COVID-19 has certainly affected us all, and it's only natural that almost all families I know have been more relaxed than they'd normally be when it comes to bedtime and evening routines for their children in the past six months. But now it's time to get back into a more normal groove, as school is starting back up and we all want our children to be able to be well rested and focused during their school day.
But how do you even begin to get back to a sense of normalcy after so long, especially considering most children at least in the USA will be starting their school year remotely?
Well, most of the ground rules I would suggest in normal times still apply - even during COVID-19. If you follow these simple steps, your child will not only have an easier time falling asleep at night, but it will also be more rested and ready for the school day, come morning.
1. Even though it is difficult, try to keep screen times to a minimum, especially now when almost every child is starting school remotely. There will be plenty of screen time for them just during day time and through class and school work. I'm not saying "no-screen time", just minimize it as much as you can without feeling like you are punishing your child (or yourself).
2. Turn off all screens an hour before bed, and keep screens out of the bedroom. This goes for all screens.
3. Remember that getting outside and catching some fresh air is incredibly important for your child's overall health - and sleep. Getting that exercise in (walk, bike, swim, scoot, run, play basketball, soccer, hide and seek, tennis whatever you can...), even something that is only for a short while or taking many different breaks throughout the day, is very helpful for a child and their development. Children that do not use their body during the day, will inevitably have a much harder time relaxing and unwinding at night. We have to remember that kids usually spend the day with other kids chasing and playing and using their bodies all the time, and we need to find ways to stimulate this experience even as they are not going through their normal school day on campus.
4. Turn off ceiling lamps and instead use lower height (counter/desk/floor) lamps with lower wattage closer to bedtime. Prepare this before you start your bedtime routine, so your child's eyes have time to adjust and relax.
5. Engage in activities that promote relaxation before bedtime, such as reading a book, playing board games, drawing, writing, or listening to music. I prefer singing and reading a book for my 7-year-old.
6. Create and stick to some simple bedtime routines (especially with younger kids), such as family time, then bath, brushing teeth, reading, singing a goodnight song or discussing the day, and what is happening the next morning.
Note: If your child is wondering about what is going on in the world, talk about it in an age-appropriate way, ask what questions they have about COVID-19 to get a sense of what they know, or worry about. Explain in a mindful manner. However, try not to open for these conversations too close to bedtime - keep them to the day.
Avoid dismissing your kid's feelings and let them know their fears and wonderings are normal. Unless your child is very young or you have special circumstances, do not hide the truth. Answer any questions your child has and correct any misinformation you hear (also remember that it's ok if you don't have the answers and need to get back to them).
The Bedtime Routine Rules Checklist for Back to School:
- No screens 1 hour prior to bedtime.
- No sugar 2 hours before bedtime.
- No food 1 hour prior to bedtime.
- No drinks 30 min prior to bedtime.
Sounds harsh? It isn't, and your child will be happier for it - even if it might take a few days of complaining before it works.
A simple sleep rule and pretty easy to remember is — sleep need decreases by age.
- Toddlers need 14 hours a day (including nap times)
- Preschoolers need 13 hours
- Young kids in elementary school need 9-12 hours
- Middle school kids need 9-12 hours of sleep.
- Teenagers need 8-10 hours.
My 7-year-old needs to wake up at 7 am to have enough time to shower, eat breakfast, get dressed, and be ready for school, so I will count backward and find the correct bedtime. I know he needed 10 hours before summer, so I will start with that same number now and then tweak accordingly as I learn how his needs have changed in the past couple of months.
Then, I'll add one hour of wind-down time before his ideal bedtime to ensure there's room for all the routines and for his body and mind to get into a relaxed state.
With winding down, you do not only calm down your child's (and your own) body and the general energy of the home, but it also helps to create a narrative to your child that bedtime is a positive part of the evening (as opposed to that annoying thing that breaks up screen time). Wind-down-time can be a wonderful family routine, and if you take this time to truly bond with your kid through reading or even singing a song, it will be valuable for more than just sleep!
For more information on how your family or you can sleep better, send me a note!
Stay safe and be well. Sending you all good energy and many warm thoughts.
Knus knus Christina