toddler on bed looking toward window and daylight

Spring is here, and I don’t think that I’m the only one dancing for joy. It was a rough winter in many parts of the country. The warmer, longer days and sunshine are good for the soul.

Along with the longer daylight hours, however, comes a common problem if you have younger children: How do you encourage little ones to go to sleep at bedtime when it’s still light outside?

Longer days mean more time to play! You can’t blame a child for wanting to stay up until the sun goes down, but we know that children need a certain number of hours of restful sleep each night to grow and be healthy. It’s for this reason that it’s important to maintain a reasonable bedtime during the spring and summer months. Here are a few things you can do to help them get to bed on time.

Establish and maintain a bedtime routine. Studies suggest that a nightly bedtime routine helps children relax and fall asleep more quickly. More outside playtime calls for more frequent bathing as well, so why not incorporate a nightly bath if you haven’t already? To make the bath especially soothing for your little one, mix a few drops of lavender oil into a bit of unscented shampoo or bubble bath, and add it to the bath water. After bath time, snuggle up and read a book together before bed.

Turn off the electronics for at least an hour before bedtime. Give your child’s brain a chance to wind down. Keep televisions and computers out of bedrooms if possible so that your child will not equate time in their bedroom with screen time.

Install blackout curtains if your child’s bedroom gets a lot of light at the end of the day. If you don’t want to invest in new curtains, use clothespins to hang an extra blanket over the existing curtains or blinds to block out extra light.

Use a white noise machine to drown out sounds that might prevent children from falling asleep. It will be very hard for a child to fall asleep if he or she hears the neighbors laughing and playing outside. A noise machine or a fan can help mask those sounds.

All these tips can be applied to adults as well. If you have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep at night, these might help you. Soon the whole family will be on their way to a great night’s sleep, at any time of the year.

If you’re struggling to get your baby to settle to sleep, no matter the season, read a sleep specialist’s advice on sleep training.

Jenny Yarbrough channels some her creative energy through her blog, The Southern Institute.



Doctor examining child
Facing a trip to the Emergency Department with your child can be a scary thought, but thinking ahead can make the experience less traumatic if and when it does occur. Preparation is important both for parents and for your children.

When an emergency occurs, there may not be time to gather needed information so keep the following information in a handy place where it’s easy to grab it quickly:

  • medications your child is taking
  • allergies
  • previous surgeries
  • known illnesses
  • relevant family medical history
  • immunization history
  • insurance information

Children often have heightened anxiety regarding medical care. If you need to take your child to the emergency room, describe the hospital as place to get help, a place where children and grown-ups “see a doctor when their bodies are sick or hurt.” Explain that doctors will decide the best way to help his or her body. Honest, simple explanations are helpful.

If possible, allow your child to choose a few items to bring to the hospital, such as a stuffed animal, blanket, or hand-held electronics.

Once you arrive to the Emergency Department

Emergency department patients are assessed by the severity of their illness or injury, not necessarily when they arrived. If your child is experiencing a minor emergency, your family may have to wait before receiving medical care. Your child may not be allowed to eat or drink until a doctor assesses him or her. Crayons, books and activities are available upon request to keep your child occupied while you wait.

After a doctor has assessed your child and made recommendations for his or her care, hospital staff can help you and your child understand what will happen next. Some patients may need X-rays, urine tests, breathing treatments, blood tests or medication. It is important to explain to your child what he or she may see, smell, hear, or feel in simple, honest terms.

At a dedicated children’s hospital like the one at Vanderbilt, certified child life specialists are available to help you and your child. These professionals use a variety of tools to help children cope with the stress and anxiety of medical treatment.

Here are some tips for supporting your child during an emergency department visit, based on the age of the child:

Infants and Toddlers

  • Remain calm and relaxed. Young children will take emotional cues from caregivers.
  • Decrease noise and lower lights when possible to avoid overstimulation. Use soft and comforting voice.
  • Ask medical staff how you can participate in your child’s care, where you can stand to provide emotional support, or whether can hold your child.
  • Distract or entertain your child with favorite toys. Toys that are active and light up can be very helpful for toddlers.

Preschoolers (3 to 5 years)

  • Provide simple but honest explanations for medical events. Never tell a child it won’t hurt if it will. Ask a child life specialist to help your child understand his or her care.
  • Preschoolers may view hospitalization as a punishment. Reassure your child that the hospital is a place to get help and they are not being punished.
  • Reward difficult experiences and teach coping skills by providing specific verbal praise: “You held still for five seconds! Good job!” or “I am proud of you for taking the medicine all by yourself.”
  • Blow bubbles or pinwheels to relax and distract.

School Age (5 to 12 years)

  • Many children have misconceptions about medical care. Answer questions honestly and give specific but basic information about the body part affected.
  • Offer choices whenever possible: “Who would you like to help you keep your body still, Mommy or Daddy?” or “Should we count to three or four before you take your medicine?”
  • Practice deep breathing before treatment.
  • Distract with activities like “I Spy” or finder books, music with headphones, iPad/iPhone games, movies or drawing.
  • Encourage expression and validate feelings.

Adolescents (12 and up)

  • Communicate honestly and allow your teen to participate in medical care.
  • Electronic devices can help teens stay connected with peers.
  • Practice deep breathing prior to treatments to encourage relaxation.
  • Respect and maintain privacy as much as possible.
  • Remain available for support, encourage expression and validate feelings.
We hope these tips will help you think ahead and be more prepared if you do face an ER visit with your child. If that time comes, remember that your child life specialists are there to help.
Author Cathleen Johnson is a child life specialist in the emergency department at Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt.

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