have to do is check out the Stickerscape website and comment on one of these competition post on Facebook or Instagram with what you would use the voucher on. Competition closes 23rd June 2019 at midnight. If you don’t want to wait that long then I have 10% off code valid until end of June 2019. Simply enter ‘MUMMYEST10’ at checkout.
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