– written by Robyn Chrysler, M.S.C.A.P.
Coach & Mentor – Children, Families & Business Professionals
Summer is great. We all need the break, even our kids! However, as the days grow shorter and cooler (thank goodness), we have to start gearing up to head back to school. As parents who often enjoy the summers and our opportunity to do the bare-minimum, this means getting back to schedules and routines that have been laxed. No more sleeping in, no more late nights, and definitely no more impromptu trips to the lake or something equally fun.
For some families this is not an issue at all, they can simply start 2 weeks before school and get bedtime schedules readjusted. Man, I would really like to be one of those families! Alas, as a foster family who caters to those kids who are struggling with mental, social, or physical disabilities we often don’t have it that easy. We have children who are autistic at both ends of the spectrum, we have children who have ODD (oppositional defiant disorder), we have children who are ADHD (attention deficit disorder) and we have teenagers (need I say more?). Our household is controlled chaos, but it is controlled and organized, and the only way that happens is by first understanding each of these individuals’ needs and also making a schedule and daily plan that works for each.
Remember it takes around 21 days to form, change, or break a habit. That’s almost a full month! Now add in a child who doesn’t want to form a habit, and you’re now adding a few extra days at the very least. As it is currently August 10th as I am writing this post, I am apparently setting my own household up for trial and tribulation as we just started our routine adjustment this past Saturday. For more than a year I have gotten 10 children up and on different buses, to different schools on time, with all their stuff, nearly every day. If you’ve never had the pleasure of this “event” every morning, then you can consider yourself blessed. We are asked all the time how we do it, how it is our kids are so structured and seemingly well behaved, so I wanted to share our strategies with you.
It is not a big secret that the best way to transition into any routine is to do just that: transition. Give yourself plenty of time, the longer the better. You cannot reasonably expect yourself or your children to be able to switch to an early bedtime and rise up earlier at the drop of a hat, not if you expect to have positive results. Is this going to be painful? Maybe. Is it going to be frustrating? For sure! As I write this tonight we just had a 37 minute dispute with our 11-year-old to take a shower and read for 30 minutes. This wasn’t sprung on him, we’ve been at this schedule change for 5 days now. But tweaking your sleep schedules is going to be the first thing to do, at least a month before school would be your best bet. Try not to make big switches, instead ease into the process, with the first step being a fair warning: “Hey gang, starting next week on Monday we have to go back to our school bedtime schedule to get us all ready.” Kids universally hate bedtime being sprung on them—regardless of their age—so if you ease into it they will be more receptive to the change.
What does this look like? Well, it’s different with every child depending on their age and other attributes. We move toward the school bedtime in 15 or 30 minute increments. So if my kids’ school bedtime is 10 pm, and I want them to be in bed by 8:30 on school nights, I bump it up every couple of days; first 9:45, then 9:30, then 9:15, and so on. Gradual 15 minute transitions are optimal, but if you’re running low on time before school starts, 30 minute increments work too. Use the same premise with wake-up time: gradually wake them up earlier and earlier until you reach your goal. Ideally, you do this in time to give them about a week of waking up and going to bed consistently at their target school-year time. But we all know how often things actually work according to plan, so just do your best. Everything will work out eventually.
Turn Off All Screens before bedtime
Whether you are young or old, just turn them off at least an hour before bedtime. I know, I know, I’m trying to start a war in your household. Trust me, I understand completely. The aforementioned 37 minute mini-war was more about turning off his electronics than taking a bath. We get children in our house whose babysitter was a video game and the only way they’ve ever known to go to sleep is by falling asleep watching TV. Did you know that any kind of screen time before bed (phone, television, video games etc.) actually not only affects your sleep but also your overall health?
Sleep medicine expert Michelle Drerup, PsyD, DBSM has said that, “Studies indicate that more passive use of technology — such as listening to music via your phone or watching a non-distressing TV show — doesn’t really have an effect on sleep compared to active use, active use includes things like texting or social media.” (Why You Should Ditch Your Phone Before Bed)
Doomscrolling, the action of continually scrolling through and reading depressing or worrying content on a social media or news sites, especially on a phone, keeps you awake by distracting you and stimulating your brain, which delays REM sleep and keeps you awake for hours.
Did you know that your phone actually impacts your sleep? Smartphones that are designed to make our lives easier and more productive also have a negative effect on our health and force us to never really log off, even when we’re sleeping. Why exactly?
– It keeps your mind engaged, Dr. Drerup further explains that, “checking your phone stimulates your brain, even just a quick check can engage your brain and delay sleep.” Your mind stays active and engaged for hours after scrolling through social media and responding to emails. Even feelings about the content and thinking about your phone going off activate your mind.
– Blue light that is emitted from your phone is an artificial color that mimics daylight which can make you more alert, and is exactly the opposite of what you need at night for your brain to wind down. Blue light exposure can affect your internal body clock, throwing off your circadian rhythm. Your circadian rhythm is in tune with light and dark; that’s why you feel more tired at night when the sun starts to go down, and why you feel more energized in the mornings. Studies show blue light suppresses your levels of melatonin, which is the hormone that is responsible for controlling your sleep-wake cycle. Low levels of melatonin can cause tiredness and irritability during the day and insomnia at night.
– When we go to bed, we should be experiencing relaxing, happy, and peaceful thoughts. Encountering content that causes intense emotions can negatively impact your feelings. Stress and anxiety are two major factors that disrupt sleep. Even when you read something happy it can trigger a response that will prolong your sleep, leaving you awake and staring at the ceiling for hours.
Establish a Relaxing Bedtime Routine
Establishing a bedtime routine that is relaxing will discourage activities that can lead to high emotional responses and anxiety. Choosing nighttime activities such as practicing relaxation or meditation techniques have been proven to promote sleep.
Nighttime preparation can make a huge difference for the next morning, helping those early morning frantic moments and establishing a bedtime routine. Get your family into the habit of preparing for the next day. Have them start getting their clothes ready for the next day or even choosing their breakfast ahead of time. These tasks will also help your children calm down and put their brains at rest before bed.
Get anxieties out of the way now
Your kids may drag their feet, that’s ok. Change is scary at all ages, so your child may feel apprehensive about some aspects of the new school year, regardless of their age. Older kids are just going to say they hate school or it sucks and normally don’t have a lot of explanation as to why, whereas with younger kids this one is a bit easier.
Before school starts, try to explain to them what to expect in their day: how they will be going to and from school—such as by bus—and what will happen in their day. Go to those open houses and pre meetings, not for you, but for your kids. Help them find the bathrooms, the lockers, the cafeteria, those areas they’ll need to be familiar with. Just like with us, the more familiar children are with their surroundings and more confident in their ability to navigate new situations the more prepared they’ll feel and the less anxious they’ll be.
I wish you all luck as we navigate the end of summer and the return of our back-to-school routines. This imperfect science even for the most put-together parents is hard, but doable, so don’t beat yourself up for missing a step here and there, just keep going. Consistency, and a whole lot of patience, is going to pay off and help everyone have a great year, and it just might spare some of your sanity in the process.