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Your Pinterest board for kids’ bedrooms might not come to fruition in real life, but you can still pull off a fun, inspired and functional space—all while making room for your little one’s growing independence and personality.
We checked in with Mandy Milks, an interiors consultant, and Abby Wolfson, a pediatric nurse, certified sleep consultant and founder of Peaceful Parent Sleep Coaching, for advice on how to approach your kids’ room setup at different ages. (Spoiler: we’re calling out those dreamy cribs and bunk beds.)
Zero to three: Nesting phase
Embrace a theme. So much planning and design goes into planning the perfect nursery, and then it rarely gets used as intended—but this is all part of the nesting ritual, says Milks. “Don’t feel guilty about making it as sweet or as fox-themed as you like. It’s a one-time thing and can feel very special.”
Skip the fancy crib: Don’t spend a fortune on it, says Milks. “Just go for what’s safe and simple. Your baby won’t sleep any better if it costs $1,000 versus $100.” And when it comes to adorable bassinets or mini cribs, don’t waste your money there either, says Wolfson. “A lot of parents enjoy having a pretty bassinet, but often even really small babies and newborns don’t sleep as well in the bassinet as in a crib, so if a parent is on a budget, they could definitely go straight to a full-size crib.” (If you’re still in the baby phase, here’s a handy list of safe sleep rules.) You should also keep your child in the crib as long as humanly possible, until age three at least if you can help it, adds Wolfson.
Go for blackout blinds for sleep time: “From a design perspective, you could put curtains or something pretty over them, but having total darkness is super helpful for quality sleep in children,” Wolfson advises. When your kid is in bed, you shouldn’t even be able to see your hand in front of your face, she adds. It should be that dark. Many children are sensitive to light, especially in the morning, which can lead to early waking.
Be careful with hanging objects. Wolfson warns new parents not to hang anything on the wall directly over the crib and no furniture within reach, either. In the absence of picture frames, consider cute stencils or decals on the walls instead.
Get on that growth chart. It’s a bit cliché, but not in a bad way. “No need to do anything fancy, we did ours on the trim around the door and marked milestones with a sharpie—less designer-y and more nostalgic,” says Milks. “If we ever move, I guess we’re taking the trim with us. It’s one of my favourite things to reflect on.”
Three to six: Embracing independence
“Prepare” the environment: Maria Montessori was onto something—her principle of a “prepared environment” in a classroom of three- to six-year-olds is all about making kids feel comfortable, safe and independent as a way to foster growth and learning. Extend this to the bedroom by strategically housing everything safely within reach, so kids can dress themselves, put things away and start doing their main job of growing up. At this age, Milks got her two daughters the IKEA Pax system for their closets and installed the shelves really low so they could put away their clothes—and start doing their own laundry! “As they grow, we can adjust the interior components to work with their stuff and their growing height,” she says. “Up top you can store everything else, like nighttime diapers, seasonal gear, shoes that they’re going to eventually grow into and those 30 extra bathing suits.” Don’t forget to install the safety hardware when attaching any furniture to the walls.
Bring in the toys: “Depending on the space or layout of your home, this may be the age to move the majority of the toys into their bedroom—and finally free the living rooms of all the stuffies, Lego, puzzles and play kitchens,” says Milks. Look at different baskets, shelving and storage units to see what works best for you, and remember—it’s a work in progress!
Transition to a big-kid bed: When you are ready to make the move (whether it’s into a toddler bed or something a bit bigger) let your kid help pick out new sheets to make the prospect more exciting, says Wolfson. You should also leave the crib up for a few days because sometimes kids think they’re ready, but they really aren’t. Bed rails will help keep them cozy and safe, but for a more gradual transition, Milks adds: “If you want to ease into it, put the crib mattress on the floor [and let them sleep there] for the first while, since they are already used to that mattress. That whole crib-to-bed thing is a trip. Godspeed.”
Get a night light: This is also the age when nighttime fears emerge, so your child may feel better with a night light to fall asleep. Wolfson likes the Hatch light for kids, which has a nightlight, sound machine, time-to-rise clock and audio monitor all in one.
Six to nine: Streamlining
Rethink that bunk bed. At this point, a twin or double bed (if you have room for it) might be the best option. “This is going to be an unpopular viewpoint, but I hate bunk beds! I used them for my two daughters, and it’s appealing for sure—especially for siblings sharing a room. But I loathed making the beds and wrestling with the mattresses,” says Milks. “I was also surprised by the weight limits on some of the bunks,” she adds, which restricted her from getting in the bunk with her kids for bedtime reading or nighttime soothing rituals. Some spaces are so tight that bunk beds are the best solution, but do your research and talk to other parents who have them before making the leap.
It’s okay to buy the white bedding. Kids will inevitably beg you for fun, trendy character bedding, but “I believe good quality, classic white cotton bedding looks best and will last a lifetime—long after they grow out of their love of Toy Story,” says Milks. Wolfson adds that bold prints can be distracting from a good night’s sleep for young babies and beyond. “Remember, at this point you hope the bed and mattress lasts into their teens, so get the good bedding.” Plus, white is surprisingly better for stain removal. Got a blowout on the nice white sheets? You can bleach that easily.
Nurture their inner artists…within limits! “I’m a little too controlling to let them paint their room bright pink or a Barney purple,’” says Milks. “But of course, I want them to have input and a space to be creative.” Kids get so much joy out of decorating their own spaces, so find structured ways to let them. “I put up a big bulletin board in the room so they can tape up artwork full of rainbows and Frozen colouring page tear-outs. It stays in the frame so it feels contained and purposeful,” she adds. Just remember, thumbtacks and kids don’t mix, so grab some washi tape or sticky tack, which won’t take the paint off the walls.
Wall hooks are your friend. Kids are still not as adept at putting stuff away into closed locations at this age. (Are they ever, really?) “I really like hooks or peg rails to hang [outfits], bathrobes, towels, and to open up shelves for books and toys,” says Milks.
Stick with the blackout blinds. If you think your kid should have outgrown sleep issues by now, think again. “Any kind of light is really stimulating to the brain,” says Wolfson. “Even if you sleep through light, it still disturbs your sleep. You’re going to have better quality sleep in darkness.”
Nine to 12+: Big personality
“Facilitate” a makeover. In this stage, the space really takes on a kid’s growing personality, so it’s probably ready for a redesign. “Giving into their ‘design choices’ might make you cringe but it can go a long way,” says Milks. “It could be a fun project to tackle together but let them know any bold moves they make need to last a long time. The unicorn wallpaper might date itself quickly. You are more of a design coach at this point.”
Let go. “This may be the disaster-zone phase, but if the space becomes something they love and have a hand in decorating, that sense of ownership will go a long way in keeping the space organized,” says Milks. (Think about the “broccoli rule.” If they help cook the broccoli, they will be more likely to eat it.)
Don’t mistake organized for tidy. “My definition of organized is if you pick something up, does everyone in the family know where it should go and is it quick to put away?” Milks says. Think about having company over —if you can clean up quickly on demand, you’re golden. But if something sits on the counter for a week, that’s OK too.
Keep screens out of the bedroom. This is the age where screen time can start to get out of control—and it has no place in the bedroom where it messes with their sleep. “If kids are getting phones or other devices, those should always be left out of the bedroom,” says Wolfson. And you should try to model that rule yourself. Keep a family charging station in the kitchen or living room instead. The teen years will be even more challenging so start enforcing those good habits early!
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