Let's face it, 2020 has been a crazy year. One like no other! Our children have been out of school for nearly 6 months and for most of us routine has gone well and truly out the window. So many parents are juggling working from home & keeping their children entertained. So you haven’t had the time, focus, or energy to think about getting back into routine ahead of school starting. Sure, you barely got the uniforms organised and the books labelled in between Zoom calls!
If children are not sleeping well at home then we all know that keeping their attention in school and parenting at home will be more difficult. If there are tired, grumpy, and unable to keep their attention on things then they are more likely to get upset and feel more anxious.
Anxiety is going to be a factor for so many parents with the return to school. When we lie down at night we can start thinking as it often can be the only quiet time in our day. The same comes true for children. When they are facing a situation that they know will be different but they can’t visualise what it will be like, they can get anxious and as a result, their sleep could be disrupted.
Support your child by talking to them positively about what the return to school will look like from the reopening plan that you have received from your school. Keep any negative or anxious conversations between adults out of earshot of your little ones and limit their exposure to news and conversations around school operations for a period of time.
Coupled with this, focus back on the routine! Routine can often be a dirty word in the world of parenting. Our personalities may not like it but our bodies thrive on it. Routine helps children to feel safe and secure as they know what to expect from their day at each stage of it. You may not have had time to think about returning to routine prior to school starting back so here are a few of my key tips to help you and your little ones enter your new normal this September.
- Determine how much sleep your child needs. A child of 6 will need 10-11 hours at night. Older children of 10+ will require 8-10 hours.
- Scale bedtime back gradually by 15 mins every 2-3 days until you have reached the desired school bedtime. By adjusting it marginally you will adjust your little ones' body clocks and avoid them being under tired going down to the bed and taking ages to settle. However, if they have already started school you may find that you can work through this a little quicker as their minds and bodies will be tired after their day of learning and interacting with their pals.
- It is important to stick to a set bedtime at weekends as well – particularly for primary school children. In doing this you are regulating their bodies to expect sleep and are more likely to have consistent settled sleep in your household as a result.
- Set a consistent wake-up time and stick to it. This does mean actively waking a sleeping child however it will assist them in shifting their body clocks back to term time mode. You could do this gradually by using the same technique I have outlined above but if you have already started back to school you will probably have to jump straight into a set wake-up time. I suggest opening curtains and blinds first to flood the room with light to assist with gentle waking which may result in them being less lethargic.
- Layout everything the night before. Set the table for breakfast. Leave uniforms ready and available so as to remove the scramble to do things first thing. This will remove a layer that can bring frustration to a household during the morning rush.
- Turn off all screens including TVs 1 hour before bed. Blue light from these inhibits melatonin production, the sleepy hormone, and as such will impact your child's ability to settle to sleep easily. Encourage reading, colouring, or quiet floor games instead. I do encourage screen-free bedrooms by using a technology box for all members of the family to put their devices into at a certain time each evening – including the adults!
- Ensure that your child's room is as dark as possible at bedtime. Dark evenings have not yet set in, thank goodness, so ensuring that your child's room is dark sends the right signals for sleep. It will support their melatonin production which will help them to get to sleep and stay asleep for longer.
- Encourage exercise & outdoor play at every opportunity. Our body clocks are linked to light so getting out in sunlight helps the body to regulate and know when night time is coming.
- Start regular nutritious mealtimes again. The evening family meal is a great way to reconnect after a busy day. However, it is an extra layer that perhaps falls to one family member. Batch cooking and the use of a slow cooker can really help to remove the stress out of evening meals.
- Hydrate. Water is key to body & brain function. A hydrated child will sleep better at night & perform better at school.
By following these tips and making a sleep a priority in your home you are going a long way to satisfying your child's sleep needs and supporting them in their return to school this year.
Erica Hargaden is a certified Child Sleep Consultant, mum to 3 children, and runs Babogue Sleep Solutions to bring the gift of sleep to as many families as possible. She is the creator of The Sleep Series, which is a video-based online sleep program designed around her 7 Steps to Better Sleep. For more information check out her Instagram @babogue_sleep, see www.babogue.com, email email@example.com or call +353 086 8260887