It’s already time for our kids to return to school! Where did summer go? Jumping back into old routines can be difficult, and the most common issues revolve around the “three S’s of summer” – sleep, screens and schedules. These habits are often poorly regulated over the summer, so they require serious attention if you want to start another school year on the right foot.
It’s typical for children and adolescents to fall back into unregulated sleep schedules during the summer when school is out of session. Many kids will stay awake late at night and then sleep late into the next morning, which can create a delayed sleep phase in children. This means the brain’s sleep-wake cycle will begin to shift to a completely different time zone. For example, a child will get 10 hours of sleep if he falls asleep regularly at 1 a.m. and wakes up at 11 a.m. This is a good amount of sleep, but it’s only appropriate for children living in Hawaii, not Houston! To get your child’s sleeping habits back on track, I recommend the following:
- Start waking your child up 30 minutes to one hour earlier each morning until she’s rising at her normal wake-up time for school. Waking her up earlier will shorten the amount of sleep she gets at night, so she’ll automatically try to get to sleep earlier the next night to compensate for what she missed. Her sleep schedule should be on track at least one week prior to school starting.
- No daytime sleep! Don’t allow your child to sleep at all during the day; save all of his sleep for bedtime.
- Create a bedtime routine to help your child become drowsier near bedtime, which might include quiet activities like reading, a change in lighting or turning off screens an hour prior to bedtime.
- Screens are the biggest sleep enemy, and they make it hard for children and adolescents to go to sleep and stay asleep. Phones and tablets in bedrooms at night are far too tempting for children and adolescents to resist. If appropriate, plug all screens in parents’ bedroom at night to help prevent late-night messaging. Parents might say, “He uses his phone as an alarm clock.” I say, “He can use an alarm clock as an alarm clock.”
Our children are more connected with the world today than ever before, and researchers estimate 1 in 3 internet users is under 18. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimate that children are spending up to 7.5 hours a day engaged in screen-based entertainment. As parents attempt to reduce screen time, children and adolescents might show signs of withdrawal – cranky moods, changes in appetite and poor concentration. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that children ages 6 and up participate in less than two hours of educational, adult-supervised screen time. Consider the following tips on reducing screen time:
- Give your child something else to do besides interacting with a screen. Instead, actively engage him in back-to-school shopping and help him gather school supplies or choose new clothes to wear.
- Designate “screen free times” in your home, such as during dinner, an hour before bedtime and the first hour after waking up. During these periods, provide other engaging activities such as conversations, card games, outdoor activities or family fun time together.
- Provide specific times of the day and goals for when your child can use a screen, such as once chores are complete, only between specific hours of the day, etc.
- I’ll reiterate – plug all screens in the parents’ bedroom to help reduce temptation for using screens in the middle of the night.
Most of us know that our children tend to function better when they’re on a schedule. In general, our summers tend to be more relaxed and less structured. This can make it challenging to get our kids back on track when it’s time for school. Consider the following tips when it comes to maintaining a more structured schedule:
- Begin to plan meals at specific times. Having breakfast, lunch and dinner at specific times can help regulate your child’s appetite and overall daily routine.
- Help your child get back into the groove of morning and bedtime routines. You can create specific tasks to familiarize your children with school year expectations, such as laying out clothes or taking a shower at a particular time.
- Older children can help create the family routine and schedule through calendars or charts for the family to follow.
- I suggest having your school routine in place at home at least one week prior to school starting.
For more ideas on preparing your children for back-to-school time, consider the following sites: