Bedtime with a toddler may be quick and painless one night and an hour-long battle the next. The toys stocked in her bed can either help her comfort herself as she drifts off, or they can rile her up and make her even more resistant to sleep. No magic bullet will make a strong-willed toddler fall asleep instantly, but choosing toys that appeal to her interests and personality can help.
Safety needs to be your first concern, since your toddler will be unsupervised with the items in his crib. Any toy that has removable parts or parts that are short and narrow enough to fit in a toddler's windpipe should never be placed in his bed. KidsHealth.org recommends using a choke tube tester or the cardboard tube from a roll of toilet paper to check the safety of a toy. If the toy can fit into the opening of the tube, it's too small for a toddler to safely play with. Avoid anything battery-operated, since the sounds, lights and actions that these toys have might over-stimulate your toddler. Keep all toys and pillows out of your child's bed until he's old enough to sleep on his back -- generally around 12 months old -- since he doesn't have the strength to pull his face off of any potential smothering risks earlier than that.
Stuffed animals are the classic nighttime toy for a reason. Your toddler can hug the toy to herself, thereby comforting herself if she's cranky or sad. Using this type of toy to self-soothe helps your toddler build confidence and means she won't need you to provide all her comfort. Pick one or two small, loosely-filled stuffed animals: a less "inflated" animal won't make your toddler uncomfortable if she ends up sleeping on top of it. Most stuffed animals sold in stores are safe for a toddler, but check the construction before placing one in her crib. The stitching should be strong and tight enough that it can't be ripped apart, and eyes and mouths should be stitched on rather than made from buttons or other objects that a toddler could pull loose and swallow.
A few favorite books placed in or near his crib can help your toddler distract and entertain himself in the morning until you come get him, but not all books are right for all toddlers. Some energetic toddlers might end up throwing books across the room to protest bedtime, and too many books loaded into a crib can make sleeping uncomfortable. For a toddler still sleeping in a crib, placing a few textured, soft books inside the crib should be safe. If your toddler is sleeping in a bed and is fairly low-key at bedtime, setting several books on the floor next to his bed gives him something to do if he's restless or bored when he wakes up.
Other Toys to Try
Any type of toy that doesn't pose an injury risk for your toddler can be placed in his crib if it's something he loves, at least for a trial run. A soft foam puzzle, a soft doll, a favorite train or school bus -- as long as it doesn't have any sharp parts or pieces that can removed and swallowed, you can try it in your toddler's bed. One toy in addition to a stuffed animal is sufficient. However, don't use any toy or stuffed animal that's large enough for your child to stand on and climb out of his crib. If you hear your toddler playing long after bedtime or in the middle of the night, the toy is too distracting and needs to be removed. Any toy appealing enough to keep your child awake when he's tired isn't one he should have available to him.
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