Late last month, Wilson Elementary School (in Kenosha, Wisconsin) posted this ‘suggested’ sleep chart (above) on their Facebook page that quickly racked up almost 400,000 shares and created controversy. Parents everywhere joined the debate, with many calling the chart unrealistic what with after-school activities, homework, dinner and the challenges of working parents’ schedules.
Still, many moms and dads wish their kids could get more shut eye. A 2014 National Sleep Foundation poll found that 26% of parents felt that their kids need at least one more hour of sleep to be at their best for school.
So how can you keep up with life’s demands and still get everyone to bed on time – peacefully? Take our poll and then read on for expert suggestions to ease your family’s bedtime woes and snag more zzz’s for everyone.
Create emotional rituals: Kids need to feel comfortable, safe and connected to unwind. Erica Zaklin, a clinical social worker in Montclair who works with children and parents, explains that a successful bedtime has an emotional component. “Even kids who are self-sufficient need a hug and kiss good night.”
Zaklin recommends activities like playing a quiet board game as a family, snuggling on the couch or simply talking about each other’s day. Also, note which of your kids need more time to connect with you and plan for extra cuddles or a second book.
Come to your senses: Focusing on your kids’ senses is an effective way for them to de-stress. Mary Funari, a certified parent coach in Montclair, suggests lavender oil because both parents and kids usually like this scent. Other kids respond to soft music or a guided visualization. Funari’s pick is the mindfulness book and accompanying CD Sitting Still Like a Frog as a good bedtime option. Active kids may need to expel extra energy before bedtime by dancing or running around outside.
Remember that parents also need to relax for a successful bedtime, says Funari. Figure out what you can do to de-stress and be present with your kids while getting them to sleep.
Re-set expectations: A lot happens between the time school lets out and bedtime. There’s after-school activities, homework, dinner, chores – the list goes on and on. As family members get tired, stress can increase, especially when there’s pressure to complete scheduled tasks. It’s important to keep bedtime in perspective.
“Parents often feel that kids easily fall asleep in other homes – like they are the only family struggling,” says Zaklin. “But bedtime requires work for all families.” Both Zaklin and Funari urge parents to re-prioritize overloaded schedules and figure out which activities can be pushed to the weekend.
Stay away from the hot seat: Most parents are well-versed in the benefits of a bedtime routine (whether or not we stick with one). Still, it is worth mentioning, especially when your routine can move you out of the ‘bedtime dictator’ hot seat.
“Bedtime routines are like WD-40,” says Zaklin. “They ease the friction of bedtime battles because kids feel they are doing what the routine dictates, not what their parents are telling them to do.” She suggests saying something like, “The clock says that if you get in bed now, we’ll have time for an extra story.” Funari adds that small changes to your child’s environment and your own attitudes towards sleep can also cool down bedtime battles.
Pacify sleep problems: Night awakenings, resistance to falling asleep, nightmares and other sleep problems are not uncommon in kids. A child’s unmet emotional needs, conflicts or anxiety can sometimes manifest as bedtime resistance, explains Zaklin. “It’s better to address these issues during the day when the stress is not so present.” Kids who experience separation anxiety at night often do well when parents leave a t-shirt that smells of their cologne or perfume with them in bed. If your older child is resisting their nightly routine, set aside time to make your compromises when both of you are calm and bedtime is not approaching.
Funari also suggests that parents reach to out to resources like their pediatrician. It’s important to find out if an emotional or developmental issue is getting in the way of your child’s rest. She adds, “You can’t do it all by yourself.”