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Every so often, I get a question about the appropriateness of toys in bed. As in most things with parenting, this depends on your child. Not only does it depend on your child in general, but it depends on your child at the moment. At some stages, toys are a distraction from naptime. At other stages, they are something that seem to help naptime happen.
As a newborn, your child does not need any sort of toy in bed. You might have a mobile. If so, be mindful of the possibility that the mobile could distract from sleep. Some babies might look at it and get overstimulated or be so interested in it that they miss the sleep window. Others might look at it and peacefully slip into slumber.
Both of my children had a mobile as a young baby. It wasn’t a problem for either child. Our mobile has very mild colors. It also is just a mobile; it doesn’t move or make music at all. If your mobile does move and/or play music, I would caution you against turning it on for naptime or bedtime. You don’t want your child to become dependent on it for sleep. You want to avoid sleep props .
You want to be sure you take the mobile down once your child can reach it. Brayden only had it for a couple of months, but Kaitlyn had it for quite a while (though I can’t remember exactly how long).
You might put a stuffed animal in the bed with your baby. I did this with Brayden around 6 months. I actually started it with Kaitlyn from birth, but it was at the opposite end of the crib from her so it wasn’t anywhere near her. If you do this, be sure it is a safe stuffed animal with no parts that can come off and be choked on (like buttons or eyes that could be pulled off). These stuffed animals are “friends” for my kids. They have never been a problem for sleep. Both of my kids would go to sleep without a problem. When they woke up, they would “talk” to the “friends.”
This is an age when any sort of toy can really start to become a distraction. Both of my kids still had stuffed animals in this age range. Kaitlyn (21 Months) likes to hug one sometimes as she falls asleep. She doesn’t ever play with them before sleep. We have to set them up so they are all sitting along one crib rail. Then she goes to sleep. When she wakes up, she will play with them and talk to them. If I go in to get her right away, she is disappointed because she wanted to play with her babies.
When we moved Brayden from the crib to his twin bed, I was really glad he had his “friends” that he was familiar with. When we moved him, he moved beds and bedrooms. I was glad for him to have something familiar to sleep with. We plan to move Kaitlyn this month sometime, also, and I am sure her babies will help with a smooth transition. See crib to bed transition for mroe on this.
Also, Brayden has a love for one of his “friends” in particular. When he had his surgery last month, he was able to take that friend in the operating room with him. They bandaged him up just like Brayden. His bond with this stuffed animal helped him through this scary process.
You can continue with the special friends. You might also start to think about something like a toy car for your child to play with. If you do give him a car, pay close attention to what happens. He might play with it for a few minutes then drift to sleep. But he also might play with it so long it takes him past his second wind and prevents sleep from happening.
3 Years and Up
During the third year, your child will likely start to drop the nap some days. Throughout Brayden’s fourth year (ages 3-4), we have had to vary what does and doesn’t go in his bed. At the beginning of his fourth year, he had nothing in bed with him for naps except for a blanket and pillow. That helped him to sleep better. As the year went on, he started to not sleep well for naps. So we gave him one to two cars and a couple of “friends” for a nap. That again got him sleeping well.
Over the last 2-3 months (he is currently 3.5 months shy of 4 years old), he has moved more and more toward rest time rather than nap time. He now has one or two cars, his friends, and a few books. Some days he sleeps, others he doesn’t, but during his nap or rest time, he is quiet and stays in bed without a problem.
No matter the age of your child, whether or not toys are in bed with him is up to you to decide. There is no “rule” that says it is always okay or always not okay. If you see toys are a problem, remove them. If you see toys help naptime go more smoothly and happen, use them. Here are a few guidelines I would use:
- Delay Introduction of Toys in Bed: I would wait until you see a need for a toy in bed before you ever introduce it. Putting it in earlier than the child is able to handle it is akin to giving a freedom too soon. If it turns out the toy is a hindrance to naptime, your child might be really upset when you take it.
- Analyze All Angles: Before trying the toy in bed, be sure you analyze all other possible reasons for poor naps. You don’t want to offer a toy when what your child really needs is more waketime. See sleep problems and optimal waketime for help in this.
- Keep the Quantity Low: Your child doesn’t need every beloved toy in bed with him. A couple will suffice.
- Take Note of Effect: This might be a good time to keep a log (see log ). Before you give the toy, keep a log of how long it takes him to fall asleep and how the nap goes. After you give the toy, do the same. Then you can concretely see if it is helping or hurting.
- Pay Attention: If the toy helps, pay attention to watch for it to become a problem. It can. If the toy becomes a distraction, remove it.
- Avoid Props: I would avoid letting this become a prop. I would rotate toys if needed to ensure that your child will not be particular about which toy, book, or stuffed animal he has. I like to have my children able to sleep so that wherever they are, they can go to sleep. I don’t want to have to remember to pack certain toys or items to help them sleep. If we are at Grandma’s, I grab a stuffed animal she has there. Even though my kids have had the same stuffed animals for basically their entire lives, they are fine with having different ones. Monitor your child so you don’t create a prop.
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