By Dr. Debra Rezendes, HMT Resident in Marriage and Family Therapy
For many of us parents, the blissful summer days of sleeping in have been replaced by the early morning routines of the school year. As we trade the slower paced days of summer for the beginning of the school year, the natural transition of earlier bedtimes begins for many families.
Bedtime can be the hardest time of the day for families because everyone is usually tired, and somehow, children always seem to find their reserve energy for one more bedtime story. For children (and parents), sleep is an essential part of building a healthy brain. Lack of sleep can cause difficulty in concentrating in school. It can also have dramatic effects on emotional and physical development as well. Children who don’t get enough sleep can have a harder time dealing with big emotions, resulting in more temper tantrums and meltdowns. New research is also finding that children that get more sleep have a lower chance of childhood obesity. Good sleep is indeed an important part of keeping ourselves happy and healthy.
Many parents I talk with about bedtime routines discuss feeling exhausted by the battle of wills that bedtime can instigate. Here’s some parent-and research-loved tips to make the transition to sleep easier.
Make Sleep a Family Value.
We live in a culture that doesn’t tend to value sleep. Among teenagers and college students, I’ve heard sleep deprivation discussed as a badge of honor. The more that we can prioritize sleep and role model good sleeping practices, the more likely our children will be able to follow in our footsteps. Talk about the benefits of good sleep as a family. For children, it can be helpful to share that good sleep makes our brain work faster, so we can build a stronger brain at school.
Encourage active, physical play after school.
Physical play can not only help to get rid of those after school wiggles and anxieties, but physical, active play decreases the body temperature, making it easier to fall asleep at night.
Create a consistent bedtime routine.
Children feel safer when they can anticipate what to expect. Try to keep the order for bedtime routines the same or use a visual schedule so your children can easily see what comes next. Did you know that research has found that children with consistent bedtimes had less behavioral difficulties? Consistent bedtimes also allows parents to have regular time for self-care. So, it is a win-win for everyone.
Build in connection time.
Children who feel like their emotional tank is full have an easier time separating and going to sleep at night. Bedtime stories, snuggles, and filling their favorite stuffed animal with your love are fun ways to fill your child’s emotional tank at bedtime. Just avoid things that rev up their energy.
Create a soothing sleep environment.
Our bodies need environmental cues to slow down and get ready for sleep. An hour before your child’s bedtime, turn down the lights, cut off technology, and find other ways to make the atmosphere soothing, such as calm music and soothing smells.
Debra has over ten years of community and clinical work with individuals, children, parents, and families and has been published in the Journal of Happiness Studies and Autism Research and Treatment. She received her doctorate in Marriage and Family Therapy from Eastern University and has gained specialized, intensive training in emotionally focused therapy (EFT) and Theraplay. She also has skills in cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), strengths-based therapies, self-compassion training, attachment-based therapies, play therapy, and solution-focused therapy.
Dr. Debra Rezendes is a Resident in Marriage and Family Therapy and is working towards licensure as a Marriage and Family Therapist in Virginia. She works under the supervision of Marianne S. Coad, MAMFC, LMFT, LPC-S. In the event that clients have any questions or concerns about Debra’s work, her supervisor can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org, (703) 657-9721, or 10379-B Democracy Lane, Fairfax, VA 22030.