March 2014

Bedtime and mornings are the bane of many a parent’s existence. You’re tired. Your kid is tired. Either you’re finishing off the day hoping for a little peace and quiet (and maybe a glass of wine), or trying to wake yourself up in as stress free a way as possible (please, just one more cup of coffee). Sometimes having a child in the mix can be a real drag. Don’t get me wrong, you love your kid, but come on, sometimes you just need to get to work!

So what can you do? How do you help your child practice good sleeping habits and learn to manage himself through his morning and bedtime routine effectively? Well, the key word is routine. With our fractured family schedules that include everything from working late to baseball practice, the idea of a routine may seem out of reach. However, if the battles around these two crucial aspects of the day are wearing you down, it may be time to try something different.

First, attempt to have as predictable a schedule as possible: bath is followed by two books, are followed by bedtime at 8:30, no negotiations. Attempt to stick to your established schedule as closely as possible, even if this means repeatedly returning a child to bed if they try to leave it after the prescribed time. The same holds true for morning: breakfast is followed by teeth brushing, is followed by getting dressed, is followed by packing up the car. Of course I left out one glaring roadblock in the path to evening and morning bliss – electronics.

Electronics are the number one contributor, after a lack of routines, to difficulties around bedtime and morning activities. All too often we the busy parents let our electronic babysitters fill the spaces during our busy times. Unfortunately, by letting our children use these devices without boundaries we are setting ourselves up for further time consuming issues. Research has demonstrated that proper sleep hygiene is aided by turning off electronics well before we hit the pillow. A child who is playing on an electronic is inhibiting the production of melatonin, the hormone that aides in sleep, and over stimulating his brain, making it difficult to gear down and go to sleep. Putting time limits on electronic use and keeping it scheduled to before the nighttime routine begins will help your child fall asleep more easily.

Electronic use in the morning can be equally problematic. When a child has become engrossed in a game or TV it can be quite the endeavor to get him to get dressed and to eat breakfast. This is a situation where you can use electronics to your advantage. With the routine established, if a child is able to get himself ready in an efficient manner he will have time to play a game or watch a show. If he isn’t able to get ready efficiently, well, there’s no time.

One last thought about these morning and evening rituals, the more you can take yourself out of them the better. Power struggles are time consuming and exhausting for all involved. In order to not have to prompt your child on every step in the process, make a visual schedule and post it in his room and in the bathroom. Instead of nagging, point to a picture of the expected next step. The ultimate goal in all of the things we do for our children is teaching them to do for themselves. After all, wouldn’t it be nice to sit and enjoy that second cup of coffee while they finished getting ready?