Transitions Can be Easier


There are so many transitions built into a family’s day. For children, this may include the shift to getting dressed, leaving the house, stopping play, finishing projects, cleaning up, coming to the table for meals, going upstairs for bath and settling in bed for sleep. All of these steps can have small transitions within which can be a lot.

Real and consistent warning – Most children transition better when given warnings. It is helpful to use the same language and mean the same amount of time for each warning. When my girls were younger I said, “we are done in five minutes, finish up,” and, “one more minute, do your last thing.” When I said this, I was also sure to say five minutes and mean five minutes. If sometimes it meant two minutes because I was in a hurry, or it meant twenty minutes because I got distracted, the warnings weren’t as helpful. Even before children can tell time, the consistency is helpful.

Additional cues – It can be helpful to build in additional cues. This might be a visual cue like flipping the lights, a physical cue like a transition high-five or an auditory cue like ringing a bell. This is just another consistent signal that it’s time for a transition.

Proximity – If your child tends to ignore or run away at the start of transitions, it can be helpful to stand beside them or even hold their hand just before the transition starts.

Empathy (limit as needed) – This would be saying, “I’m sorry you are frustrated, but it’s time to go upstairs.” When you acknowledge emotions, emotions tend to calm. It’s often helpful to state the limit in a calm way.

Positive directions – This is a reminder to state your directions in the positive. This is saying, “come back and clean up the toys,” rather than, “stop running around.” Here is a full post about positive directions.

Ask their plan or their first step – Asking how they are going to get started can help a child focus on the task and move forward.

Build in choices, challenges and contribution – For going upstairs choices would be, “do you want to walk or crawl upstairs,” or, “do you want to brush teeth first or change into pajamas when you get upstairs?” Challenges would be, “let’s race up stairs. Ready, go!” Contribution would be, “I need a toothpaste squeezer.”

Focus on the good in the next thing – Want your child to stop playing, go upstairs and take a bath? You might focus on how many bubbles they can make with the bubble bath or which toys they’d like to play with in the tub.

Give descriptive praise when it goes well – This would be, “you listened the first time. That is helpful!” or, “you went upstairs so fast. You were super speedy!” You want to reinforce this behavior, so describe the behavior and give it a label. Here is a full post about descriptive praise.

A post on better clean-up times

A post on better morning routines

A post on better bedtime routines



Tips for a Better Naptime

sleeping toddler girl

Most children shift to two naps sometime in the first year and then down to one longer nap sometime between 18 months to two years old. Many children give up naps on their own between three and five years old.

Before they give up naps all together, many young children go through phases of not napping for a few days then napping again for weeks. This ebb and flow can go on for a long time. Having quiet time at the otherwise nap time is the best way for daily naps to return. In our house, quiet time was an hour in their beds playing quietly or looking at books. Children that are quiet and laying down will likely fall asleep if they need to. Respect the quiet time like you do the nap, same time every day and required. If quiet time is optional or only happening on days it fits the schedule, then it becomes more of a fight and much more likely that the child will give up naps all together. Once they do give up naps, it is fine to keep a quiet time as long as you’d like.

It can be helpful for children to nap in the same place and at the same time every day. A consistent schedule will help children fall asleep easier. It can also be helpful to have a brief naptime routine similar to part of your bedtime routine. This might be reading a story in the same chair you read bedtime stories or singing the same songs. If you pat backs for five minutes at bed time, you might also do this at nap time.  If your child naps at daycare or preschool three or more days a week, it can be helpful to follow the same schedule at home.

To learn more about naps and bedtime routines, sleep associations and ways to get children to sleep, join me for a workshop on Bedtime Routines and Sleep Issues on September 24 from 7:00-9:00pm.  For more information and to register, please visit

When a Child Prefers One Parent


Dear Dr. Rene,

I have a two years and eight months old girl. I nursed her for 18 months. After that point, I slowly have faded into the background. If daddy is around, I am out. I can’t give her a bath and put her to bed without dealing with tantrums about why daddy isn’t doing it. She regularly pronounces her love for daddy. Sometimes, she goes out of her way to say that she does not love mommy. I try to be cheerful in spite of this, but it is really, really hard. I feel like the third wheel in my own family. She also refuses to be comforted by me if he is around; sometimes even if he is not. My husband tries to make room for me, but it doesn’t seem to be enough. He says it is “just a phase,” but, for the most part, it has been like this for almost a year.


