Friday, September 7, 2012

5 back-to-school bedtime tips

Many children have had a summer of fun-filled activities free from schedules and routines. With the new school year about to begin, most parents are now tasked with getting their child back into regulated evening and morning routines. This is usually a challenging transition to accomplish, as many children don't want their summer freedoms to end. As an early childhood educator, here are some tips I recommend to parents to help them get their children back into the school sleep mode.

1. Negotiate bedtimes for children of varying ages. We recognize that children between five and 12 need about 11 hours of sleep, while those in their teens require about nine or 10 hours. Many families have children of mixed ages, and these optimum sleep-time differences can often become a source of contention among siblings. Parents should negotiate bedtimes that are appropriate for all their children's ages. This is something I recently talked about with Richard Asa, who included some of my thoughts in his Chicago Tribune story on bedtime strategies for children. To the young child who might want to know why his brother can stay up later, explain that his brother's bones and muscles are stronger and they don't need as much rest as his. You might also add, when he is as old as his brother, he'll be able to stay up later, too.

2. Begin your child's nighttime routine with an hour of quiet time. Quiet activities can soothe your child and help her body self-regulate enough to fall asleep. Some ideas for quiet-time activities include drinking a glass of milk; taking a shower or bath; having a quiet discussion about the day; reading a favorite or new book with a parent, older sibling, or on her own; and listening to quiet music. I've found children truly enjoy listening to classical music played softly, whether in a classroom or at home.

3. Prepare for the next day. Before bed, help your child prepare for the next school day by choosing and laying out clothing together, packing her book bag, and discussing breakfast and lunch choices. You can do this before your child's hour of quiet time. Preparing your child for the next school day helps lead to more manageable mornings.

4. Establish a wake-up routine. While creating a nighttime routine, it is equally important to establish the wake-up time and morning routine. With clothes laid out and book bag ready, you can allot plenty of time for a healthy breakfast. Research has shown that children who do not eat breakfast are usually not the high performers. These children can have stomach aches and lose their focus. To help ensure your child eats a healthy breakfast, a good resource to use is MyPlate, the healthy eating guide spearheaded by Michelle Obama. You can learn more details about MyPlate and other healthy eating tips on the USDA website.

5. Ease anxiety. Whether children are entering school for the first time or returning to the same school, they are usually filled with anxiety and excitement about the new school year. Try to determine the causes of their anxiety. They will probably be nervous, asking questions such as, Will the teacher like me? With whom will I eat? With whom will I play? Do I look OK? It's perfectly fine to have conversations with them to share your feelings and experiences when you were in school or even when you started a new job. You could also visit the school, take a walk to the bus stop, or walk to the school following the route you expect your child to take to better understand their daily routine. Another idea is to give your child books to read about the first day of school, such as ones with children's favorite characters, like Curious George and Amelia Bedelia. Other books I recommend are "Miss Bindergarten Gets Ready for Kindergarten" by Joseph Slate and Ashley Wolff and "The Night Before Kindergarten" by Natasha Wing.

Going back to school is an exciting time of year. With careful planning, your child can approach the school year with positive self-esteem and confidence. Do you have any ideas to add to the list? Have a great new school year!