Alright, let me just start off here by saying, honestly and sincerely, no judgment for what might have gone down in the last couple of months.
I know... I’m a pediatric sleep consultant and you may think that I’m going to chastise you for the late bedtimes, unenforced rules, inconsistent schedules, or any of the “inadvisable rules” that may have taken place over your summer vacation.
But I get it. I really do. I’m a mom myself and I know how precious these summer months are. You want to squeeze every minute of joy and togetherness you can from these glorious days. If it’s a choice between consistent bedtimes and staying up to later for the block party, or a day of fun out with the cousins or camping, I mean c’mon. That’s no choice at all.
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.
So, I hope you’ll keep reading without fear of any finger wagging or talk of what you should have done differently. I promise you, it’s not in here.
Set a bedtime and stick to it
So, first things first. What time should your kids be going to bed? Well, a lot of parents I work with are surprised to hear that I recommend somewhere between 7:00 and 8:00 pm at night (depending on the time they wake up for the day & their age).
They’re even more surprised when I tell them that I suggest they keep that bedtime until their child is about 12 years old.
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 (I mean the at the very minimum!) 10 hours of sleep a night. The majority of littles actually require 11-12 hours of night sleep!
So for the older littles 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 7:00-8:00 at the latest (depending on naps). 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.
Alright, so now that we know when to put our kids to bed, let’s move on to the significantly more difficult issue of how.
Don’t leave it to the last minute
Hopefully you’re reading this while there’s still a couple of weeks before school gets back in, because the easiest way to get back on track is little by little.
If they’ve been going to bed at around 9:00 for the better part of their vacation, 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.
Establish a bedtime routine
If you had an effective bedtime routine before your summer vacation threw everything into upheaval, then try to re-implement it as much as possible. Familiarity will definitely help your child settle back into the schedule quicker and with less resistance than trying out something new.
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.
Use a timer
Of course, things like baths and stories are super fun, so there is a tendency for your toddler to try and negotiate for more time in the tub, or one more story. 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.
Turn of those screens
Along with the slack enforcement of bedtimes during the summer, we also tend to ease up on the rules surrounding TV, video games, or otherwise staring at screens in the hours leading up to bedtime. After all, there’s no homework to be done, so maybe we can allow a little leeway for an extra episode of Paw Patrol or Lego Ninjago. (Which, quite honestly, is as enticing for me as it is for my kids. )
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.)
Turn to the dark side
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, and the only thing that simulates sunlight better than a TV screen is... y’know, actual sunlight. 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 a six-pack of cheap-o blinds on Amazon for around thirty bucks, Walmart also has a cheap paper version, or even something called non-adhesive window film, which is just plastic you can cut to size and slap up over the glass. 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.
One final thing to add here: Having experienced some leniency regarding bedtime can suddenly transform your child into an astoundingly sharp lawyer. Arguments for why they should be allowed to stay up later are likely to be heard for at least a few days and, potentially, the next eight or ten years. Luckily, parenting is not a democracy. It is a glorious dictatorship where “Her Highness, the Momma, or “King Daddy” makes all the rules. Don’t give in to the pressure, because as I said earlier, this 7:00-8:00 bedtime is going to be in place for several years. The sooner they accept that as the norm and their summertime hours as a special circumstance, the easier this whole bedtime thing will be for you and for them.
Get help from a Sleep Consultant
If none of that works, you should seek advice from a pediatric sleep consultant. I offer a free sleep evaluation so we can explore the current issues and see if a sleep consultant is a good fit for your child's needs. Schedule a sleep evaluation.
So there it is, folks! I hope you had yourselves a wonderful summer vacation, and that yours are looking forward to starting school again. I promise you that, no matter what grade they’re headed into, nothing will help them go into the new school year with a better attitude and positive outlook than getting plenty of sleep. They’ll be happier1, more socially outgoing2 , and ready to learn.3
And if this is your first experience with the kids out of the house since you became a mom, oh baby, I hear that there are going to be sweet, sweet days ahead. (Once you’ve gotten over the initial heartbreak, of course.) For me my biggest is going into Grade 1 and my baby will be hitting his first year of preschool! They are both so excited and of course momma is a little anxious! But I know they will be ready to reach their full potential with a great nights sleep!
Meet Sleep Consultant, Erin
I am the mother of two amazing little boys who did not come pre-programmed with the skills to sleep well independently. I knows how hard it is to function on little to no sleep, I understands how this impacts your ability to be the best version of the mom or dad that you want to be. This is what led me to become a Certified Pediatric Sleep Consultant and the founder of To The Moon and Back Sleep Consulting. I am also a member of the International Association of Professional Sleep Consultants. I have a background in Psychology and have worked with families and young children in many different settings for over 20 years. One of the best parts of my job is seeing the impact that TEACHING their little moonbugs healthy/independent sleep skills has on the momma's!!
"Life Changing! I am a better mom!"
To The Moon and Back Sleep Consulting
Providing families the tools & support they need to get their little ones sleeping through the night and napping like champs! Everyone has more fun when they are well rested!