Nighttime Schedules And Picky Eaters Written by The Parenting Center Q: My 15-month old wants to—and does—go to bed by 7 every night. I’ve shied from taking her to evening activities (dinners with friends, special events, etc) to respect her bedtime. Should I ever let her stay out late? A: Toddlers this age need about 13 hours (including nap) of sleep per day to function optimally, although your child may need a little more or a little less. While it’s tempting to keep her up late for fun occasions, bear a few things in mind: her temperament, the stimulation of the event you’re taking her to, and how late you expect her to stay up. Some children can deviate occasionally from their daily schedule without much difficulty, especially if they’ve had a good nap earlier that day. However, for many toddlers a late bedtime results in a major meltdown either that night or the following day. If you do take her, you may need to find an out-of-the-way spot where she can have some quiet time with you, away from the excitement of the event. And be prepared to beat a hasty retreat if necessary since an overtired, tantrum-throwing toddler can make the experience more stressful than fun for the two of you. Q: Currently, my one year old stays home with a nanny, whom he adores. When should I consider enrolling him in a nursery or preschool program? I’m interested in the socialization and learning, and don’t need it for daycare purposes. A: Children are learning and socializing from birth. But as they reach toddler hood and the preschool years, their interests tend to move beyond the immediate family and familiar environments. Around the age of two, children are noticing and responding to actions of others their age. We call this parallel play. Soon after, they begin to reach out and experiment with others: cooperative play. So, for most children, the socialization aspect of a group setting becomes beneficial around two or two and a half. Of course, temperament has a lot to do with a decision about when to start school and how often to attend if you do not need child care outside of the home. If you are still confused about how and when to start, talk to the center director or call the Parenting Center to discuss it. Learning, or skill development, is at an all-time high for your baby right now. Children learn best through exploration and play. Whether your child is with the nanny, with you, or at a preschool program, he is developing the skills needed to read, do math, think critically and succeed in school. When he is in a new environment, whether it is preschool or regular visits to the zoo, the Children’s Museum, or similar venues, he has more opportunities to learn. Quality early childhood environments can be beneficial as soon as your child is developmentally ready for the experience. Q: My preschooler used to be a fabulous eater—trying anything, and liking most. Now she’s beyond finicky, and only wants hot dogs or cereal. How can I get her back on track, food-wise? A: As young children discover their independence, they experiment with control. This is especially true when it comes to eating, sleeping, and “toileting” as we, the parents, can not ultimately control these functions. Ellen Satter, author of How To Get Your Child To Eat…But Not Too Much, reminds us that when it comes to feeding children, parents decide what, when, and where; children decide how much and whether. So you can provide healthy choices and limits such as eating only at the table and no juice between meals and snacks. But your child must decide which food she will choose and how much she will eat. This way children learn to listen to their own body’s cues about feeling hungry and feeling satisfied. Remember, also, that mealtime should be about more than food. It should be a time when the family comes together. Working to make mealtime pleasant and nutritious is the best way to raise a healthy eater.