I’m going to start by saying, this is a judgement free zone (it always is actually), but especially as we’re reaching the end of the summer holidays. As a mother myself, I know that the lazy days of the summer holidays means that our routines slip (who am I kidding, sometimes they fly straight out the window!), with later bedtimes and more inconsistencies than we might like to admit to. I know I’ve been there. Add in the whole Covid craziness of the last few months, well, that just adds another dimension, doesn’t it.
I’m wondering if you’re not just frantically buying new school shoes and making sure everything’s labelled and ready to go, you’re also wondering how on earth you’re going to get your little darling(s) back on track and ready to get up and out the door in time for school? Or maybe like me, you’re finally craving a bit more structure and routine?
I’m going to chat through some tips that I think might help:
Bedtime is Bedtime
I know a lot of the families I work with aren’t sure what time their little one should be going to bed. As a general rule of thumb I would suggest somewhere between about 7 pm and 8 pm. It may surprise you to hear that I would still suggest as close to that as possible right up until they are about 12 years old. Or, you can simply work it out backwards.If they need to be up at 7 am, you can use this handy chart to work out approximately how much sleep they need based on their age and work out their bedtime based on that. Of course, you also need to factor in that they won’t (necessarily) fall straight to sleep once they are in bed, so add on about 20-30 minutes. So if my 5 year old needs to be up at 7 am, and she needs approximately 11 hours sleep, her bedtime doesn’t want to be any later than about 7.30 pm. You may well choose for the first couple of weeks (at least) once they’re back to bring bedtime even earlier, so bedtime in our house from next week will be more like 7 pm.
There’s reams of studies that show that the quality and quantity of our sleep plays a huge role in our cognitive functioning, including our ability to learn. So ensuring they’re catching the optimum amount of z’s is also giving our children the best possible chance at school. We’ve also got to remember that for some children, starting school in September could be a real shock to their system – either because they’re starting in Reception or because they’ve been out of the school setting for nearly 6 months and will have to learn the ‘new normal’ at school. This can be emotionally draining, so making sure they have enough opportunity to sleep so they can mentally process these changes can only be a good thing (that’s partly what our dream sleep is for after all).
Depending on what time they’ve been going to bed over the holidays, this ‘new improved’ bedtime may come as a bit of a shock! So it could be worth gradually bringing it forwards over the next week or so, making sure they’re well rested by the time the school gates open. Obviously depending on how big a difference there is between the old and new time depends on how quickly you want to move it. Increments of about 15 minutes every couple of days can work pretty well.
Routines at Bedtime
If you’ve read any of my other blogs, you’ll know that I’m a HUGE fan of a good bedtime routine. Not only does it help signify to our little one’s brains that we’re approaching bedtime, it can also take a lot of the stress and battles out of bedtime for us as parents! If everyone knows what’s happening next and what’s expected, that’s half the fight!
If you don’t already have a bedtime routine for your kiddo, now could be a good chance to think about starting. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy, maybe just a shower or bath, changing into PJ’s, brushing teeth, stories (or independent reading, depending on their age) and then lights out. Simple!
I’m a real lover of using timers to signify to my girls when it’s time to do things (to the extent I’ve often worried they’re going to turn into one of Pavlov’s dogs!…). None of us like to be dragged away from something we’re doing, and children are no different. Using a timer really helps with consistency. I’m sure I’m not the only one who has feared they’ve given their kids skewed perceptions of time. Like when we’re gettin ready to go upstairs to start our bedtime routine: ‘One more minute guys, then we’re going up…’ but we don’t actually go upstairs for another 10 minutes as I’ve lost track of time! Ops. These days, most of us have timers in our pockets (mobiles) or sat on the shelf (Alexa’s etc), so why not use it? I’ll even invite my girls to ask Siri or Alexa to set a timer for them (I’ll admit, that’s my favourite as I then feel totally absolved of any blame!). Often Mum or Dad can be bargained with, but a timer can’t.
Dream-time is not Screen-time
Screen-time is often one of the things that increases over school holidays in our house, mostly because there’s more time to use it (and, let’s be honest, using the electronic babysitter gives us a bit of time to get on and do things). There’s no shame in that! Electronics are there so they may as well use them.
The caveat to that though is to try to lessen the amount of time they’re in front of screens for the couple of hours leading up to bedtime (that applies to adults as well as children!). That includes TV’s, tablets, video games and mobile phones. There’s been plenty in the media about the blue light emitted from screens and how it affects our sleep, so I won’t go into that here (although I am planning on writing another blog about it in more detail soon, so make sure you keep checking back if you’re interested). But actually, it’s also worth thinking about what’s on those screens too. If they’re playing ‘Grand Theft Auto’ on the PlayStation five minutes before going to bed, the chances are they’re going to have some adrenaline rushing through their system when their body is expecting to get some shut eye (which just won’t happen if they’re a little psyched up from their game). Or maybe they’ve been watching a spooky episode of Paw Patrol ten minutes before bed, in which case they may well be a little more scared than usual when you turn out the lights.
So turning off electronics a couple of hours before bedtime means their bodies and brains can start to do what they do best, and prepare for a blissful night of uninterrupted sleep.
Step away from the light
One of the things our body needs, and expects, when we’re preparing to sleep is darkness. That’s not always as easy as it seems this time of year if our little ones are going to bed before the sun’s set. So if you don’t, I suggest trying to block out as much of the daylight as possible. Blackout blinds are of course perfect, but even bin bags taped to the window can do the trick if blinds are an expense you could do without right now. It also means that it will block out any light in the mornings, meaning they are less likely to wake when the sun starts shining too!
So there we go, a few hints on how to get your little one prepped and ready for sleeping like a champ before school starts. And just think, now they’re likely to be going to bed a bit earlier, you’ve got so much more time in the evenings to sew in name labels to every single piece of clothing…