1. Start planning early
It’s important to recognise that transitioning from relaxed holidays to the structure of the school year is a process, says Dr David Swanson, a child and family psychologist and author.
If you wait until the night before the first day back to school to get the kids to bed on the early side, don’t expect a smooth morning. “Parents make the mistake of waiting until the last minute,” Swanson says.
To make sure your family is prepared for an early start, begin preparing children at least a week before school starts. Call a family meeting to announce a new sleepschedule and to get everyone on the same page, says Jill Spivack, a social worker and author.
“You have to sit with kids and explain the value of sleep,” Spivack says. “We want them to understand sleep nutrition is as important as food nutrition, and that a lack of sleep can have major consequences.”
Many studies have shown that a lack of sleep can hamper physical and mental health. Adolescents and teenagers aged 11-17 operating on too little sleep have shown an increase in anxiety, depression and physical pain. School performance often declines, too. A study done several years ago on year four and year six students by researchers at Israel’s Tel Aviv University showed that after losing about one hour of sleep over several nights, students performed worse on a reaction test that predicts their ability to pay attention in class.
According to the NHS, children’s need for sleep changes depending on their age, for example a five year old needs 11 hours and a 12 year old needs just over nine. Children aged 10-18 need 8.5-9.75 hours per night. However, most children don’t get enough sleep.
You can show your little ones some empathy about the fact that getting into a routine may not be fun, but let them know that the change is meant to help them feel good when they are at school. “It comes from a place of love and education about the importance of sleep, and not control,” Spivack says.
2. Look beyond bedtime
“If we approach sleep appropriately, we look at a kid’s whole day,” Swanson says. “If you want your kids back to sleep on time, have dinner at a set time, limit the computer, TV and video game time,” he says. “You’re not just trying to get them back to bed, but into a routine
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Many parents expect teens will give them a hard time about a mobile phone or computer curfew. Swanson suggests speaking with them about privileges and consequences. He suggests a script along the lines of: “We’ve given you the privilege of having a [mobile] phone, handheld games etc., and we’ve entrusted you with them. If you can show us that you can stick to this transition, great. But if you are using them after bedtime, you’re showing us you can’t manage it and we need to help you.” By helping, Swanson means be prepared to take the item(s) away from your child if he or she can’t stick to the plan.
Spivack also urges parents to avoid days that are too full. “Kids can’t be scheduled every minute of their lives and be relaxed. Watch out for over scheduling and buying into competitive parenting. Make time for them to have a good bedtime. Chill time is more valuable than another class,” Spivack says.
3. Get back to the routine
After staying up late for an extended period, you can’t go to bed earlier before you begin waking up earlier, Spivack says. So, at least a week before holidays end, start setting the alarm clocks.
Begin with a wake up time that is about an hour earlier than usual. For example, if a 6-year-old child goes to bed at 9pm during the summer and needs to get back to an 8pm bedtime for school, begin by waking her up at 7am instead of letting her sleep until 8am. Then try inching her bedtime back the next night to 8:30pm. On day two, wake her up at 6:30am and aim for an 8pm bedtime.
“If you do it day after day and start your wind-down routine after dinner and everything is calming and technology is turned off, you head into their rooms and give them a little more [mum] and dad time, that helps them wind down and get to sleep earlier,” Spivack says.
Use the sun to your advantage. “Light regulates your body clock. If you leave the blinds open, the morning light that comes in will [naturally] start to shift the kids’ wake-up time,” Spivack says.
4. A little bribery never hurts
Who doesn’t love shopping? Children of all ages, including teenagers, look forward to buying new clothes and other items. You can use this to motivate them to get on to a sleep schedule.
Beyond that, Swanson advises tuning into the things that are really important to your child and using them as leverage. “What is your child’s currency? Video games, his [mobile] phone, shopping? Find a way to give your child what he’s after as long as he goes along with the plan,” Swanson says.
What if your child won’t shut down the technology?
Swanson says that if your child refuses to go to bed, you might want to use logic. Say something like, “We need to get back into school-mode. I don’t want to get up early either. Your video games are keeping you from sleeping. You need to go to sleep or lose the games completely.” “If your kid refuses to go to bed, you might say something like, ‘I’m really wanting us to get back on track. I’m not looking forward to getting up early either. But I think video games are getting in the way…. Do this or lose the game.’”
5. Make morning time work
Lisa Joyner is a television producer and host, as well as a mum of 10-year-old and 11-month-old sons. As the self-described taskmaster in her home, she’s had to search for ways of turning the morning rush into a well-oiled routine.
“He really needs structure and to know what is expected of him,” she says of her 10-year-old stepson. “When he’s given the guidelines, he’s good.” Clearly establishing expectations for your child is critical, Spivack and Swanson say.
Joyner has made it clear that on school mornings, her stepson has a set of specific tasks to complete. “Once he’s up and makes his bed, has breakfast and is dressed, he can play video games,” Joyner says.
Make it easier on your child by doing some of the work the night before. “We set out his clothes at night so when he wakes up it’s easier for him and he can avoid having to figure out what to wear in the morning,” Joyner says.
Also don’t forget that positive feedback goes a long way with children. “He wants to please,” Joyner says of her stepson. “He knows it brings me such joy when I don’t have to rouse him out of bed for 45 minutes or remind him to do what has to be done.”
Once your children successfully make it out the door to school, you can feel a little pleased as well.