Cool mornings have arrived, welcome after our long, hot summer! As the season slowly begins to change, many of you are navigating changes in your family. Perhaps you have experienced the first day of school for a child, or the start of a new childcare situation. Regardless of what age they are, and what year they are starting, this is always a big transition for families. There are new routines to establish, while sorting out how to support kids when they are tired and overwhelmed. I invite you to also consider this time of change an opportunity to create some new routines and rituals that work for your family. A time of transition means that the usual expectations no longer apply and can be a great time to build some new structure that helps your family thrive.
As parents, we are guides to our children. Our children’s brains are developing the ability to control their impulses, regulate their emotions and understand the link between their actions right now and later outcomes. The younger the child, the more they live “in the moment” with little ability to understand why, for example, staying at the park another hour will make dinner late, or pulling the cat’s tail over and over will lead to being scratched or the cat running away.
Our brains are able to engage in long-term planning, (“mornings are really tough right now, I think we need to lay out clothes the night before and pack lunches then as well”), anticipate problems (“if she doesn’t get to bed earlier, she is not going to get enough sleep and then it’s going to be UGLY!”) and consider relevant information (“I think my 2 year old is not capable of self-control in the preschool at drop-off. It is too stimulating and exciting! I need to figure out some way of supporting her during this time.”) Use your abilities to ease into some new ways of handling typical hard times for your family.
Here are a couple ideas:
Research clearly links lack of sleep to an increase in behavior issues for children (and parents!). Better sleep helps children navigate their worlds more smoothly and can make everything easier.
In my work with families, I often hear struggles with getting children to settle and sleep at a reasonable hour. Sometimes these are children who are a bit more “spirited” and need more support in getting to sleep. An overlooked step in this process is assessing when your child is ready for sleep. There are windows for sleep when our bodies are beginning to shut down, core temperature drops and the body is more able to settle into sleep. If you are struggling with getting your child to sleep, look for cues much earlier in the evening, perhaps an hour or 1 ½ hours before the current time. Are they rubbing their eyes? Starting to amp up? (often a way an active child will fight the sleepies), yawning, showing increased irritability?
As the light-filled summer evenings shift to earlier sunsets, we can move bedtimes to an earlier time. “In the Fall, bodies are in bed by 7:30. Then we have stories, snuggles and sharing (e.g. what was the best part of your day? What was the hardest part?). Lights out by 8PM!” You can also use the change in season/transition to school or other new setting as the reason for the new bedtime. “Now that you go to school all day, your brain is working hard! Did you know that sleep is a time that your brain takes all the hard work you did in the day and makes connections? A lot happens in your brain while you are sleeping!”
For older children, invite them to have some input into the time. You can help them begin to develop that part of their brain that is involved with planning by asking questions: “Hmmm. Your idea is to do bedtime at 9:00. How much sleep do you think a 7 year old needs? What time do you need to be up in the morning? How is that going to work?”
Be mindful of screens. Research shows that screen-time before bed (for children AND parents) can disrupt sleep. The light from the screens activates the brain and tells it to be awake, rather than shutting down. Create family rules about what happens with screens for your family. I know one family that intentionally set 8:00PM as a time that all screens were off. Phones were powered off or put on airplane mode. Computers were put to sleep. A blanket was placed over the television. This became time for reading together, playing games, bathtime etc. Initially the parents found this hard, but over time they began to enjoy knowing that they were “disconnected” from the world for a period of time and were having focused family time. What changes can you make with screen-time for your family? More on screen-time coming in a later post!
Build daily connections. When children are navigating new situations, they often arrive home tired, grumpy and out of sorts. Spend a little time thinking about what your child needs to be restored from their busy day. Sometimes creating small rituals to ease the transition from school/childcare to home, can really help.
A few ideas:
- If you pick up your child by car/bus, pack an easy to manage snack for the ride home. Protein + carb is a great way to give your child a boost. This might be a bagel with cream cheese/nut butter, string cheese and crackers, almonds and apple slices etc.
- Figure out if your child needs space or connection to be restored. Some children have been overstimulated by being around other people all day and need some down time that is not with someone. Consider creating an artbox that they can go to for drawing/creating. Or looking at/reading books. Make a bin of rice available for sensory play. Create a distraction for younger children to give the older child space.
- Designate a special place in your home where they go to feel better. This can be as simple as draping a curtain over a corner to create a private space with pillows, books and stuffed animals.
- For children who need more connection, develop a ritual to welcome them back home. This might be tea-time with a parent, a special chair and blanket that you go to after school to read several books and snuggle, bath-time (often water can be relaxing for children), going for a walk outside where you child decides where you go (school can be full of others telling kids what to do, getting to be the one who makes decisions can be restorative for children!).
- Repetitive motion is very regulating for many kids. If you have a swing-set or park nearby, let them swing for awhile. A mini-trampoline indoors can work, or old couch whose cushions you don’t mind getting jumped on.
May you find change that works for your family,
and welcome the Autumn season with new routines and rituals.