Their Voice: Eric Mitchell leaves a legacy of speaking up for the disability community



There is a void in the disability community that will never be filled. This week many organizations and individuals with disabilities mourn the loss of Eric Mitchell. Eric has been a strong voice for more than 20 years for those who otherwise might not be heard.

Eric spent over 20 years working at the Disability Law Center. His colleagues there expressed their sentiments via Facebook: “The DLC is deeply saddened by the passing of our dear colleague and friend Eric Mitchell. His passing is an enormous loss for our community. Eric was a tireless advocate and an unwavering voice of empowerment for people with disabilities. He was the embodiment of our core values of integrity, compassion and impact and always challenged us to do more and do better on behalf of the most vulnerable among us. He will be greatly missed, but the impact of his legacy will live on.”

Eric also had a consulting company, “Fifth Ocean” where his legacy will be the meaningful work that he did for nonprofit agencies who used his services. In working with nonprofits, it was Eric’s goal to help them create and live by values that reflected significance. Eric connected personally with nonprofit organizations and helped in their development by helping leadership learn to communicate with their teams openly and transparently.

One such organization, “Kids Who Count”, honored Eric on their social media page: “We are saddened by the loss of this beautiful person. Eric Mitchell supported several nonprofits and Kids Who Count is deeply grateful to have been one of those fortunate organizations. His guidance and strategic thinking helped us during critical periods of growth and change. Eric’s passion for our mission was contagious and his dedication to children with special needs will live on in our work.”

Executive Director of Kids Who Count and close friend of Eric’s, Kelsey Lewis personally added, “Eric touched so many through his tireless dedication to the non-profit community.” Eric was involved in other organizations such as Art Access, The Road Home, Community Action and Fourth Street Clinic to name a few.

Another very close friend and previous colleague, Fraser Nelson, Vice President of Business Innovation at Salt Lake Tribune, said that Eric was “born with a spine of justice running through him.” When asked what to describe what drew Eric to the disability community she stated, “His passion was always there, it was in utero.”

Associate Director of Community Outreach at the Melisa Nellesen Center for Autism, Laurie Bowen said of her close friend, “Eric walked the walk. He not only helped those in need but also helped the people who were helping them.” She continued, “Eric helped people be more confident in themselves and taught them to have an impact on others.”

With such a legacy, it is clear that no one person will ever come along and replicate all that he accomplished. But I think that Eric can rest peacefully knowing how many people he corroborated with who are committed to passing on his passion and commitment to a community who will never have enough people advocating for them.

Peter Strople said, “Legacy is not leaving something for people, it’s leaving something in people.” Eric, after talking to so many of the people’s whose lives you have touched, your legacy lives on.


Monica Villar, Their Voice


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Holiday Survival Tips for Children with Special Needs

The very things that make the holidays exciting and fun for many kids can feel stressful and overwhelming to children with autism or other types of learning challenges. Routines are disrupted, noise levels are heightened, and more people are coming and going, so picture-perfect holiday memories often become messy meltdowns.

Here are some holiday survival tips that might help when the season doesn’t seem so jolly to your child.



Plan ahead

A little preparation and planning with your child will give them a chance to understand what all this commotion is about. For example, you can use pictures of activities to show your child what will be happening—show people opening presents, singing carols, or decorating, and talk about what is planned. Pack a bag, with your child’s help, that includes soothing toys, headphones, or their favorite weighted blanket. Let them know that this bag will always be available. And, don’t forget to give relatives a heads-up about your child’s particular needs and let your family help make the environment less stressful. You can give them a list of things they can do to be supportive. It may also help to arrive at gatherings early (when fewer people are there) and leave early (before the volume skyrockets).

Bring familiar food

Children, especially on the autism spectrum, tend to be extremely selective in the food that they will eat. It’s a good idea to bring some of your child’s favorite foods with you when visiting friends or family. The recognizable routine (eating what they usually eat) will ease some of the other transitional problems (Eating away from home) they may be experiencing. If you tell the host about their special food needs ahead of time you can avoid offending the cook.

