Behavioral Therapy

I'm on the news!

Each day during the "Week of Miracles," 13 WHAM News profiles a 2016 Golisano Children's Hospital Miracle Kid. Earlier this summer, I had the opportunity to talk with Norma Holland about my work with Fauna and her son Daniel. Their story aired on Wednesday, September 14: 

You can read more about the story here. I also previously wrote about my time with Fauna and Daniel in the BIFF clinic at URMC in my blog and on the website. The work Fauna and I did together is quite literally why I do what I do for a living. I would not be who I am if it were not for the amazing opportunities I have to work with families like them everyday.

Product Review: Teach Me Time Clock

Last week I posted about Bedtime Routines. I wanted to share an accompanying product review of something I have and use daily in my home, along with some ideas on how I use it to improve my kid's sleep. 

Sleep can be challenging at different stages of development for a variety of reasons. Sleep can also be a sensitive subject for caregivers and healthcare providers alike when it comes to improving the onset (how long does it take to fall asleep) and increasing the duration (how long do they stay in bed asleep). At the end of the day, we all need sleep to function, so I’ve talked about it often with my friends and with families I have worked with over the years. cherubic first born child learned to sleep through the night at a young age. This is something we took relatively for granted until our second child arrived 22 months later. Just about the time our 2.5 year old transitioned to her big girl bed, she started developing the fabulous habits of A) getting in and out of her bed repeatedly and B) waking up too early. By my math, she was losing anywhere from 60 to 120 minutes of sleep on the front and back ends.

We needed to shore this issue up in a hurry since it was ratcheting up the household stress.

Like most things in my life, my Better Half deserves a lot of the credit. She read about this product, we purchased it, and had it all set to go atop the dresser in our daughter’s bedroom:

Teach Me Time Clock can be purchased on Amazon. This is the nightlight ("stay in bed") mode.

Teach Me Time Clock can be purchased on Amazon. This is the nightlight ("stay in bed") mode.


Here’s what the Teach Me Time Clock can do:

  • Tell time
  • Work as a traditional alarm
  • Provide touch-button voice-over to speak actual time
  • Serve as a nightlight
  • Change colors at different times (this is the key ingredient).
  • Here are our current settings:
    • 7:30pm - soft yellow light comes on (serving as a nightlight)
    • 8:00pm - soft yellow light continues on (time for bed)
    • 6:45am - soft green light comes on (indicating time to get up)
    • 8:00am - soft green light turns off (nobody is asleep at this time...)

So our daughter used to wake up around 6:30am, but was now waking up at 5:30am. She used to go to bed around 8pm with little fuss, but now was getting up and down until close to 9pm.

This is what we needed to do:

  • Talk about the clock to her, the colors, and what she could earn for following the rules
  • Identify a strong motivator soon after the light changes (morning tv show)
  • Tell her what she would get for staying in bed until the light turned green (tv show)

The careful reader will likely notice that I have said nothing about getting her to stay in bed in the evening without getting up and down a bunch. I believe the the venerable Sun Tzu put it best when he said, in different words, “never fight a war on two fronts.” Sage advice here.

It would’ve been amazing if this took only one evening to do the trick. Of course, it did not.

What we needed to do was set the clock to 5:45am (close to her new 5:30am awake routine) and then gradually move the time toward our 6:30am goal in 10-15 minute increments over a few weeks. In addition, she would often wake at 5:30am, come get one of us, and then want to go watch her tv show. I would take her back to her room, lay her back in bed, and then lay with her until it turned green. I praised her to holy heck, got her dressed, and took her to tv time.

Then we worked on having her lay by herself until the light turned green. Then once this new behavior of laying in bed on her own until the light turn green appeared firmly established, we moved the time forward. This would often reset the level of support back to her needing to be taken back to bed, me laying beside her, then fading my physical presence, and her staying in her bed on her own. Then we’d move the clock forward another increment toward our goal.

Green light means time to get out of bed. "I slept until the light turned green" - parenting win!

Green light means time to get out of bed. "I slept until the light turned green" - parenting win!

What happened if she refused to stay in bed until the light turned green? This is where we would "ride the lightning."

She just didn’t get tv time that morning. And yep, it was not fun for either party.

