Back-to-School Tips and Confessions of a Sleep Coach
I must confess, summer is a time that I become lazy in instilling healthy sleep habits in my children. This summer I returned my children home by 11:00pm from Fourth of July fireworks. I allowed my 9–year-old to have soda with caffeine at late night barbeques, and I cut bedtime routines short. I am guilty of getting off a healthy sleep track, and I am a Sleep Coach. I share this with parents to let them know, parenting is not perfect, and I am not alone. Many parents have struggled with being consistent in the summer. However, as we enter back-to-school season, structure and routine need to be put back into place to help our children adequately prepare. Starting early can help children adjust physically and emotionally for the back-to-school transition.
Here are 10 tips for making back-to-school more successful and smooth:
1. Start shifting bedtime earlier
During the summer many parents report that bedtimes become consistently late. Family vacations, people visiting, and late night barbeques make it challenging to put the kids to bed early. The earlier you can start putting your child to bed, the easier it will be to make the transition the opening week of school. However, if your child’s body is used to going to bed late, it will be difficult for her to drift off to sleep before her body is ready. Start shifting bedtimes earlier by 15-20 minute increments, several days or a week before school starts. This will make it easier for her to fall asleep at the earlier bedtime.
2. Turn off electronic devices at least one hour before bed
Electronic devices such as video game systems, I-Pads, and televisions can be stimulating, making it harder for children to wind down at bedtime. Also, the light from these devices can suppress melatonin, our body’s natural sleep inducing hormone.
3. Bring back the bedtime routine
Many parents often ditch a consistent bedtime routine during the summer. A routine of bath, books, and bed might have been cut short to just “bed”. However, those series of consistent events right before bedtime can actually cue the brain that sleep is coming. Bedtime routines are also very relaxing and help children unwind.
4. Be prepared for stalling
As the first day of school approaches, your child’s anxiety may rise. Be prepared for stalling tactics and bedtime resistance. Start the bedtime routine earlier a day or two before school starts. This leaves extra time for your child to unwind, and for parents to reassure and be consistent if delay tactics begin.
5. Set up a good-bye routine for separation anxiety
Many children have a difficult time going off to school and separating from parents.
Short and sweet separation rituals can help separations be less painful. “The Kissing Hand” by Audrey Penn is a good book to read with children who have a hard time with separation. Whatever ritual you choose, make it loving, not lingering. Long farewells can make your child more upset and less willing to part with you.
6. Read books about starting school
Consistently reading books with your child about characters going off to school and having a good time can be very therapeutic. Some books I have used with my own children include, “My First Day of School” by P.K. Hallinan and “The Night Before Preschool” by Natasha Wing.
7. Avoid caffeine and high sugar treats before bed
Chocolate ice cream can be a fun summer treat, but not a good sleep inducing food. Caffeinated and sugary foods and beverages can interfere with sleep. Reducing consumption of these foods, or avoiding them several hours before bedtime can help children (and adults) sleep better.
8. Set a consistent schedule during the day
If you have been letting your children wake up late, or eat meals at various times, this can throw their bodies off when it is time to start school. Match their home schedules as close to school schedules as possible to help make it easier for them to transition. Setting a consistent schedule for meals and wake-up times can help children fall asleep better at night because their bodies will be set to an appropriate sleep/wake cycle.
9. Have conversations about school with your child
Start talking to your child about the positive parts of school. Allow your child to express any worries he may have about starting school. Validate and avoid dismissing your child’s fears. Remind your child that it is okay to be nervous, but that teachers and parents will be there to help. Allow your child to come up with a couple of things that can be fun about school even if it only includes a friend, or pizza day in the cafeteria. These conversations can help children process their worries and reflect on the positives about school.
10. Get your child involved in preparing
Having your child go with you to shop for school supplies and healthy snacks for school can get your child invested in the process. Sometimes the super hero book bag can be the motivating factor behind your child’s cooperation to start school. If allowed, it can be helpful to have your child play on the school playground or campus before school starts.