Manage the gift chaos

Unwrapping presents can be noisy, chaotic, and challenging for some children with special needs. Try using soft, reusable bags to wrap gifts which are easier to open and less noisy and messy. Or, you could make sure your child’s gifts are easy to open so they can have the sense of accomplishment of opening without unnecessary frustration. You could also plan a place away from others for your child to open gifts so they won’t feel overwhelmed and rushed by the group’s excitement. You can also wrap one of your child’s favorite toys so they open something familiar and comforting that you know they like.

Wait to put wrapped gifts out 

One other small tip is to wait until Christmas eve night to place any gifts under the tree. Children on the autism spectrum and those with other learning challenges can have difficulty with delayed gratification. Waiting to put gifts out can prevent a major case of sensory overload.

Schedule alone time with your child

The busyness of the season can mess up your schedule during the holidays, so it might be helpful to schedule time every day to just get away or do one of your child’s favorite activities. You can also manage stress by allowing yourself to let go of some traditions this year that may not be enjoyable. The pressure of joining festivities can sometimes be taxing to both you and your child, so having a sanctuary (a room or part of a room) to escape to can be helpful.

As always with your special needs child, remember to follow your heart. Do what is best for your child and your family, even if that means saying no to some things you’d really like to say yes to this year. The holidays may look a bit different than you imagined, but just remember, you are making your own unique holiday memories with your child.

Mary Walker, OT

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Four Tips for Managing the Stress of Parenting a Special Needs Child

Parenting brings many joys. But it also can bring a lot of stress, which can be compounded if you are a parent of a child with autism spectrum disorders or developmental challenges. Building resiliency can be useful in facing these challenges. Here are four tips that may help.

1. Laugh

It may sound counterintuitive, but consciously trying to lighten the mood can help you deal with intense situations. Positive humor at home can actually strengthen your relationships with your spouse and children. Try avoiding the news and watch comedies or cartoons that make you giggle instead. Check out funny books from the library, or add some books of jokes to your bedside table. Finding small ways to laugh about your own everyday situations will melt stress. Even if it feels forced at first, practice chuckling and it will soon turn into spontaneous laughter. A good sense of humor can’t cure all ailments, but studies are increasing about the positive effects of laughter.

2. Be active

Activity in almost any form can act as a stress reliever. Exercise boosts your feel-good endorphins and focusing on the movement will distract you from daily worries. The good news is that exercise doesn’t have to be done at the gym or include a formalized program to alleviate stress. Even a walk around the block or dancing to your favorite tunes in the kitchen can make a difference. Exercise can increase your self-confidence, it can relax you, and it can lower the symptoms associated with stress or anxiety. Exercise can also improve your sleep, which is often disrupted by the stress of caring for a special needs child.

3. Find support systems

Having social support is very helpful in decreasing parenting stress. For example, if extended family is available ask them to provide childcare for a few hours during the week to give you a break for yourself. Support systems may also be helpful to provide an avenue for you to talk with others about how they cope with being a parent. It is always good to hear how others have addressed a problem or find that you are not alone. One option is to join the Kids Who Count Family Support Group and meet other parents who are managing the challenges and opportunities that come with having a child with special needs. This group meets Tuesday mornings from 10:30 a.m. until 11:30 a.m. and limited childcare is also available. Go to for more information.

4. Seek professional help 

If you find yourself feeling overwhelmed, seek professional help from a psychologist or licensed mental health professional. A psychologist can be helpful to provide strategies to help you cope with life’s challenges. Additionally, they may be able to provide you with resources to help improve your child’s functioning and decrease problem behaviors that may increase parenting stress. Call the Kids Who Count offices at (801) 423-3000 if you need help finding qualified professionals for either you or your child.






Holly BushnellFour Tips for Managing the Stress of Parenting a Special Needs Child
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Creating a Backyard Sanctuary for Kids with Disabilities


Having room to explore and play is important for the development of every child. Kids of all abilities need to have a place to discover, learn, and experience their world. Play is such an essential part of child development that the United Nations has declared play to be a basic human right for children.

