Ahh, the joys of summer. The late night firefly catching, the dusk-filled baseball games…and oh… the super late bedtimes! You fully embraced summer and your kids had a GREAT time, but now that school is creeping its way on in, how can you possibly get your child to go to bed at a reasonable hour and onto a better sleep routine?
Don’t worry—there is hope! Here’s how to get your child’s sleep back in gear—even if you’ve had a loooong summer:
1. Bedtime: The Sweetest Hour
Of course your kids have fun being outside with their friends and bikes, but it’s important to understand that your child’s body needs “down time” to allow sleep to set in. Too many parents go straight from outside play to bedtime…and doing this is only making it harder for your child to wind down for sleep.
A serene, calm bedtime atmosphere is hands-down the MOST critical part of having a healthy, balanced sleep routine for your child. And as bedtime approaches, there is a step that is often missed with helping kids relax for sleep—and that step is proper wind–down time.
The initial wind-down time is SUPER important with school-aged children. Older kids often miss this step altogether, which can unfortunately just set bedtime up for failure before it’s even started…
It shouldn’t take too long—about 15-20 minutes or so before actual bedtime. You can begin with a bath, stories, quiet play, etc. I recommend dimming the lights to change the overall ambiance and give your kids the “hint” that bedtime is slowly approaching (think candle-lit dinner, not total blackout).
SPOILER ALERT! If you are careful to make sure the time is not rushed, it can be one of the most treasured and relaxing moments of the day with your child. I may be a nerd, but I LOOOVE bedtime in my house!
2. Don’t rip off the band-aid
So it’s been a long summer. And most likely bedtime has been CRAZY late. But it’s unfair to suddenly make bedtime 1-2 hours earlier and expect your child to magically adjust. He’s been going to bed later, which means he’s been waking up later…and it will take a bit of time to adjust his internal clock to shift to an earlier time.
But start off small here: If your 4th grader has been going to bed at 9 p.m., bump it up to 8:45 for a few days. Then slowly to 8:30, until it’s at a reasonable hour that you know works for your family. Continue waking him up in the morning for school, and if you stick with this gradual approach, his body will adjust in a healthy way within a week or so.
But remember…don’t push him too quickly! If you suddenly go from 9 p.m. bedtime to 7:30 p.m., your little one will fight it, fight it, and fight it some more! His body can’t instantly shift to going to sleep 1.5 hours earlier, as he simply won’t be tired. I know, you want bedtime earlier (like yesterday!), but if you’re patient and do things right, bedtime will happen at a normal hour, and without the draining song-and-dance fight.
3. Be open…together
Instead of suddenly deciding that it’s time to crack down and become the Sleep Drill Sergeant, have an open discussion with your child. You can say things like, “I love you so much and want to make sure your body gets what it needs to be healthy and strong… Just like we eat nutritious foods, brush our teeth, and wear sweaters in the winter, your body also needs to get sleep…”
Talk about things openly together! And if you have a pre-teen or older, talk about realistic sleep times together. When do his friends go to sleep? Is that what he thinks his body needs?
The more open communication you have, the more back-and-forth will happen. And this means no one will be forced to do anything. You’ll be able to come to a happy middle ground TOGETHER (emphasis on the TOGETHER part).
4. “X” the negative vibes
As a mother of five kids, I know oh-too-well how my own emotions can affect anything and everything with parenting. Even if I’m trying to have a discussion about a shoelace…if I’m stressed, then my kids are stressed.
So don’t let sleep get stressful. Don’t think about a healthy routine with a big, impending dark cloud of doom. There doesn’t need to be any pressure, any worry, or any tension involved with sleep. Just like we all need oxygen, air, and food, sleep is just another thing on the list of our physical needs. And as long as you can remain positive and confident that your child will understand that, he will mirror your emotions and internalize them.
5. Slow and Steady Wins the Race
Be patient with your child (and yourself!). Even if he understands everything you’ve discussed, it’s definitely more fun to be outside and play! And trust me, we all know that it’s even more fun to stay up late! Even the most mature 8th grader will still want to hang out with you in the evening, even if he’s exhausted…because why go to bed when there are other exciting things happening?
So just keep plugging away and stay consistent—being mindful of the fact that your child KNOWS he needs sleep…but that’ doesn’t mean he’s going to WANT to sleep earlier. Stick with all the above steps, staying positive and open, without force or negativity. It may take longer than doing something drastic, but the long-term effect of a positive sleep association is well worth it.