Kids, parents (and even pets) feel the change in the air when the family routine shifts from the lazy days of summer to the busy back school fall season. Try these simple hacks to take stress out of the transition, and encourage kids to embrace their new back to school schedule.
Calculate how much sleep everyone needs. The National Sleep Foundation (NSF) recommends guidelines for how much sleep each member of your family needs in a night:
- Preschoolers (4-5 years old): 10-13 hours
- School-aged children (6-13 years old): 9-11 hours
- Teenagers (14-17 years old): 8-10 hours
- Adults (18-64 years old): 7- 9 hours
While the range acknowledges that sleep needs are unique to the individual, the lowest number indicates the minimum amount of sleep a person should get each night based on age; the largest number indicates the maximum recommended amount of sleep. Show kids their recommended range to help them understand that their new bed time is not based on an arbitrary rule set by parents—and to clarify that it is not up for debate.
Collaborate with kids to determine what steps need to take place leading up to bed time so they get an appropriate amount of sleep, and what tasks they need to complete in the morning before school in order to arrive on time. Allow them to provide input on when and in what order they'd like to tackle each step so they feel a sense of ownership in their schedule change.
Ease into the routine. Once you've agreed on bedtimes, allow at least one week for family members to adapt to a back to school sleep schedule. The NSF recommendsmaking gradual changes to bed times in 15 minute increments, a few days at a time. If kids will go to bed at 8: 30 p.m. during the school year but haven't been hitting the hay until 9:30 p.m. or later during the summer, begin with a 9:15 bed time for a few days; work backwards little by little until they reach their bedtime for the school year. Do your best to maintain the back to school schedule over the weekends to maintain consistent sleep and wake cycles.
Schedule meals to accommodate sleep. Allow at least three hours between dinner time and bed time so that digestion doesn't disturb sleep. If kids are accustomed to eating a nightly snack, serve combinations of carbohydrates and protein (like cheese and crackers, or peanut butter and toast), which the NSF says tend to be least disruptive to sleep. Banish night time snacks or drinks that contain caffeine (like chocolate) and/or have a high sugar content.
Prepare bedrooms for sleep. The optimal sleep temperature for adults, teens and older children is between 60 to 68 degrees Fahrenheit; infants, toddlers and young children may be more comfortable in rooms that are between 65 and 70 degrees, according to the NSF. If bed time precedes sunset in the earlier part of the school year, use black out curtains to shut out natural light.
Banish all electronics at least one hour before bed time. The Scientific American reports that smartphones, tablets, television screen, computers and e-readers are short wavelength enriched (which is sometimes called “blue light"). Compared to all other wavelengths, blue light is most disruptive to your body's ability to produce the sleep hormone melatonin. In addition to making it more difficult to fall asleep, research indicates that people who use electronics before bed experience reduced sleep quality throughout the night, and report feeling sleepier when they wake up, compared to those who read traditional books.
Make room in your schedule for free time. Back to school often means the start of extracurricular activities like team sports, and lessons. Though more commitments demand stricter adherence to schedules, PBS reports that over-scheduled kids may be more likely to lack problem-solving skills and develop feelings of anxiety, depression. In addition, spending unstructured time with family free of goals or plans is an important factor in a child's character development, and overall emotional health. Take note of how much "breathing room" is in your child's day. If there's little room for rest and relaxation, reconsider commitments so there is at least one night that's completely free of scheduled activities.
Allow kids to have some input. Allow older kids to provide some input over their schedule in terms of when they'll do homework relative to their other activities to minimize the stress (and amount of parental nagging) associated with a busy school schedule. For example, if your ten year old daughter will have soccer practice every day at 5: 30 p.m., would she like to tackle homework immediately when she gets home from school, or after practice once she has eaten dinner?
Set the scene. Design your home to complement your family's new schedule so it's easy to commit to for the long-term:
- Designate spaces in your home that kids can retreat to complete homework, free of noise and other distractions.
- Ensure that kids can easily reach, open, and close dresser drawers and closet shelves so they can“own" the process of getting dressed in the morning, packing and unpacking school bags, and gathering clothes and equipment for lessons or athletic practices.
- Create a spot in your pantry to stock healthy snacks and drinks that kids can reach to self-serve an after-school snack, or grab some nourishment for late afternoon activities