One of the best ways to foster play is to help your child get outside. Thinking of ways to make your child’s play more active and engaging offers an advantage in strong, sustained and healthy development. Start by taking a good look around your outside space and consider ways to develop an inclusive sanctuary for children with all abilities.

Turning to television, smartphones, or tablets for entertainment can be easy and addictive for both children and parents. Supervised and timed technology play can serve a purpose, especially for kids with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), but it will never be a good substitute for time outside. Encouraging your child to play outdoors will help lower stress, increase attention span, improve vision, and build social skills. Plus, that extra boost of vitamin D will be an added benefit.

Click here to read more on HomeAdvisor.






Holly BushnellCreating a Backyard Sanctuary for Kids with Disabilities
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Tips for Managing Meltdowns

Summer meltdowns can be all too familiar to parents of children with special needs—especially children with Autism Spectrum Disorder. Changes in routine, group activities, and even heat can exacerbate meltdowns. And, unlike a tantrum, a meltdown is usually an involuntary response to sensory overload and not a cry for attention.

Here are five ideas to help you avoid or deal with a dreaded meltdown.

Avoid sensory triggers

Triggers can be different for every child, so it might help to take notes about what caused a meltdown to occur. Identifying the stimuli can help you dodge chancy situations, or find ways to avoid the parts of the activity that causes the most problems. For example, take earplugs or noise-canceling headphones to fireworks shows to dampen loud noises, drive instead of taking a crowded bus, or leave the store to find a more soothing environment.

Know the signs

One key strategy is to get to know your child’s signs of distress. Does he put his hands over his ears? Does she increase self-stimulatory behaviors like rocking, humming, hand flapping, etc.? Does he run from the room or say “Go!” or “Leave!”? These signs of your child’s distress can help you understand when your child is becoming overstimulated and needs help getting regulated.

Distract or redirect

If you can see a meltdown building, try doing something that usually makes your child happy. Your goal should be to focus on something that is comforting but not over-stimulating. For example, sing a favorite song, play a little game, or make silly faces.

Try to stay calm

Although it may be tempting to raise your voice or talk louder as the meltdown progresses, it’s best to talk in a soft, calming voice and avoid big or quick movements. Take deep breaths and take a few seconds to assess the situation. If possible, stop what you were doing and focus on helping your child calm down. Use simple language and short sentences and avoid forceful behavior.

Prepare a meltdown kit

Keep an emergency kit with you to help defuse a meltdown. Choose things that your child is already familiar with and has used to cope with stress in the past. It’s better to practice when your child is calm and already understands the coping strategy. You could include items like a favorite soft animal or fidget toy, aromatherapy oils or lotion, noise-cancelling headphones, or a weighted blanket or lap pad. You could also include a chewy or crunchy snack and some unscented hand wipes to help if the stimuli is tactile. A wide-brimmed hat or cap can offer some relief from social interactions, and a pair of sunglasses can reduce bright light.

We hope some of these tips will help you and your child manage or avoid meltdowns. What other techniques do you use? Please share in the comments below!






Holly BushnellTips for Managing Meltdowns
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Five Summer Activities for Children with Special Needs

Changes in routine, too much free time, and lack of consistent activities can sometimes make summer a challenging time for families with a child on the autism spectrum.

The good news is that for children with ASD, summer activities can serve a dual purpose: along with keeping your child active and engaged in the summer, planned activities can give your child chance to explore color, shape, and sensory experiences that will stimulate attention, help foster self-calming, and make summer enjoyable!

Here are 5 ideas to help you launch a summer of fun.

Take a Train Ride

Trains can be a popular topic with children on the autism spectrum. It could be the spinning of the wheels that speaks to their sensory interests, or the rhythmic and repetitive noise and motion. And young kids are often exposed to trains in popular books and television programs. But whatever the reason, riding a real train could be a fun summer activity.

