Ah, summer vacation, the time when we let our hair down and enjoy the sun ‘n fun. It’s also a time when we tend to relax the rigidity of the school year schedule and make some room to breathe. Bedtime routines are often collateral damage, are they not? (more…)
Start of School
Today I’m changing things up and sharing a guest post from a former client of mine. Five years ago, Lauren called for help with her 8-month-old son, Declan. Declan wasn’t napping and was sleeping in clips of two to three hours at night, max. As a result, Lauren was deliriously tired and extremely emotional when she called for help. Now, five years later, Lauren shares how Declan is sleeping as he prepares to enter first grade.
Years ago I wrote a one-year follow-up for Jennifer, and now I’m here to check-in at the five-year mark. The short answer is that all’s quiet on the home front and, having just turned six, Declan sleeps between ten and eleven hours a night. However, we still have to follow a bedtime routine to keep him on a schedule, and he’s unable to participate in some activities because of his early bedtime (he’s asleep by 7 p.m.). We’re used to this now, and I don’t think Declan’s life is suffering as a result (there are many more years of opportunity ahead).
Some things have become more evident with time, especially regarding the high level of alertness and difficulty we had with Declan sleeping as an infant. At the end of his kindergarten school year, Declan was evaluated and deemed to be highly gifted as a result of testing. Sleep issues are a commonality among gifted children — and adults — which explains some of the trouble we had early on. This study gives a brief overview of the incidence of sleep issues in the gifted population if you’re interested in reading more about the topic. We joked early on that Declan’s sleep issues were due to FOMO and his desire to take in every detail of the world around him — we weren’t far off. Once Declan got older, we integrated what I call a “brain dump” as part of his regular bedtime routine. After reading a book, we’d take a few minutes to talk about the day — or anything pressing on his mind — so that he wouldn’t lay awake processing instead of going to sleep.
The positive side of this is that while it’s common for gifted children to have issues sleeping, it’s not impossible for them to develop routines that help them get the sleep they so desperately need. In all, it took about a week of following Jennifer’s instructions to get Declan sleeping through the night and napping like a champ throughout the day — it is possible (and Declan never “cried it out” in the process). I’ve checked back with Jennifer throughout the years to consult with her about stumbling blocks, and each time it was because we needed to change what we were doing, whether it was removing all naps, transitioning Declan to a bed, or pushing bedtime back to a later time.
I won’t say that Declan’s sleep is without issues today — that would be a lie. He’ll still try to weasel his way out of going to bed at least once or twice a week, and he’s out of sorts if vacation or other activities push his bedtime back. And then you have those times when Declan falls asleep on the bus ride home, making it a struggle to get him down that night, or those nights when he’s sick and materializes at our bedside in the middle of the night (so scary!). If we’re traveling late at night, we can usually tell when Declan’s fighting sleep because he starts talking a mile-a-minute. If we don’t engage him, we’ll be met with silence and then snores within minutes. Some days, especially those marked with a lot of physical activity or summertime swimming, Declan will admit to being tired (!) and express a desire to go to bed earlier. However, this rarely happens, but when it does, we know he must be exhausted, and we jump into action to get him ready for bed.
My only regret about contacting Jennifer those 5+ years ago is that I didn’t do it sooner. If you’re on the fence about hiring Jennifer to work with your family, let me reassure you that she’ll be with you along the way and will provide suggestions based upon your family’s needs and comfort level. Don’t go as long as we did; healthy sleep is so important for early childhood development, so get your little one on track as soon as possible!
I talk about sleep a lot. Here on my blog, with family, friends, clients and colleagues — sleep is a never ending topic of conversation, as it should be given my career! However, I was just telling a former client that we, as parents, spend so much of our time wishing our children would sleep, and when it’s not an appropriate time to sleep, we bend over backwards to keep our child awake. Am I right? Strange, isn’t it?
I’m going to take a break from talking about children and sleep today. I know, I know, you came here because you’re anxious to have your child develop healthy sleep habits, but did you know that wakefulness, at the right times, can help your little one sleep better?
For those of you who have been with me for a while, you know how important routine is in helping children develop and maintain healthy sleep habits. And if your kiddo has healthy sleep habits, he’s not likely to fall asleep at random times or when you’re out running errands. This is because your kiddo has a routine and picks up on the sleep cues of that routine. Driving to the grocery store, in between naptimes, is not an appropriate time to sleep, especially if you want your little one to stay on schedule.
There are, however, times when your kiddo may be so tired out that you look in the rearview mirror to see her head nodding. Or, you leave the room to prepare dinner, only to return and find that your kiddo is rubbing her eyes while watching her favorite show. The alarm bells go off and you begin, like every other parent, to act like a crazy person, knowing that your child will be up until midnight if she naps now.
I’ve been known to tap my daughters’ legs if they try to nod-off, but I wanted to see what other parents do when faced with this dilemma. I asked parents and parenting writers to share how they keep their kiddos awake, and here’s what they said:
Michael Jackson is always a go to when we need to stay awake. WE DANCE! (Not my child, my nephew). Emily K.
