Mat time

Mat time training allows you to go anywhere and place a simple boundary on the ground for your child to play quietly in while you can relax knowing they are safe, quiet and happy. It is wonderful for those situations where a roving, noisy toddler is simply not welcome or could even be dangerous. It teaches children sitting and focussing skills and is excellent training for future learning situations that require extended concentration.

¨       The difference between room time and mat time is that there can be interaction during mat time (as long as the child stays on the mat) and mat times happen in sight of you, wherever you are working.

¨       Start with several smaller time slots throughout the day and work up to longer time periods at a single time in the day.

¨       Plan something to do that allows you to train during this time without becoming distracted. Remember, the purpose of the short time period to start with is to finish while it is going well and praise, praise, praise! Do not be tempted initially to extend the time in this training phase because it is going well and leave it until a problem happens – end on a good note.

¨       If a child tries to get off the mat immediately say “It’s mat time, stay on the mat” and gently but firmly move them back onto the mat.

¨       If the child is consistently getting off (and you are sure they understand the expectation to stay on) you may choose to put them into their cot. They can be bought back out after a short time to try again or if still getting off the mat, you may choose to have them finish the remainder of their mat time in the cot (or some other isolation area), with or without their toys.

¨       During the initial training period, you may choose to extend the time by joining the child on the mat once their capacity for independent play is exhausted. Be wary of letting them become dependent on you for entertainment.

¨       Further consequences can also be used once training is established and a child is still deliberately disobeying.

¨       Provide a few toys, not a lot. Better to change half way through than add too many at the start. Young children become overwhelmed with too many choices and end up unable to focus on anything.

¨       Toys that “accidentally” come off the mat are not returned. Use your discretion!

¨       Introduce packing away from first use – demonstrate first, do it with the child, then expect the child to pack away independently once they have mastered the skill of doing so with help.

¨       In order for a child to pack up independently, toys must be organised very simply e.g. open crates. Do not expect a toddler to pack toys into bags and boxes.

¨       Start when you know you will be able to be home for a few days in a row and consider introducing the mat several times each day for small time increments. Once you are ready to extend the time, once a day for a longer period may be sufficient.

¨       For young children, consider doing it through the weekend until well established

¨       Have it at a similar time each day

¨       Consider having some special toys that only come out for mat time or take other toys out of general circulation so they become interesting again.

Moving to a big bed – managing your morning routine

The age at which children transition from a cot to their big bed is up to the parents. Some start as early as 12 months, others wait until much later. I found around 2 years of age to be a good time, mostly as there were other babies on the way who would be requiring the cot! Don’t wait until a new baby has been born to suddenly make this big transition – have it all organised and any kinks worked through well and truly before bub arrives. This also prevents any resentment associated with the baby taking MY cot.

If your child is already trained to obedience during the day and will stay to play where you tell them, then you shouldn’t have too many hassles with them getting out of bed when they shouldn’t. If your child will not obey you during the day and stay where they are told, then it’s very likely that they will not obey you at night or in the morning either. Do this training first by implementing mat times, highchair times, playpen times and other obedience training during the day while everyone is much more able to deal with it in a calm and consistent manner. Be aware that almost all children will test your resolve a couple of times just to see what happens so be prepared and have appropriate strategies for dealing with children out of bed when they shouldn’t be – the FIRST time it happens.

Think about what you want the morning to look like. Will he be able to get out? Can she independently turn on a light and read books or access a few toys from a basket next to the bed? What is your goal for a morning routine that suits you now and in the long run?

While our children are still in a cot, we put books, teddy and a few small toys at the end after they have gone to sleep. To begin with, at the first peep in the morning we dash in, saying “Well done for staying quiet, now read and play quietly until we come and get you.” Initially they are left for very short times so that they can be successful and praised for their quiet time. This time is increased as they became used to the routine.

We wanted this time to be quiet as there were other siblings who we didn’t want woken up and in the long term, siblings may be sharing bedrooms. I also personally don’t like the idea of children being up and about without supervision. I trusted them not to do anything deliberately dangerous or destructive, but what if they wanted to be helpful and tried to make Mum a cup of tea with boiling water? Not much can go wrong if you are reading in bed! After this training is in place we stop going in to remind them and let them start reading and playing quietly themselves.

