Updated: Jul 14, 2021
So maybe you let your little one stay up later than usual this summer one or two times. Okay, maybe it was more than that, who's counting? I'm not judging. Honestly.
As a sleep consultant I would tell you to stick to your bedtime routine 100% of the time. As a mother, I know how valuable summer is and I fully understand wanting to stretch your days as long as possible and let them have their fun. Afterall, we only have 18 summers to enjoy with our kids before they will most likely leave the house and begin spending their summer vacations with friends, significant others and eventually their own families.
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 the day before they head back to school.
1. Get back to Early Bedtimes:
So what time should that be exactly? For children under 12, I suggest somewhere between 7:00 and 8:00. There are two reasons why I think kids should be in bed, and by that I mean sleeping, by 8:00 at night.
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 obviously have to 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 9:00 at the latest. Factor in the time it takes them to get to sleep after they get into bed, plus the inevitable request for a glass of water or a totally bogus insistence that they need to use the bathroom half an hour after you close their door, and 8:00 is pretty much the latest they can get to bed and still get the sleep they need.
Second, you, as a parent, and your partner if there’s one in the picture, need to exist child-free for a few hours a day. You need to be able to watch TV with swear words and sexual innuendo, to be able to eat some junk food without fear of being spotted, to just do grown-up things and to recharge those parenting batteries. It’s vital to your relationship with your partner and with your kids.
2. Don't Leave it to the Last Minute:
I know some of you have already dropped your kids off for their first day, but if you still have a few days or weeks until the big day, don't wait to get them back on track.
If they’ve been going to bed at around 9:00 for the better part of their summer, try moving bedtime up by about 15 minutes every 4 days until you’re back to their normal bedtime. If this requires a little deception on your part by adjusting the clocks in their room, you just go ahead and get deceptive. Sometimes the ends really do justify the means.
3. Establish or Reestablish and Bedtime Routine:
If you had a routine before the summer that worked well, get back to that. The familiarity of the routine will likely help settle you child fairly quickly.
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 highly enough.
4. Use a Timer
All toddler parents have become victim to stall tactics more than once I'm sure.
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 is downright unwavering.
5. Turn off Screens:
Along with allowing kids to stay up late for fun summer events, many of us are more likely to be more lax with allowing more screen time. Again, no judgement. There is no homework to be done, and let's be honest... it is haaaaard to entertain children ALL summer long. Mama needs to sit down for a minute!
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.)
6. Keep it Dark:
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. 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 window film and other inexpensive options. Black trash bags and tin foil also suffice. If you’re concerned about aesthetics and willing to spend the money, there are plenty of color options besides black that still block out the light. Whichever way you choose to do it, get that sunlight out of the bedroom. It’ll make a world of difference, I promise you.
Well, that's all everyone. I hope you have enjoyed your summer vacation, but if you are like me, back to school is also an exciting time. Personally, this will be my first year as a mother sending a kiddo off to school. That's right, my oldest son starts his first year of preschool next week. And I cannot wait!