We roll down the windows, turn up the radio and sing along at the top of our lungs! And just yesterday we gave the 5-year-old my phone to watch Funniest Home Videos on YouTube so he’d stay awake on the ride to baseball practice. Dana Kamp
I’ve tried tapping my son’s leg, opening his window and turning the radio up in the car — none of which worked — until I had a stroke of genius. My son is a mega-dinosaur fan, and a Jurassic Park fan (even the horrible 2nd and 3rd installments), so I pulled up a YouTube video of Universal Studios’ Jurassic Park ride on my phone; he was absolutely transfixed. Lauren B. Stevens
We listen to an audiobook, talk to the child, or let them throw shoes around in the backseat (I know, I’m a horrid parent). Elizabeth Broadbent
I am a terrible singer, so what I do is make up insane, very loud songs while poking at my kids and trying to engage them to sing along. If I’m able to move around, there is definitely ridiculous dancing involved, too. Their misery at my awfulness usually keeps them conscious long enough to keep them from dozing off! Kim Bongiorno
I may or may not have slammed on the brakes and screamed. Elly Lonon
I will engage in an active conversation with my child (he’s 4) so sometimes that takes imagination. We will look for things out the window to talk about. Sing songs together. Even make things up. C. is a boy that the later he is up past his bedtime the earlier he wakes up in the morning, so if his schedule gets jacked up – everyone’s life gets jacked up!!! Holly K.
I tell fart jokes. NJ Rongner
We play I spy or sing or iPad but not movies. Movies equal sleep. We do thinking games. Sometimes you just need them to stay awake! Sarah B.
“Look! A bear!” Lindsay Gallimore-O’Breham
Now you have plenty of options for the next time your kiddo attempts to take an impromptu nap! So, what do you do to keep your little one awake when s/he’s nodding off at the wrong time?
My blog post this week is to help move bedtime earlier for the start of school this fall. This school year my newly minted five year old daughter Lizzy will be starting Kindergarten. How did this happen. Just 5 short years ago she was a tiny adorable newborn with a set of lungs that could wake the dead. In what seems a blink of an eye, she has grown into an amazing young girl and now is preparing to make the big leap to riding a school bus and continuing her education. And boy is she ready (read insanely excited).
One of the responsibilities that I have as a mom is to make sure that she is ready for this new chapter in her young life. I need to make sure we have purchased a new back pack, new clothes, new shoes, a year’s worth of school supplies and that we both know where her bus stop will be. But another and equally important responsibility is to make sure that Lizzy is physically and emotionally ready for the first day of school.
One way I can ensure this is that she is getting her necessary 11 – 12 hours of sleep each night. This all starts with an age appropriate school year bedtime.
During the summer months, like many families everywhere, we, pushed bedtime back a bit to accommodate the longer sunshiny days. There is so much to see and do during the summer between running and playing and trips to Grand mom’s pool that we need an extra hour or so to accomplish it all.
So now this leaves me with a daughter who is able and expecting to stay awake until the sun begins to set. What’s a mother to do to correct this before school starts? She will need to wake up earlier in the morning to get ready for school as she is not a child that can be rushed in the morning. Lizzy loves to slowly acclimate to the day ahead and as hard as there is no pushing her to move faster.
Well no fear if your child is similar to my Lizzy, here is a gentle solution that will slowly acclimate their young little bodies to an earlier bedtime and hopefully keep the first weeks of school mid week meltdown to a minimum.
First thing that needs to be done is to make sure you have good black out shades installed in their room (I have blogged about the importance of black out shades in the past for healthy child sleep habits). The brain (and child) can become confused as to what to do if sunlight is still streaming through the windows when the body is being tucked into bed for the night. If the room in which the bedtime routine is taking place is appropriately dimmed prior to the start of the bedtime routine, your child’s body will pick up on bedtime cues and continue to release melatonin into the system.
You will also want to (if you haven’t done so already) limit screen time before bed. This includes TV, iPads, tablets, smart phones and computers. As I have discussed previously, all of these devices emit blue light which acts as a stimulant to the brain and for many children can make it much more difficult to fall asleep at bedtime. My advice is to turn all of these devices off at least 45 minutes prior to bed and spend time together as a family doing something a little more low key.
The next order of business is to slowly begin moving bedtime earlier by 15 minutes every 3 – 5 days. What this does is gently allow your child’s body to adjust to an earlier bedtime rather than go cold turkey the night before school starts and they are bouncing off the walls and full of energy when you are trying to calm them down for bed.
Sound familiar? Continue moving your child’s bedtime earlier in 15 minute increments every 3 – 5 days until you have reached your desired school year bedtime. Many children can make this adjustment easily by moving bedtime every 3 days, but for the little ones who need a bit more time to adapt, you’ll want to stick to the 5 day plan.
While making this adjustment, be prepared for your little ones to push back on what you are trying to achieve. It’s in their nature and should be expected. Just remember to stand your ground and stick to the plan. As long as you are consistent, they will see there is no wiggle room and cease protesting.
And finally, be sure to build excitement about the school year ahead and all the new and great experiences that your child will experience. I for one am treasuring the time with my Lizzy. She is so excited about Kindergarten and I am going to enjoy this because I know eventually, years down the road, the beginning of the school year will be met with lackluster acceptance rather than the bubbling enthusiastic daily countdown we are dealing with currently.
Sweet Dreams everyone and we’ll be seeing you at the bus stop. J