Monday, 2 September 2013

Starting school: top tips for sleep routines

If like me, you're having a hard time believing that summer is nearly over and the start of the school year is upon us, then it's important to ensure that your child is getting a good night's sleep.  You need to do whatever is necessary to address the issue so that they are alert and they have the energy required to focus and achieve their potential in the classroom.

It's no surprise that during the summer holidays, with longer daylight hours and a more relaxed schedule, children often slip out of the more structured bedtime routine that is in place for the rest of the year and later bedtimes sneak in undetected.  Before you know it, the start of the school year is here and your little angels start struggling to go to bed earlier again and they're like lead bullets in their beds when the morning comes as they've not had enough sleep by the time they are due to get up.  Problem!

So, how do you get them back on track with the minimum amount of stress for all concerned?

It is never too late to start implementing a gradual return to an earlier bedtime, for many, schools have started back already or are starting next week, leaving little time for a plan of action before they go back but better late than never.  The excitement of the new school year is also an issue that means children are more active at night, knowing that the new school year will be a mix of anxiety and excitement, the prospect of meeting new friends and seeing the old familiar faces from nursery or the previous school year will no doubt be a hot topic at bedtime.  It won't be painless to get things back on track, but with a structured plan, you will remove some of the hard work and you'll be on the right path in no time at all.

Ideally, two weeks prior to the start of the new term, but at worst, this can be started tonight so that they're on track as soon as possible.  Gradually start to move bedtime back to the more appropriate time (depending on age and the time you need to get up for school) ideally between 7 and 8pm.  Reduce the time by 10 to 15 minutes every three to four nights, allowing your child the opportunity to adjust slowly. A good indicator about timings is how your child responds to being woken in the mornings, if they've had enough sleep they will wake on their own or will be easy to wake, young children who are very grumpy and reluctant to wake will need an earlier bedtime.

It is so important to have some form of bedtime routine, this includes the same bedtime every night with the same basic run of events.  You could start the routine with a warm drink (this should be given downstairs or in the living room, not in the bedroom) followed by a bath, pyjamas, story or some time for them to read or sit quietly with you discussing the day or having a calm run through of the events taking place tomorrow so that your child has no anxieties or fears about the day ahead.  Your child shouldn't need an alarm clock if they're getting enough sleep at night.

Involving your child in their bedtime routine and all that relates to getting up for school the following day, can be a really good way of encouraging your child to take an active role in all the responsibilities associated with going to school.

Reward charts are a very effective way of getting your child involved and teaching them that they are responsible for various parts of their day.  This can include brushing their teeth in the evenings and mornings, getting bathed and into pyjamas and ready for bed at the chosen time.  If you would like a customised reward chart, please contact me and I would be happy to do a custom design for you along with the strategy to apply so that it is an effective tool for getting your child on track for bedtime and getting off to school. 

Routines act as a list of cues that prepare your child for what is coming next. Children need boundaries and a sense of purpose.  When they know what is expected of them and what the consequences are, they know that by not following the cues, a certain outcome will take place.  This can mean that a reward they are working towards at the end of the week such as pocket money, is at risk of being taken away.  Equally, when your child learns the value of the reward and how good it feels to achieve what is expected, they quickly learn that it is far more fun and enjoyable to stick their little star in the jar or sticker on the chart than to argue and protest!  

The upshot is, that once the concept is accepted, your child will go to be on time and will be a far more capable learner during the school day.  If your child has serious issues relating to sleep, please do get in touch as I can build a package of support around your child's needs, a family focused approach, taking everyone into account so that the plan can be implemented, quickly and without too much impact on the rest of the family.

If your child struggles to get to sleep at night, it is worth stepping back and evaluating the picture as a whole.  Too much stimulation right before bed can mean that your child is far too excited to nod off right away.  Limit pre-bed TV, nothing at least half an hour before bed.  If your spouse returns home from work close to bedtime, it is important that they atmosphere is kept calm, inovle your other half in the process so that your have time together as a family each evening, where possible.  Sugary and caffeinated drinks are another concern.  

Most importantly, ensure that the bedtime routine is the same each night as far as possible.  There will of course be times where things are beyond your control but for the majority of the time, teach your child that the routine is a cue for bedtime and that no delay tactics are going to change the process.  By thinking of all the 'what if's' before your child goes to bed, you will minimise any excuses!  Ensure that your little one has eaten, had a drink, brushed teeth, been to the loo and has a beaker of water next to their bed for late night sips if required.  I always suggest putting the beaker next to your child's bed when you go to bed so that they don't drink it all before they fall asleep and then need a loo run before they've even nodded off in the first place.

I recommend black out blinds from birth as a dark room is the most effective external form of sleep promotion.  Darkness promotes the release of the sleep hormone melatonin so it is important, particularly during the summer months, that young children have the benefit of a dark room to fall asleep in.  This helps to remove an external factor that could be hindering your child's ability to fall sleep. 

If you’re still struggling to get your child into a routine and asleep at the appropriate time, please do get in touch.  Blog readers are entitled to a 25% discount on fees until the end of September.  Just quote BLOG913

Happy parenting!