It could be fun to find a train that goes up a mountain, or find a scenic train ride to see the countryside. But just as fun may be a ride on the local train to the city and back. In Utah, you could try riding the light rail system (Trax) or jump on the faster Frontrunner commuter train and watch as the towns fly by. There are also a few trains in amusements parks (like Lagoon) or the Heber Valley Railroad that offers breathtaking view of Mt. Timpanogos and the dramatic, glacier-carved landscape of Provo Canyon.

Try Some Good Old Fashioned Outdoor Play

Outdoor play is stimulating for children of all abilities, specifically those who need a little extra help developing gross motor skills. Try some of the traditional childhood games to promote whole body movement and balance. Great games to try are Simon Says, Red Light Green Light, or Hopscotch. Or, get active with a great game of freeze tag or hide and seek. Even a game of follow the leader can be a fun activity and can help kids learn new movements. Plus, you might get nostalgic for your own sunny childhood.

Tent It Up

A simple backyard tent is a great way to create a fantasyland with your little one without ever leaving home! You can rig it up with string between trees and draped sheets, or set up a small camping tent as a sensory cave. Tent play can keep our child occupied for hours, plus tents can be comforting as a retreat when a child with ASD just needs a little quiet time. Add calming light with a flashlight or glow stick and bring out lots of soft pillows and blankets or sleeping bags to make it comfortable and calming.

Make an Obstacle Course

It’s fun to make up an obstacle course with objects or items you have already at home. Try using tape to make a balancing line, or inexpensive pool noodles to make barriers to jump over or a path to follow. Hula hoops make great places jump into and jump ropes make good starting lines or edge markers. Try bean bag toss or stacking big blocks. 

You could have several stops along the path with instructions about walking like animals. For example, have your child hop like a frog, slither like a snake, prance like a unicorn, walk like a crab, or jump like a kangaroo.

Catch Some Bubbles

Chasing bubbles is a great way for kids to practice their gross motor skills. You can give different directions to have your child catch a bubble on their head, break one in their hand, or jump on them as they settle to the ground. For kids with mobility issues use a pool noodle to swat the bubbles or a rolled up newspaper to act like a bubble bat.

Don’t forget, this is your summer too!

Even though you spend a lot of time and energy keeping your child occupied and happy during the summer, always keep in mind that summer is for everyone! Try to find activities that are interesting to you too and find things that can be enjoyed by the whole family. Look for an outdoor festival, an easy hike, or a beautiful sculpture garden. Sometimes even your local pool can do the trick. But whatever you plan, remember to create a few great summer memories of your own along the way.


Written by Sara Madsen, BCBA

Sara Madsen is a Board Certified Behavior Analyst or BCBA at Kids Who Count. She oversees and supervises all of the ABA treatments for the children we serve on the autism spectrum. She is currently in the PhD program in Applied Behavior Analysis at The Chicago School of Professional Psychology. She loves the outdoors—fishing and camping—and is a Utah Jazz fan.






Holly BushnellFive Summer Activities for Children with Special Needs
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New program is helping children with autism in Utah County

The prevalence of autism spectrum disorder among children in the U.S. has increased in the past decade. In Utah, the number of children diagnosed with autism is even higher than the national average. A staggering 1 in 54 Utah children are diagnosed and the need for autism services has never been more critical. These kids desperately need intense therapy at a very early age.

Tiffany Millar, Registered Behavior Technician with Kids Who Count, works on new vocabulary with Brookson Measom in the Kids Who Count playground.

That’s why, Kids Who Count, a non-profit organization serving families and children in South Utah County, decided to expand their services to include comprehensive autism treatment along with their early intervention services for children, birth to three years of age.

“Since 1986, our early intervention program has helped thousands of young children with developmental delays and disabilities,” Kelsey Lewis, Kids Who Count Executive Director, said. “Now we’re ready to expand those services to include treatment for children on the autism spectrum.”

Kids Who Count, located in Salem, Utah, would like to help more kids like Miles Jones who at 18 months wasn’t talking at all. He was missing most of his developmental milestones and his family was getting frantic. Fortunately, Miles was receiving early intervention at Kids Who Count and the timing couldn’t have been better. His early intervention providers referred him for further evaluation and he was diagnosed and able to get help quickly when his family became one of the first to start Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) through the brand new program: Autism Services at Kids Who Count.

