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Sleep: Falling asleep is a SKILL!

Important to know

We all learn how to fall asleep. In fact we wake up many times in a night but we are so SKILLED at falling back asleep we often don't remember waking up. This is why it is so important to have a routine that you follow every night (or every night possible, life can get a bit hectic!). By keeping things consistent you are actually creating an environment conducive to learning AND you are providing the little ones (or not so little ones) with repeated exposures to the same conditions to learn all the skills that are needed for falling asleep. If you are unsure of what should be included in your routine scroll down to our tip on how to improve sleep hygiene (maybe read that one first!).

Why these strategies work

Just to be clear falling asleep is the skill, the sleeping is a biobehavioural state (or reinforcer)..it's a basic need. What humans need to learn is how to get there and quickly. This is why bedtime routines and sleep hygiene are so important. We need to increase motivation to sleep (e.g., be tired) and create conditions that signal to our body & mind that it is time to prepare for sleeping. We do this through routines and good sleep hygiene practices.

  • getting lots of exercise & outdoor time = increased tiredness/motivation for sleeping

  • consistent routines = environmental signals to the body that it is time to slow down and prepare to sleep

  • routines that are age appropriate = setting realistic goals for amount of sleep (i.e., knowing how much sleep is need at every age will increase success)

  • reserving the bed for sleeping only (i.e., no T.V, no phones or screens, no playing) = signal to the body to relax, stop moving, close your eyes and focus on falling asleep.

  • Sound machines and/or very dim coloured lights = an environmental state that signals getting ready for or going back to sleep

 

There are very good reasons for all the components involved in bedtime routines, sleep hygiene practices and "tools" used in the bedroom (e.g., white noise). Under consistent routines and the right conditions sleep is likely to improve and maintain over time.

To get things into place, start by having a conversation with your child or create a visual to help your child prepare for the changes that are going to be put into place. A visual can be helpful for little ones, neurodivergent children or for anyone who is a visual learner vs an auditory learner.

You are not alone

When you are struggling with sleep and bedtime routines it can feel very isolating, frustrating and stressful. EVERYTHING is harder to deal with when you are tired. Chances are you are also dealing with a child who is tired and cranky. It is important to know that you are not alone. Studies have indicated that 10% - 50% of neurotypical children struggle with sleep issues and if the child is autistic that number can be as high as 80%. So, if you are feeling alone or as though this is something that few other people are struggling with, know that many others are trying to over come similar challenges. Talk to your doctor (to rule out medical issues), other parents, seek support from online caregiver groups - even if you don't share, sometimes it is nice to read through the strategies that are being provided by the online community. If you think you need a little more support than what friends and online groups can offer CONNECT WITH US! We offer different levels of support and the plans are built specifically to meet your needs. We are here for you!

Lazy Morning

Feeding: Planning for mealtime success

How to start

To get started think about your values and what goals are most important to you. This could be that your child eats 3 meals a day or that everyone sits to eat at the same time or that your child tries one new vegetable per month. Once you have determined what goal you are working towards, review it again, and ask yourself "is this an achievable goal?" If it isn't, try to come up with an achievable goal (you can always exceed a goal!). Once you have your goal set, think about the steps you need to take to get there, create and communicate the expectations to everyone involved and explain to other caregivers the need to be consistent.

What's next

Once you have goals and a plan, think about how you will incorporate choice for your child. Do they get to pick which bowl they eat from, where they sit or which new vegetable they will allow to sit on their plate for this meal You will also want to spread your meals out. Hunger is a big motivator so if the tummy is always full or partially full there are fewer reasons to eat larger amounts or try new things.

 

You will also need to celebrate & reward effort, cooperation and achieving goals! Think about how you will celebrate with your child and what will motivate them to try again at the next meal. You want them to see and feel how proud you are of them. It will increase the likelihood of future successes.

Having successful mealtimes requires planning

There are many components to planning and executing a successful mealtime. The first thing to keep in mind is, these strategies are meant to help the bigger picture. Things for you to think about and do when you have the strength, energy and motivation. Just remember...the more you do them the more likely you are to have successful meals, so do your best!

  • Think about your values and set goals

  • Set clear expectations & be consistent

  • Embed choice to create some balance

  • Spread meals out & set achievable goals

  • Celebrate all the wins...big & small

Example

Sitting down for mealtime together is important to you. Your goal for your household is that everyone come to the table for meals and stay until dinner is finished. Your child will not participate in this routine and snacks all day.

