Alright, let me just start off here by saying, honestly and sincerely, no judgment for what might have gone down in the last couple of months. You’ve been on vacation, you had lots of ice cream, and you have sun-kissed skin to prove how fun-filled your summer was.
I know… I’m a child sleep consultant and you may think that I’m going to be mad at you for the late bedtimes, unenforced rules, and inconsistent schedules that have taken place over your summer vacation.
But I get it. I really do. I’m a mother myself and I know how precious these summer months are. You want to squeeze every minute of joy and togetherness you can from these glorious days. If it’s a choice between consistent bedtimes and staying up to watch the fireworks, I mean c’mon.
The answer seems easy.
So no matter what might have happened over the summer vacation, all is forgiven. The mission now is to get your child back on track so that they can get back to sleep at a reasonable hour so that they’re well-rested and ready to learn.
So I hope you’ll keep reading without fear of any finger wagging or talk of what you should have
done differently. I promise you, it’s not in here.
So first things first. What time should your kids be going to bed? Well, a lot of parents I work with are surprised to hear that I recommend somewhere between 7:00 and 8:00 at night. They’re even more surprised when I tell them that I suggest they keep that bedtime until their child is about 12 years old.
There are two reasons why I think kids should be in bed, and by that I mean sleeping, by 8:00
First, kids need at least 10 hours of sleep a night.
An extra hour or two on top of that is never a bad thing, but you can make those adjustments based on your own observations.
Regardless, if your toddler needs to be up by 7:00 A.M. in order to get ready for school, they should be asleep by 8:00 at the latest. Factor in the time it takes them to get to sleep after they get into bed, plus the endless amounts of requests they’ll be making prior to actually falling asleep. Yes, those.
Second, no parent can argue that a few hours in the evening to watch your favorite shows, drink a glass of wine, and eat some junk food, isn’t something they look forward to in the day.
Alright, so now that we know when to put our kids to bed, let’s move on to the significantly more difficult issue of how.
1. Establish a bedtime routine
If you had an effective bedtime routine before your summer vacation, then try to re-implement it as much as possible. Familiarity will definitely help your child settle back into the schedule quicker and with less resistance than trying out something new.
On the other hand, if this is your first go at implementing a bedtime routine, let me just stress how much easier a repetitive, predictable bedtime routine can make your life. When your child’s body and brain start to associate things like baths, stories, brushing teeth, putting on PJs, all done in the same order at the same time every night, it cues up their melatonin production, making sleep come easier. I seriously can’t recommend bedtime routines enough.
2. Use a timer
Of course, things like baths and stories are super fun, so there is a tendency for your toddler to try and negotiate for more time in the tub, or one more story. If you find yourself constantly having to play sheriff, a timer can be your best friend for keeping things on schedule, and as silly as it may sound, takes the blame off of you and puts it on the timer. Mom can be reasoned with, but the timer cannot.
3. Turn off those screens
Along with the slack enforcement of bedtimes during the summer, we also tend to ease up on the
rules surrounding TV, video games, or otherwise staring at screens in the hours leading up to
bedtime. After all, there’s no homework to be done, so maybe we can allow a little leeway for an extra episode of Mickey Mouse Club.
The thing about screens, whether they’re phones, TVs, computers, or tablets, is that they put out a massive amount of blue light. Our brains associate blue light with sunshine, and therefore daytime, so screens before bed can actually have the unwanted effect of firing your kid’s system
back up when it should be powering down. Try to avoid any screen time for at least two hours before bed. (Side note, this also applies to adults, so if you’re having trouble falling asleep at night, try reading instead of watching TV before you turn in.)
4. Turn to the dark side
And while we’re on the subject of light, for many of you living in the northern areas of the planet, you may notice that it doesn’t get dark until significantly later than 8:00, and the only thing that simulates sunlight better than a TV screen is sunlight. If your child’s bedroom is still lit up
when you’re putting them to bed, I suggest investing in a set of blackout blinds. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy. You can get some very affordable ones on Amazon. Getting that
sunlight out of the bedroom can make a world of difference, I promise you.
One final thing to add here: Having leniency regarding bedtime can suddenly transform your child into an astoundingly sharp lawyer. Arguments for why they should be allowed to stay up later are likely to be heard for at least a few days and, potentially, the next eight or ten years.
Luckily, parenting is not a democracy. It is a glorious dictatorship where “Her Highness, the Momma,” makes all the rules. Don’t give in to the pressure, because as I said earlier, this 8:00 bedtime is going to be in place for several years. The sooner they accept that as the norm and their summertime hours as a special circumstance, the easier this whole bedtime thing will be for you and for them.
So there it is, mamas! I hope you have a wonderful school year. I promise you that, no matter what grade they’re headed into, nothing will help them go into the new school year with a better attitude and positive outlook than getting plenty of sleep.