“Miles is responding so well to ABA therapy and continues to make such rapid progress,” Miles’ mother, Kohleen Jones, said. “We are so grateful that Kids Who Count was able to expand their services and start providing ABA therapy. There is such a great need in our community!”

The need for autism treatment services is outpacing the number of providers in South Utah County, Lewis said. “It’s concerning to know young children are not getting the ABA therapy they so desperately need.”

ABA therapy helps young children diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder increase their communication skills and decrease behaviors that are not beneficial to their life. It focuses on the fact that not being able to communicate is frustrating and kids will act out as a result. Hundreds of studies have shown that ABA therapy is also the best treatment to improve social skills, develop play skills, and teach self-care for children with autism.

“Researchers have compared ABA to other programs and their results consistently show that children who receive ABA treatment make greater improvements in more skill areas than children who participate in other interventions,” Lewis said. “And, it’s also shown to significantly reduce the daily stress for parents of kids with autism.”

Sara Madsen, Board Certified Behavior Analyst with Kids Who Count, works with Calvin Hansen to develop hand and eye coordination at their facility in Salem.

“Early Intervention has been absolutely key for Miles and our family,” Jones said. “Miles started signing words and then moved on to speaking and is now able to form three- to four-word sentences. Miles has improved in how he interacts with his peers, and we learned skills on how to help Miles transition more smoothly from one activity to another. We even got help with teaching

Kids Who Count now has a staff of highly trained behavior analysts and technicians who are experts in this subject and certified in providing ABA treatment, Lewis said. “They know what works and what doesn’t, and they are achieving pronounced results already.”

Those results are being deeply felt by Miles and his family. “We are very optimistic that our whole family has a happy and bright future ahead of us,” Jones said.

To contact Kids Who Count about autism services, visit their website at, or call them at (801) 423-3000. Read Serve Daily Article 

Holly BushnellNew program is helping children with autism in Utah County
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Figuring out the alphabet soup of autism

Many families who seek help for a child with development delays or who get an autism diagnosis are faced with a whole bowl full of acronyms or “alphabet soup,” as we like to call it. The vocabulary can be intimidating, the abbreviations mystifying, and the labels confusing. We even get stumped ourselves once in a while.

Because our autism program is brand new, it’s the perfect time to help demystify some of the jargon so prevalent in the autism, disability, and special education community.

So, let’s get started with a few of the basics.

What is behavior analysis?

Behavior analysis is a natural science that seeks to understand the behavior of individuals. That is, behavior analysts study how biological, pharmacological, and experiential factors influence the behavior of humans and nonhuman animals.

What is applied behavior analysis or ABA?

Used as a scientific approach to understanding different behavior, applied behavior analysis (ABA) is a method of therapy used to improve or change specific behaviors. In simple terms, ABA changes the environment in order to change the behavior. It’s not just used to correct bad behavior. While we often think of the word “behavior” as meaning bad behavior, that’s not always the case. In reference to ABA therapy, behavior is what we do and how we act. ABA therapy is used to improve behaviors like social skills, reading, academics, and communication as well as learned skills like grooming, hygiene, fine motor dexterity, job proficiency and even simple things like a child dressing herself.

What is Autism Spectrum Disorder or ASD?

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a developmental disorder that affects communication and behavior including social skills, repetitive behaviors, speech and nonverbal communication. Although autism can be diagnosed at any age, it is said to be a “developmental disorder” because symptoms generally appear in the first two years of life.

There is not just one type of autism, but many subtypes, most influenced by a combination of genetic and environmental factors. Because autism is a spectrum disorder, each person with autism has a distinct set of strengths and challenges. The ways people with autism learn, think and problem-solve can range from highly skilled to severely challenged. Some people with ASD may require significant support in their daily lives, while others may need less support and, in some cases, live entirely independently.

What is a Board Certified Behavior Analyst or BCBA?

A Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) is a graduate-level certification in behavior analysis. Professionals who are certified at the BCBA level are independent practitioners who provide behavior-analytic services. In addition, BCBAs supervise the work of Registered Behavior Technicians (RBT), and others who implement behavior-analytic interventions.

Our BCBA will complete an assessment of your child’s skills and preferences and use this analysis to write specific treatment goals for both your child and your family. Your child’s treatment program will be individualized to address their unique needs, skills, interests, as well as the situation in your family.

Currently at Kids Who Count we have one full-time BCBA on our staff.

What is a Registered Behavior Technician or RBT?

A Registered Behavior Technician (RBT) is a paraprofessional who practices under the close, ongoing supervision of a BCBA. The RBT is primarily responsible for the direct implementation of behavior-analytic services. The RBT does not design intervention or assessment plans. It is the responsibility of the RBT supervisor to determine which tasks an RBT may perform as a function of his or her training, experience, and competence.

Our Registered Behavior Technicians (RBTs) will work directly with your child to apply the principles of ABA to teach language, social skills, self-care, play and learning.

Currently at Kids Who Count we have two part-time RBTs on our staff.

What will by child’s ABA instruction play look like?

An ABA instruction plan will break down skills into small, concrete steps—taught one-by-one. Your child’s RBT will start with simple activities (like imitating single sounds) to learning more complex skills like carrying on a conversation.

The BCBA and your child’s RBT will collect data and measure progress so they can continue to help your child move toward goals and benchmarks. Your Kids Who Count team will meet regularly with you and your family to review progress with specific goals and objectives and adjust the treatment plan as necessary.

We want to help!

We’re always more than happy to help if you come across an acronym you’re unfamiliar with or some words or jargon that don’t make sense. Don’t be afraid to ask!

At Kids Who Count, we envision a community where children and families have access to local services that promote positive change and give children with autism spectrum disorder a chance to reach their unique individual potential. We hope we can help you!


Written by Sara Madsen, BCBA

Sara Madsen is a Board Certified Behavior Analyst or BCBA at Kids Who Count. She oversees and supervises all of the ABA treatments for the children we serve on the autism spectrum. She is currently in the PhD program in Applied Behavior Analysis at The Chicago School of Professional Psychology. She loves the outdoors—fishing and camping—and is a Utah Jazz fan.






Holly BushnellFiguring out the alphabet soup of autism
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Your Child’s Developmental Milestones

The first three years are a critical time in your child’s development. Becoming familiar with milestones—or things most children do by a certain age—will help give you clues about your infant or toddler’s development. Each child is unique, and not all kids are going to hit milestones at the same time, but if you have concerns or questions, don’t wait to take action.

Free CDC Milestone Tracker App

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website is an excellent resource to learn more about specific milestones for children 2 months to 5 years of age. The CDC “Learn the Signs. Act Early” campaign materials describe milestones in all areas of development for specific age groups.

The CDC Milestone Checklist and FREE Milestone Tracker App provide great information to help you identify your baby’s important milestones. Click here for the Milestone Checklist.

The CDC’s free Milestone Tracker App can be found here:

CDC Milestone Tracker App CDC Milestone Tracker App SPANISH

If your child is under age 3 and you have any concerns about your child’s development, don’t wait. Contact Kids Who Count or the early intervention program in your area. We provide a complete developmental evaluation, at no cost to you, to determine if your child is eligible for early intervention services.

Intervention can help to put you on the path to getting the help your child may need. Services could include physical therapy, speech therapy, occupational therapy, social work, nursing, and nutrition. The sooner we start, the better.


Written by Kelsey Lewis, Executive Director

Kelsey Lewis is the Executive Director of Kids Who Count and is a dedicated advocate for resources and policies that improve the lives of children and families. For nearly 20 years Kelsey has worked as a nonprofit leader developing teams and leading programs that improve the lives of children and families. She received her Masters of Social Work from the University of Utah. She lives with her husband and her two very active and accomplished teenagers.