It is normal for a child to go through phases of preferring one parent over the other. I have heard from many parents in this position, including my husband, that it feels really bad.

My older daughter was always equally happy if it was me or her dad giving her a bath or reading to her. My younger daughter took about three years to warm up to the idea of her dad participating. In the first year, she strongly preferred that I hold her. By two years old, she only wanted me to read to her and tuck her in. On nights when it was his turn, she complained and cried. While I know it hurt his feelings, he always seemed to take it in stride occasionally saying things like, “I’ll just keep loving her and eventually she’ll come around.” She did. By the time she was about three years old, he was among her best playmates.

In the moment, the first answer is to not react in a big way. If you over react and get upset or angry, the situation often escalates to a power struggle. Raise your voice and you may spark a tantrum. If you under react and give in to it being the preferred parent’s turn, you give your child’s push power. Your child is more likely to push for the other parent the next go around because it worked.

The second answer is to give your child empathy, validate their feelings and let them know you understand. My husband would say something like, “I know you’re sad, you love when mommy reads to you, she’s great at it.” This dampens their need to argue.

And third, move forward through the process. As you can, continue to read the story, tuck-in and give love. This means my husband would finish the bedtime routine through her upset. If I took over or if he gave up, it encourages the push to be bigger the next go around.

If bath or bedtime are particularly difficult, it may be helpful for the preferred parent to “be away” during that particular time for several days in a row, and the non-preferred parent should strive to make the time enjoyable. If it’s bath, bring extra toys, make it a bubble bath, give extra playtime. If it’s bedtime, read and snuggle a bit longer each night. When the preferred parent re-enters the schedule, continue to alternate nights often and work through the difficult times.

It may also be helpful for each parent to spend some fun alone time with each child in the house every month. This is being sure that individual pairs in the family get regular time to connect individually.

Sincerely, Dr. Rene

Ideas for Introducing Chapter Books

Chapter books can be a great addition to your read aloud time as early as three to four years old. If you already read picture books before bed, the easiest way to introduce chapter books is to finish your picture book and tuck them in like normal. Then, when you would have been turning out the light and leaving, announce that you are going to add a special reading time. Let them know this is a book with no pictures, that they should lay down in bed, listen to the story and can make the pictures in their imagination. Next read for a few pages or more. When you finish reading, maybe review what just happened in the story, ask them what they think will happen next or another question about the story. If they are unable to answer a question, just tell them briefly what you liked about the story or what you think might happen next.

The next night read a picture book, tuck them in then let them know you are going to read again. Spend a minute or so reviewing what happened the night before. Each night it can be helpful to talk about the story or ask what might happen next when you finish the reading time. Each night when you start, review from the previous night. When children are very young, you have to read some every night consistently. If you miss a few days, likely they will lose track of the story.

As they grow, you can read longer each night and longer stories over time. The idea is to read aloud to them long passed the point you thought they’d listen. Read aloud through high school if they will listen. Children who read aloud through high school tend to do better on verbal SATs than children who read aloud through middle school, and middle school better than elementary school. Unfortunately, most parents stop once children are reading to themselves. It’s better to build some read aloud and some independent reading time into the bedtime routine. There are benefits to both. It can also be nice to let older children pick the chapter books or alternate who picks.

Bedtime Routine Tips

Here are a few reminders to help with your bedtime routine:

  • Same place, same time, same order every night – The more routine you have, the better. In our house, it was and is bath, jammies, teeth, story, bed. As they’ve gotten older, we changed from us reading aloud for 20 minutes, to us for 20 and them reading in their rooms for 20, and that change is the new steady routine.
  • Avoid TV and rough house play – If there are any bedtime or sleep issues, tv and rough house play have been shown to be too stimulating within two hours of sleep.
  • Finish at least the last 10 minutes in their rooms – Avoid finishing the bedtime routine in the living room and carting them off to bed. Ideally, there is time to quietly acclimate to their own rooms.
  • Manage bedtime power struggles with positive discipline – If they stall through the routine, run amok after bath, won’t stay in bed or stay in bed screaming, learn positive discipline. There are so many techniques that can be helpful in these moments such as assertive voice, choices, contribution and logical consequences. If you are struggling, it is time to learn better ways.
  • If there is difficulty, pick a method and stick with it – There are so many ways to approach building healthy sleep habits. If there is difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep, the idea is to pick a method and stick with it. From co-sleeping, to gradual move-outs, to check-ins and cry it outs, each method is designed to get children falling to sleep and staying asleep easily. Learn about these approaches, and then pick the one that best fits your family.