But she got the hint relatively quickly because we also were not doing tv time in the evening, so this increased the reinforcement value of tv time.

This is one of those parenting battles where I feel like we fought the good fight and won. It wasn’t a one week or even a one month slam dunk, silver bullet sort of deal for us or her. But I do think this alarm clock provided a nice level of cuing and support that we still use with her.

Now we are preparing to transition our son to a big boy bed and will be ordering a second Teach Me Time Clock soon.

Bedtime Routines

I believe our souls call out for consistency in the form of predictable, daily routines. I am sure that life would be boring for most of us if everything was predictable and routine, but when learning something new and potentially challenging (like how to eat or sleep or drive a car), a consistent order and flow gives a comfort that enables new things to come more readily to us.

Bedtime is a ritual that rewards parent and child alike.

For the child, having a bedtime routine signals what to expect as they transition away from the wakeful part of their day where they acquire new skills and encounter new situations at a ferocious pace.  The order in which the routine unfolds matters a great deal, but can vary depending on what you know about your child. For example, certain children become animated during bath time (or don't even like getting their hair wet), while others begin to quiet down and doze. If your child becomes more animated or upset during the bath time routine, starting bath time sooner or only bathing every other night might be an easy place to modify things.

For the parent, having a bedtime routine gives you a chance to gently guide your child toward a restful state that readies them for falling asleep. It also provides an opportunity to lay the foundation for the next day (picking out clothes after looking at the weather on your phone). 

For the parent and child, the bedtime routine provides an opportunity for bonding and more attentively observing the subtle ways in which your child responds to their world and others.

Recommendations to consider with the bedtime routine:

Provide your child with a clear indication of when the bedtime routine will begin. For example, you could say, “In ten more minutes” or “at 7:30, we will get ready for bed." For some children, setting an alarm (fun song) on your smartphone could be a creative support.

Pay attention to how you announce the bedtime routine. For some children, saying, “Time for bed” is the equivalent of saying, “the fun thing you are doing right now (e.g., playing with toys) will have to end soon because I said so.” Instead, try changing the way you state this by using a preferred activity or item as part of the announcement. For example, you could say, “Time for bubble bath!” or “silly story time is soon!” This reminds children of the fun parts of bedtime.

Start the bath early enough that you don’t have to rush your child through it. If your child likes to play in the tub, build in extra time by starting earlier so that they can have more time to play in the bathtub.

A lot of kids have a hard time transitioning from the bathtub to getting dressed and brushing their teeth. In these situations, I'd recommended leading with a clear contingency that gives them something to work for and look forward to. Something like, "Once you hop out of the tub and have your pajamas on, you can pick an extra book!" Help them get dressed and praise them for using nice hands. With tooth brushing, I think having your child pick out a favorite toothbrush from the store and/or a preferred tooth paste container can help make this part of the routine fun.

I really like background sounds or some for of white noise when I sleep, and both of my little ones have a white noise machine in their room. It's also served as a discriminative stimulus for my kids -- sleep machine turned on signals little butts into bed in order to have story time.

Since starting my private practice, I have had the opportunity to work with more than one family to improve their bedtime and sleep routines. I really enjoy this type of work, besides who doesn't enjoy a good night's sleep?

The Golisano Children’s Hospital’s Celebration of Miracles

On Friday, May 20 – as I prepared to launch this website and blog – I had the honor of attending the Golisano Children’s Hospital’s Celebration of Miracles Annual Luncheon at the Riverside Convention Center as guests of Daniel Deyo’s Family. Each year, five patients from the children’s hospital are honored for their “journey to health.” Daniel is a 2016 Miracle Kid.

I met Fauna Deyo in January of 2015 as part of the Behavior Intervention for Families at Kirch. We met on Fridays at 8:30am for 12 weeks and covered a topic each week to help improve Daniel's behavior in the home and in the community. The program involved work during our session and homework between sessions, and Fauna consistently applied the skills we covered and recorded detailed notes for us to discuss at our next meeting. Each week we built on what was covered during the previous week to facilitate greater inclusion for Daniel.

It was a real joy to meet with Fauna each week and to learn of Daniel's progress as part of our work together. Fauna and Daniel’s accomplishments were recognized by Golisano Children's Hospital, and I feel very blessed to be able to witness and share in this honor with them.