"Five books tonight, Mommy," she says.
"No, Olivia, just one."
"How about four?"
"Oh, alright. Three. But that's it."
- Olivia by Ian Falconer
Bedtime is quite a bit more complicated once our children advance enough to logic and argue with us. What parent hasn't had that nighttime negotiation, as our children cleverly delay the inevitable, "lights out," charming our attentions and pulling on our heartstrings.
It's a good thing, you know.
Children's capacity to try to influence those bedtime rituals reflects their growing understanding that the world is a place they can affect. They're experimenting with their roles and their impact on their parents, and they're demonstrating a new understanding that rules are created by people and, sometimes, flexible.
But that doesn't mean they five books. As your child moves into early childhood, your preparation of their bedroom space will change as well. The floor-bed they slept on as toddlers may move up to a low legged bed, still accessible independently by the child but reflecting their new proportions. Gone are the sideways mirrors and mobiles, replaced by opportunities for greater independence and engagement. Think about these guidelines as you design a bedroom space appropriate for the older First Plane child.
1. Keep it simple. Avoid garish colors on the walls, and choose, instead, neutral backgrounds against which your child's activities may be highlighted. Choose soft colors for the bedding and warm light. Simple furnishings that are conducive to rest and calm are more conducive than a bed that's overflowing with stuffed animals and a bedroom that's equally visually cluttered.
2. Keep it accessible: Make sure the bed is low enough to get in and out of comfortably. Offer quiet activities on low shelves that your child can access independently. Hang clothes in the closet low enough for your child to access and use the bottom drawers of their dresser for the most commonly used clothing. Provide an open basket for your child to tend to their own laundry. Hang a mirror low for your child to use after they've dressed or while brushing their hair.
3. Keep it manageable. While you may have ample choices for clothing, shoes and toys, offer your child a reasonable number from which to choose, and store the rest. Cycle in new options as you see your child master what's already been available, or cycle back to beloved favorites when you know your child may need a little more cozy pace. For clothing, a three year old might be reasonably expected to choose from four or five tops, two or three bottoms and two pairs of shoes. Avoid toy boxes and bins into which your child can throw all the pieces of toys, only to be frustrated trying to retrieve them later, and offer, instead, individual activities presented on a tray or basket as they might be presented in the classroom. This careful presentation will support your child in managing all the parts of their toys and remind them to treat their toys with care.
4. Keep it visible. Offer only enough books that you can present them face-forward, so your child can see the front cover. Store the overflow and swap out books often to maintain your child's interest. Children at this age need to see choices in order to make choices. Decide what's visible to your child, knowing that whatever they can see might become an option in their mind. If you know, for example, that they can't wear the special outfit grandma sent for an upcoming wedding to school, store it away so that your child can only see the options that are appropriate to choose from.
5. Keep it predictable. Children thrive on routines, as they practice those boundaries they have discovered. Wake your child up each morning the same way. Have them choose their clothing the night before and display it in the same location for them to access in the morning (and decrease the stress of one-more-thing-to-do during the morning rush.) Support bedtime in the same way each night, providing your child with the comfort and security of knowing that the world is a predictable place, even at the times when they may be most tired.
Like the other spaces in which your child learns and grows, your child's early childhood bedroom should allow them to be in charge of themselves. Look around the space and ask yourself, "Can my child take care of themselves here?" Check to make sure that, from waking in the morning to getting dressed, from brushing their hair to making their bed, you've offered child-appropriate, child-accessible materials. Remind them, through the space you help to prepare, that they are capable and that they can care for their own needs. But bedrooms also need to be comforting, soft and welcoming to sleep. If your child's bedroom doubles as their playroom, make sure they tidy up before they go to sleep, transforming the activity of playtime back to the coziness of bedtime. Instead of designing your child's room to be the playground of the house, think of it as the softest nest, a place to wind down at the end of the day, to share stories cuddled up to the people they love, and to dream until the next morning.