Goal: sit for 5 mins and have a few bites of dinner (achievable & exceed- able)

Preferences: think of all your child's most favourite things and determine which can be utilized as a reward

Plan: no snacks for 1 hour before dinner (to motivate a few bites), allow your child to pick which foods to eat a few bites of at dinner (choice & balance), inform your child what is earned if they are able to achieve this goal (reward & motivation)

Consistent: stay consistent, do your best to keep all expectations in place and as your child achieves them increase the expectation just a little

Celebrate: MOST OF ALL CELEBRATE ALL WINS!

Bathroom Tiles

How to start

  • Model how to use the toilet. Have them join you so they can see what Mom/Dad does when they go into the washroom

  • Label the events for them "look Mommy peed in the toilet!"

  • Change their pull up in the washroom and have them get close to and eventually sit on the toilet (for just a few seconds to start)

  • Make sure you have a seat that makes them feel safe and secure!

  • Create a routine to help with the predictability of what is going to happen in the washroom

  • Praise them for sitting on the toilet or getting close to it, even if it's just for a second!

Toileting: Avoiding & overcoming fear of the toilet 

Something went wrong, it could have been:

  • The toilet flushed unexpectedly or any other loud unexpected noise occurred when they were just starting to learn how to sit

  • They went to sit and slipped a little losing their balance or falling a little into the toilet

  • They have experienced constipation, urinary tract infection or any other uncomfortable/painful experience associated with toileting

  • They actually peed or pooped a little in the toilet and that new feeling was scary for them

  • Any other new, unexpected or unpredictable event has occurred that startled them and is now paired with sitting on the toilet

What now?

  • Determine at what point the fear response starts

  • Start creating a new learning experience

    • pick a highly preferred item or treat and reserve it for trips to the washroom

    • tell the child "let's go potty" and begin heading to the washroom

    • Once you have transitioned to a space the child is comfortable in STOP, praise and give them the preferred item. Leave the washroom area.

    • Practice this 5-10 times per day and with every success move a little closer to the toilet

    • As you move closer and closer to sitting on the toilet remember to Go SLOW! Don't force them

Other tips to try

  • Read a book about toilet training

  • Role play with dolls and potty inside or outside of the washroom

  • Watch some videos of favourite characters learning how to go potty

For more information, check out our blog post!

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Sleeping: Tips to improve sleep hygiene

What is sleep hygiene?

Sleep hygiene refers to good habits that help children to fall asleep quickly and to stay asleep through the night. Good sleep hygiene includes:

  1. Drinking lots of water during the day and drinking less right before bed. Avoiding sugar and caffeine before bed too (e.g. chocolate, pop, protein/granola bars)

  2. Getting lots of exercise earlier in the day, limiting lots of physical activity before bed

  3. Spending lots of time outside daily

  4. Limiting screen time an hour before bed

  5. Having a consistent bedtime routine that you use every day (even on weekends!)

  6. Only use the bed for sleeping, avoid screen time or playing on the bed

How to set up your home for success

Setting up your home to promote sleep at bedtime is very important, it helps cue children's brains that it's time for sleep. Try the following:

  1. Dim the lights in your house by 70% an hour before bedtime

  2. Make sure your child's room is cool (around 70 degrees) and dark

  3. Use a white noise machine on medium volume and turn it on once you say goodnight

  4. Avoid fleece PJ's and too much bedding

  5. Keep toys out of the bedroom, if they need to be in there, make sure they are put away or in bins

Important things to remember

  • Consistency is key!! The routine and bedtime should be the same every night

  • Check out how much sleep your child should be getting and make sure your routine and bedtime are scheduled around this

  • Habits take time to build! Start with 1-2 changes at a time and build on success

Sample bedtime routine

A consistent bedtime routine is very important, try your best to stick to it around the same time every day and start it at least 30 minutes before you want your child to go to sleep to avoid rushing through. Here is an example:

 

  1. Have a light snack and small drink (with no sugar or caffeine!)

  2. Brush teeth and wash face

  3. Change into PJ's

  4. Get cozy in a chair or on the couch and read a bedtime story

  5. Go pee

  6. Tuck your child in and bid them goodnight

Boy with Teddy Bear
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