6 Ways to Get Kids to Stay in Bed


I remember with my older daughter Alicen, the night she realized she could get out of her toddler bed, she was up something like 42 times in the first hour. I know, it can be infuriating. There are many options to keep them tucked in at bedtime.

The mantra – This is where you summon your most peaceful self and prepare to take them back again and again. When you do this, you either say nothing, or you say the same thing each time with same tone and emotion. In our house, this was a very flat, “you mut stay in bed.” You also want to strive to take them back in the same way each time. I did, hands on shoulders guided walking each time. Even if they go boneless and sloutch to the floor, you repeat as best you can. The idea here is they are getting out for attention, for a game, and you are not giving it to them. If you choose to do this, you must know that you will stay calm. If you can stay calm and outlast, the next night it is less, and then less again, and then done. If you snap and lose it at time 17 and yell, “I said STAY IN BED!” You have just taught the child, 17 is the goal, that’s when it becomes a game. If you can outlast them, it should be over in a few nights.

A consequence – Using this technique, you let child know, “if you stay in bed, your door can stay open. If you get out of bed, your door will be closed.” If child gets out of bed, you might close the door for one minute the first time and longer on later times. This only works if your child likes to sleep with the door open.

The check-in – This plan reinforces the positive. This is when you say to child at the end of tuck-in, “if you are laying down and quiet, I will pat your back (or come sit with you, sing to you, play with your hair etc.)” Then you leave and just a minute or so later return and say, “you are laying down and quiet, I will pat your back.” When you do, again say and do the same thing each time (or say nothing) and stay less than 30 seconds. Ever so gradually work your way up to longer stretches out of the room. A child who is laying down and quiet for long stretches will likely fall asleep. There are check-in methods like Ferber and Mindell that build this into the regular bedtime routine in a systematic way.

The babygate – We have known many families that when they tuck-in, it’s over. They put the babygate on the door and are done. Child may get out of bed, mill around, call for mom or fall asleep by the door, but it’s still done. Given a night or two they tend to fall asleep in bed. If you are going to do this, the room MUST be child-proof (dressers attached to walls and all).

The stay – This is the family that finishes the bedtime routine, tucks-in and then stays. The first week, you might sit on the edge of the bed with your hand on their back. The next week, sit on the edge of the bed with your hands in your lap. Have a comfy chair because the next week, you move a foot away. Gradually, week by week, you move yourself out of the room. The trick here is to do this with little to no talking. If you engage in conversation easily, this may not work for you. There are gradual move-out methods like Brazelton that describe this in detail.

Tickets – As children are four years old and older, tickets may be an easy answer. The idea is to give the child two tickets (small, cut out, construction paper rectangles) with each ticket representing one request or time to get up. If the child needs a re-tuck, one ticket. If the child needs a drink of water, one ticket. When the tickets are gone, the child stays in bed. Not quite sure why this one works, but often it does.

To learn more about ways to keep them in bed and about other bedtime routines and sleep issues, join me on Wednesday Sept. 24 from 7:00-9:00 p.m. for our workshop on Bedtime Routines and Sleep Issues. For more information and to register, please visit

Bedtime Routines

When they are done consistently overtime, bedtime routines can help children to fall asleep easier. Being structured can also help reduce the push back and power struggles that are common around this time of the day. Here are a few general guidelines.

  • Same time, same place, same order every night. For a long time in our house this was bath, jammies, teeth, story, bed. When there have been changes like my older daughter wanting to shower in the mornings, the change became the new consistent routine.
  • Spend the last 10-15 minutes (at least) in their bedroom.
  • If there are issues with the child falling or staying asleep, avoid screentime and rough-house play in the last two hours before bed.
  • Routines should be at a minimum 20 minutes and a ballpark maximum of an hour long.
  • Building reading into your bedtime routine can be an easy way to hit the Department of Educations goal of children being read to at least 20 minutes a day.

Please comment and share your bedtime routine tips!


