While the summer brings us endless days and fun family trips with sun, surf, and sand, it also can take away your family’s usual sleep routine. For two months, bedtimes are pushed out later, and morning lay-ins are the norm. It’s not surprising that when kids head back to school, they struggle to get back into their routine—and everyone feels it.
A well-rested child will display better cognitive abilities, a more pleasant mood and temperament, and a stronger immune system, so it’s important that your child start off their new school year well rested and prepared.
How can you help your kid’s transition back to school easy and with less upset?
When consistently communicating the importance of anything with your children, there is a better understanding of why steps and/or changes need to happen. It’s important that parents don’t just tell their child that they need to go to bed, but why they need to go to bed. Ask them the questions – “how do you feel when you’ve had a good night of sleep?” and “how do you feel when you haven’t had a good night of sleep?” Explain to your child how happy you are when you are able to spend time with them at bedtime, especially when it’s a peaceful experience, and how great mom and dad feel when you are well rested too. Opening communication about the importance of sleep and making it a priority in your home will help establish a healthy relationship between sleep and your child that they will continue to have as adults.
In order to properly communicate sleep needs to your child, parents need to understand the age-appropriate sleep needs of their children. In February, 2015, The National Sleep Foundation recommended new nightly sleep durations for all ages:
Preschoolers (3-5): Average sleep time - 10-13 hours per night. I recommend an age appropriate bedtime of 7-7:30pm.
School age children (6-13): Average sleep time - 9-11 hours per night. I recommend an age appropriate bedtime of 8-8:30 pm.
Teenagers (14-17): Average sleep time - 8-10 hours. I recommend encouraging bedtime starting at 9:30-10pm. Bedtime would depend on school start time or morning activities.
I hate to break it to you, but getting back to your family’s usual sleep routine isn’t a walk in the park for mom or dad either. Your own sleep schedule has been neglected, so it’s important that you also make changes to get back on your own sleep track. When your children witness you making those changes, they’ll be more willing to follow suit.
You need to reset your child’s internal clock back to their school routine. Have your child go to sleep and wake up at the same time every day—as they will once they go back to school. Even on weekends, you shouldn’t stray more than an hour or so from bedtime.
Quick Tip! Starting a new school year can be a major transition for your child, especially for the little ones who are entering their first year of Junior Kindergarten. Full Day/ Every Day school can be exhausting for their little bodies, so for the first month or so make sure bedtime is nice and early, perhaps earlier than usual, until they’ve adjusted to their new routine.
Begin implementing your consistent bedtime routine again with enough time for it to be a relaxed experience. Not only does a consistent routine prepare your child for sleep, it allows you and your child to have some quality one-on-one time that often get’s lost in the mad dash of your day-to-day.
Switch up your child’s usual bedtime story with colouring! Colouring with your child at bedtime is a great opportunity to connect with your little one after a busy day and ask those open ended questions that will likely get you more of a response then the usual “good” and “fine.”
An hour before bedtime, it’s time to wind down stimulating activities—like TV, computer games, and Internet usage—which can make it hard for children (and parents!) to calm down before bed and cause sleep problems. Keep tech out of the bedrooms and instead create a family docking station where everyone can plug in overnight.
Quick Tip! Give your child a 10-15 minute warning before getting ready for bed so they are prepared and know what to expect.
Watch your child’s caffeine intake throughout the day. Avoid soda, chocolate, and ice tea in the late afternoon and at dinnertime.
Between homework, sports, activities, and parents wanting to spend time with their kids, here are a few steps you can take during the school year to make sure your child remains well-rested and not over-scheduled:
1. Schedule your child’s extra activities carefully. If evenings are tough and rushed, then opt for a weekend class where your child will feel more rested taking it and you won’t be rushed to get there.
2. Watch for signs of burnout. Watch your child’s participation during their activities. Yawning and dragging their feet can be signs that they’re tired.
3. It’s okay to have one day off. Try to choose one day on the weekend, for instance, to be your family’s day off. Don’t schedule any activities, hang out with the kids, and have some quality bonding time. They need a day to relax before the week starts up again, and so do the parents.
I provide free child and family sleep support on my Facebook page. I invite you to join our sleep community as I work towards Good Night Sleep Site's mission of a healthier rested family unit. For more sleep tips please visit Good Night Sleep Site and visit me on Instagram and Twitter. Join our movement and #BringBackBedtime.