In the Back-to-School issue of Local Living, we sought out experts for advice on different ways to prepare for the school year. For the full list of stories, go to washingtonpost.com/parenting.
During the summer, parents often let their children stay up later, hoping they will sleep in.The problem with that, says Kim West, a social worker, sleep coach and author of “Good Night, Sleep Tight,” is trying to get kids back onto an earlier bedtime schedule.
A good night of sleep is important for children — and parents — who have to get up and out the door.
She suggests parents wake their children about 15 minutes earlier each day, starting about a week before the first day of school, until they are back on schedule. “We tend to keep our kids up too late, then they’re not getting enough sleep for school,” she says.
Children ages 6 to 12 need nine to 11 hours of sleep each night. West encourages parents to make sure kids are completely asleep by 9 p.m.
And if some bad habits formed during the summer? It’s time to try to break those as well. Take nightmares: With relaxed rules, a child may have started waking and coming into a parent’s room or bed to sleep. Rule out other reasons for the waking, such as anxiety. West also says sleep deprivation can cause nightmares, as can new milestones or sleep apnea. But if you suspect nighttime waking has just become a habit, the start of school is probably time to stop it.
Tell your child in advance that there are “new rules. Everyone has to stay in their own bed,” she says. Then get a toddler clock or wake-up light. Explain that he has to “stay in his room until the wake-up light comes on.”
West used to tell her children at bedtime that it was time to throw the bad thoughts out the window and replace them with something else. “If you don’t throw it out, sometimes it sneaks back in,” she explained. Her older daughter would say she was replacing bad thought with a field of flowers and butterflies.
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