As children became older and closer to the move to their big beds, we transition to books only in the cot, rather than toys. This also leads to a long term love of books which is something we want to cultivate in our family. Once the change to a big bed is made, the exact same morning routine is used and we found that they never really thought of getting up and wandering about in the morning as they already knew what they were expected to do.

Parents will often ask how the child knows it’s time to start reading, particularly those whose children’s bedrooms are completely dark in the morning. Some strategies are:

Child turns light on and helps themselves to books next to their bed whenever they wake (I don’t like this as most children go through phases where they wake WAY TOO EARLY and if left laying down in the dark would quite possibly fall back to sleep.)

  • Soft music alarm, bunny clock or colour change clock that signals when it is time for lights on
  • Mum or dad comes in every morning to say it’s time to get up
  • Pin a paper clock next to their own analogue clock with the hands at the time they are allowed to rise.
  • Tape over the minute numbers on a digital clock and write the number the hour must match before they may turn on the light (or teach them to read it properly if you want wake up times to be half past the hour.)

It’s nice to build some excitement around the big move and get children really wanting to do it. Maybe they can come shopping for their new big boy/girl sheets, pillow, doona etc and help choose (Between an appropriate selection you pick out!) We were able to have the bed all set up in their new rooms (as each time has involved a room change as well as a bed change) a couple of weeks before they were “allowed” to sleep in it – you could do it in the same room if you have enough space. By the time we were ready for them to move, they were practically begging to be able to go in it. Each time they asked we’d recite all the rules and say they had to wait until they were responsible enough, big enough etc. to which they would be eagerly saying I will, I can, I won’t get out of bed and on and on until we finally said the grand day had arrived.

They also showed every family member and visitor the bed and we primed them to be really excited and talk about what a big boy/girl they are to be able to sleep in a big bed, ask when they were going to move to their new big girl room, what are the rules? etc.

If your child is a very mobile sleeper a bed rail may be a good idea or at least a mattress on the floor. We have borrowed rails but they make it difficult to sit and read to children on the bed so we get rid of them as soon as possible. Most of our children move around a lot in the cot but in a bed press themselves up against the wall and stay there – security maybe? One of our daughters on the other hand fell off repeatedly which we put down to the fact that it was summer and she wasn’t able to be tucked in under tight bedclothes – she kept getting out and laying on top them, rolling about and dropping off night after night. We had to go and borrow a rail again and needed it for about 6 months before we took it off and she was fine.

Another trick to stop falling out is to tuck a large towel or similar in a roll along the outside edge of the bed to tilt the mattress back with the slope down towards the wall side. Also, putting the top sheet on sideways so children are securely tucked in seems to stop them rolling towards the outer edge. (Children’s feet don’t go anywhere near the bottom of the bed anyway.)

All in all, the key is in the daytime training and consistent parenting throughout the entire day, not just at bedtime. Usually children love the idea of a big bed and with a little training and preparation, so will you!

Toddlers and Cupboards.

What is it with toddlers and cupboard doors? They are naturally fascinated with opening and closing doors and of course checking out what you have stored away inside your cupboards. It is possible to simply train your toddler not to open any cupboards in the house and this may be the preferred option for you. I have in fact done this with several of my children, with the idea that I don’t want to clean up any more mess and that children need to know their physical boundaries and simply obey their parents.

While obedience and boundaries are certainly important, I have slowly come around to the conclusion (helped by having twin toddlers) that it is simply easier for everyone if there is one special door (or drawer) that toddlers can be directed to when they are itching to explore.

They will still gain the understanding that there are physical boundaries and need to obey when Mummy says “Don’t touch,” however being able to redirect that interest with the simple instruction to “Go to Jamie’s cupboard” makes obedience more palatable for them. Some parents use the plastic storage area, the pots and pans cupboard or clean out a bottom drawer. I have a ground level cupboard with a shelf that I fill with a small selection of books and toys and occasionally rotate.

As you can see by the picture, the attraction here is the cupboard itself, rather than the toys and it didn’t take long for the twins to work out how to remove the little shelf and insert themselves – usually at the same time!