September is almost here. Kids are returning to school - be it virtual, face-to-face, or homeschooling. Sweet summertime is drawing to a close with every apple orchard and pumpkin patch that opens up. This year, especially, is going to be a hard one to transition back into, as most children are returning after a 6-MONTH BREAK instead of a regular 3-month break. Thank you, COVID-19. Many people were/are just trying to get by, and with that comes a lot of unstructured play time and/or screen time. I'm certainly not condemning anyone. You have to do what you have to do during times like these. I just want to be able to help if you're ready to make some changes when it's time to get back into the swing of things.
As an educator, sleep consultant, and parent, I feel I can give some pretty solid advice on how to make the transition back go as smoothly as possible.
Regardless of how your child may be going back to school, these strategies will help.
ROUTINES, ROUTINES, ROUTINES
If you've been following me for any time at all, you are probably rolling your eyes, "Here she goes again talking about routines." But, really, if you want what is best for children, provide routines for them. Routines when they wake up, routines for leaving the house, school routines, routines for returning home, evening and bedtime routines. Children THRIVE when they know what comes next, and that is exactly the comfort that a routine provides. A visual timer can be extremely helpful in completing tasks, whether it's brushing teeth, practicing math facts, reading a book, or running around the house (did anyone else's mom ever make them do this as a kid?!).
Because your child's day is going to be very structured as they return to school, whether its virtual, face-to-face, or homeschooling, they are going to be yearning for some control. You can give them choices to help alleviate this strain. For example, when it's time to make dinner, ask if they'd like to relax or to help you. They might need a break, or they might simply want to spend some time with you. Then, offer more choices - "Should we have broccoli or corn with dinner tonight?" "Should we have baby red potatoes or sweet potatoes?" "Would you like to set the table or unload the dishwasher?" When it's time for the bedtime routine, do the same thing - "Would you like to read two or three books tonight?" "What two books would you like to read?" "Would you like to take a bath or a shower?" "Would you like to wear your blue pajamas or your red ones?"
USE "FIRST/THEN" LANGUAGE & FLEXIBILITY
This goes along with giving choices - your child is looking for control over some part of their day. I love to use "First/Then" language to help them understand that there are still expectations you have for them, and as long as they can follow through with that, you can be flexible with what happens next. For example, your child has to do some flashcard practice but really wants to go outside and play in the yard. Say, "FIRST, we will go through your flashcards, THEN we can go outside for a bit." There is no need to argue with you when they know that they can ultimately get what they want by doing just this one thing first.
MAKE REST A PRIORITY
In order for learning to occur and memory to be maintained, your child needs adequate and quality sleep. An appropriate bedtime for a school-age child is likely between 7:00 and 8:00 p.m. They should be getting roughly 10-11 hours of sleep at night. You might now be thinking, "Yeah, okay, but my child has been going to bed at 9:00 all summer long. This is going to be rough." Here's my next piece of advice: Start today, by moving their bedtime forward gradually every few nights. Same goes for if they've been waking later in the morning...wake them a bit earlier each day, until you get to the time they'll need to be up for the start of their school day. Also, to get the best quality and most restorative sleep, make sure your child's room is dark, cool, and quiet (or utilize white noise).
If, when all is said and done, you need a little more help in the sleep department, you know where to find me!