Holly BushnellYour Child’s Developmental Milestones
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Bedtime Routines: How To Get Your Toddler To Sleep

Bedtime with toddlers can be anything but routine, but having a regular nighttime schedule can make nights more pleasant and will help kids get the sleep they need to grow and develop. Tired tots can have a hard time handling life’s daily challenges—from losing their temper with siblings to figuring out their own bodily functions. Your little one doesn’t realize it, but she needs her sleep.

Some kids seem to be gurus of sleep while others struggle to unwind, but all children are influenced by their environment. The good news is, falling asleep is a habit that every kid can master.

Here are a few ways to make bedtime less challenging.

Be Consistent

Start by choosing an age-appropriate bedtime. The key is to choose a time well before the dreaded exhaustion stage. A good rule of thumb could be between 6:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. for toddlers. Try to be as consistent as you can and stick pretty closely to your selected bedtime—even on weekends or on vacation when other routines may be compromised. Toddlers actually really love routine because they feel safe and secure when they know what’s coming next. This consistency will help your kiddo make the transition from day to night.

Plan your routine in advance and try to make it relatively compact—30 minutes should be plenty of time. It’s helpful to communicate this routine as often as you can to reinforce the boundaries. For example, your routine could look something like: quiet down, choose pajamas, brush your teeth, read a story, get some snuggles, go to sleep.

You could make a picture schedule to help your child know what’s coming next, then point to the picture of the step you’re on. It’s great if you can print out pictures of your child doing the activities themselves. (We’ve also included a printable PDF here to give you another simple chart idea.)

You could make a picture schedule to help your child know what’s coming next, then point to the picture of the step you’re on. It’s great if you can print out pictures of your child doing the activities themselves. (We’ve also included a printable PDF here to give you another simple chart idea.) DOWNLOAD PDF

Lead your child through the routine and talk to them about what’s going to happen. You could say something like: “Now we’re going to put on pajamas, then we’ll brush your teeth, and after that we’ll read a story.”

Quiet Down

Begin the unwinding process early—before their first yawn. Toddlers can have a difficult time with transitions, and going from tickle fights and racing around the house to falling asleep might take longer than you think. Start quieting down playtime a good hour before bedtime to give your kid a chance to relax. Enjoy the roughhousing and wrestling with dad earlier in the evening.

During quiet time, it’s best to switch off the TV and put away phones, tablets, and other screens. For children especially, it’s best to avoid screen time at least an hour before bedtime. Anything that emits blue light can suppress the body’s melatonin levels and make it harder to get to sleep. Although TV can seem like a good way to wind down, it can actually be stimulating. Better choices are quiet music or audiobooks, simple board games, coloring, or even light stretching or yoga to help your child calm down. Dimming the lights as a lead up to bedtime can help cue the body to release helpful sleep hormones.

Give Them a Choice

As a parent, you probably already know that toddlers don’t like to feel bossed around. Giving them choices during the bedtime routine can help them feel like they are in charge, but remember to limit the options to two or three. For example, let them choose between the pajamas with feet or the ones without, or choose between two sleepy-themed books for you to read.

Try to avoid scary stories or books with lots of excitement, and don’t add too much animation to your reading. You want to lull them to sleep, so if books are too exciting, you could try singing a lullaby or snuggling and talking about your day instead.

Give Your Routine an End

Once you’ve completed your bedtime routine, try to be consistent about expectations. Your child may test the boundaries by asking for more books, more cuddles, or more snacks, but be firm and help them understand that our bodies need rest. Let them know that you believe in them and know they can fall asleep. Turn on their special nightlight or give them their comforting blanket, then, kiss them goodnight and leave the room. It won’t be long until they associate these special cues with falling asleep and drift into dreamland.

Written by Annie Buck, OT

Annie Buck is an Occupational Therapist with Kids Who Count. She specializes in helping children with feeding and sensory delays. She lives in a houseful of boys. She and her husband have four sons, from 8-months-old to 7-years-old. Things are always loud at home with fun that usually involves someone wrestling someone else.





Holly BushnellBedtime Routines: How To Get Your Toddler To Sleep
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