You are in back-to-school mode, and shifting from flexible summer routines to structured school year routines are a challenge for many families. Just how much sleep should your child get each night? How can you have a peaceful bedtime routine, or what do you do if your child has bedtime worries? Keep reading for a few ideas.
Let’s start with looking at the amount of sleep your child receives each night. It is so important for your child to receive regular, sufficient sleep. You can all recognize that sleep-deprived children have a harder time concentrating at school, following rules/expectations, and regulating their emotions throughout the day. The National Sleep Foundation recommends your school-age children (ages 6-13) need 9 to 11 hours of sleep per night. Take a look at their website for more information on all age groups. So, assuming your school-age child needs 10 hours of sleep and wakes at 6:30am for school, he/she should be asleep by 8:30pm. This is a challenge for many busy households, particularly when you consider parent work schedules, after school or sports activities, and homework time. In this scenario, you would ideally plan for your child to be in bed before 8:30pm so they have time to get settled in and relaxed before falling asleep.
We know that children thrive when they have a consistent and predictable environment. One way to support your children with receiving sufficient sleep is to establish an evening routine. Not only does this make life predictable for your child and family, it can also help to teach your children time management and responsibility skills. For example, having an established routine that outlines the need for homework to be completed before TV/computer time sends the message to your child that it is important to prioritize school work before TV and gaming.
I also suggest you schedule time for your children to unwind during the hour before bed. Avoid highly stimulating activities such as video game playing in the hour before bed. Some ideas for a bedtime routine include: drink of water/herbal non caffeinated tea, bath, pajamas, picking out clothes for the next day, reading together, yoga/stretching, prayer, and snuggling. Develop a plan and stick with it so your children know what to expect. You will likely find that consistency helps to alleviate many of the bedtime challenges in your household.
How can you help your children with bedtime worries? Worries or nightmares that are intense and persist for a long period of time may be best addressed with the support of a professional such as your doctor or a therapist. However, many common bedtime worries are resolved with nurturing and reassurance by a parent. I am listing a few suggestions below:
* Practice deep breathing with your child before bed. See this previous post for ideas on how to practice deep breathing with children
* Create a “good dreams” list with your child. Develop a list of positive memories or experiences the child has had, and have the child select one of these memories each night to think about as they are falling asleep
* Other ideas: use a nightlight, keep the bedroom door open, play soothing music
Sara Kind-Michels, MS, LPC, LMFT
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