There are a few daily routines that unite us all as parents. Those times of the day we all face include bathtimes, mealtimes and bedtime routines. While it may go well for some on most days, others barely struggle through. Here are a few of my tips to help settle the bedtime routines:

  • Same time, same order, same place every night – It can be helpful to children to have a strong sense of routine around bedtimes. If the process is consistent, over time it can help children settle and be more ready for sleep by the end. In our house, it has been bath, jammies, brush teeth, story and then bed for years. At bath, they know sleep is about an hour away. At story, they know it is 10 minutes away.
  • Minimum 20 minutes, maximum an hour – If bedtime routines are shorter, children may not have enough time to transition. Longer, and they may lose focus.
  • Finish in their rooms – Avoid finishing the routine in the living room or your room and then carting them off to bed. It’s better for children to have time to acclimate to their bedroom. Their bedroom should be part of their sleep association.
  • If sleep issues, avoid TV and rough house play in the last two hours – If children struggle to fall or stay asleep, avoid both TV and rough house in the last two hours before bed. These activities can be too stimulating for good sleep to follow.

Nap Time Question

Parent Question: My three-and-three-fourths-year-old doesn’t want to nap. It takes her time to fall asleep when she does nap, both at bed time and naptime. When she does nap, I would say that, on a 24 hour period, she sleeps 10-12 hours. How much sleep should she be getting in a 24 hour period? How long should her naps be at this age and moving forward? Any suggestions for those days (especially with the holidays around the corner) when she stays up late at night and still wakes up early the next day? Thank you!

Answer: 10-12 hours in the 24 hour cycle is the goal now thru late elementary school. Significantly less than 10 can be problematic, and eight is a low minimum. If it were my house, we would be transitioning to ‘quiet time.’ An hour everyday of playing quietly in their bed which you respect like a nap – same time, same length everyday. You can say, “you don’t have to sleep, just stay in bed and stay quiet.” I would give a quiet activity or book after the first 20 mins or so. If you provide this religiously, the idea is they are still resting, and if they need to should fall asleep. If she naps, think 60 to 90 minutes which is probably plenty. You don’t want it to vary widely from day to day. On really crazy holiday days, plan quiet breaks in the day. Maybe spend 30 minutes in the afternoon snuggling and reading a chapter book or time listening to quiet music.
Sincerely, Dr. Rene

Scared at Bedtime

Dear Dr. Rene,
I have a three-year-old who recently started having bad dreams and would come into our room in the middle of the night. If I didn’t fall asleep, I would put her back in her own room. Now she’s afraid of her room saying there’s ghosts in there, is  afaid of the dark and literally shakes and screams when I try to put her in her room. She has a nightlight and I’ve ghost proofed the room. I hate to leave her shaking and screaming, so of course back in our room she comes. We also have a new six-month-old.
Please Help,
Mother of two, ages three years and six months

Dear Lori,
The first thing I would do is have a gentle conversation about how her room is a safe place and it is where she should be sleeping. I would have this conversation in the afternoon, not right at bedtime when it is more likely to develop to a struggle. Then, several times in the next few days, I would talk about how safe her room is and how safe the house is. I would talk about how her room is just for her and your room is just for you to sleep in.

Rather than all the fuss and the back and forth, you might opt for the “gradual move out method.” This is on the time-consumming end but gets kids to sleep on thier own with less crying and upset than the check-in methods. For gradual move-outs, you first finish your bedtime routine and you stay, for a week, while she is falling asleep. You sit beside her with your hand on her back. The next week, you sit beside her, but keep your hand off her back. The next week you move to a chair next to the bed. The next week you move the chair six inches away and so on until you are out of the room. With this method, if she wakes in the middle of the night you sit wherever you were at bedtime. By the time you have moved out of the room she has slowly gained confidence and is not needing you. The drawback, this takes some time!

There are other, smaller thangs you might do to help. Rather than you checking her room for ghosts (this sends the message there just might be some), do a room check together to see there are just clothes in the closet and just toys in the box. The language says there are no ghosts and not even a possibility. For a sense of control, you might give her a flashlight that she is welcome to use if she is in bed. You might offer to check on her “more often” if she is laying down and quiet. You might spend more fun time playing and reading in her room during the day.

Whatever you do, if she wakes at night, return her to her room. It is less reinforcing if you fall asleep in her room than her in your room. Her getting to fall asleep with you in your room strongly reinforces trying again the next night.
Dr. Rene

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