I’m a mom of two young daughters who sleep all night. I spend every evening after the girls go to bed with my husband (and business partner), Chad, and enjoy going on monthly date nights! I start every morning just the way I like it: quiet time, coffee, and calm. Before I began this consulting journey that has helped thousands of families resolve exhausting sleep habits, I was a fifth grade science teacher! Now I teach YOU how to make sleep a thing!
Is your child heading back to school, starting kindergarten, or maybe you’re just getting back into the mode of preschool and you’re worried about getting those sleep routines back on track? You’ve likely been enjoying those full summer days and nights with later bedtimes and lazy mornings. As your family gets back to school we want to help you get the most sleep possible!
As a former Elementary Science & Social Studies teacher, I LOOOOOOVE this back to school time of year! New school supplies, fresh clothes and excitement over a new year!
But saying goodbye to pool days and later bedtimes, especially as we’ve moved our girls’ bedtime later this summer, has me realizing that I’m gonna miss it a little bit. But life is constantly changing and there’s new things to look forward to!
As we say goodbye to our summer lifestyle of later bedtimes and pool days, let’s start to think about getting our kids ready for school with proper bedtimes, routines and expectations.
GET THE RIGHT BEDTIME:
Let’s first talk about getting the right bedtime. Anytime that I talk about sleep changes, you will always hear me say we start with bedtime. I don’t ever start our sleep training programs with naps. We always start at bedtime because it’s the easiest place to start. Here are my tips for you to follow:
Did you move bedtime later for the summer? Let’s work to move it earlier so we can honor your child’s sleep needs!
The weeks before school starts, begin moving bedtime up. Every 3-4 days bring your child’s bedtime earlier by 15 minutes. Once you’ve hit the desired goal time for when school starts, stay there! It would be helpful for your child to have this goal time bedtime for 1-2 weeks before starting back to school.
Preschool and school-aged children need 10-12 hours of sleep each night. If your 3-5 year old is offered a nap at preschool or at home, you’ll want to aim for the lower side of 10 hours of night sleep. If your child doesn’t nap during the day, we can aim for 11-12 hours each night.
Start with what time they need to be waking in the morning and reverse from there by counting back the number of hours of sleep they need! Preschool with nap: 6:30AM start time >> with 1.5 hour nap >> 8:00PM bedtime Preschool with no nap: 6:30AM start time >> no nap >> 6:30PM or 7:00PM bedtime School aged children: 6:30AM start time >> 7:30PM bedtime *8:30PM bedtime is the latest I would go if you have a 6:30AM start time for your elementary school aged child. (10 hours)
So yes, this is going to mean they will likely wake earlier than they have been with the later bedtime. It’s not going to be a later, relaxed summer morning anymore! But we need to help them adjust to get ready for school because it’s going to wipe them out, which leads me to the next step. We know our bedtime, let’s get that bedtime routine rocking again.
Sometimes in the summer we let it go. Maybe we’re doing showers in the middle of the day after a fun pool morning. Or maybe you have done a rushed routine because you enjoyed staying outside really late, so perhaps it’s been simply brushing teeth, getting jammies on and hopping into bed. To get back to school well-rested, we need to get our bedtime routine in order.
I’m not going into full detail on this (you can click here to learn more about bedtime routines!) but in essence, keep your routine to 30 minutes at most so your child doesn’t get overtired and therefore, frustrated!
Bath or shower, brush teeth, put on PJs, read a few books, say goodnight!
KNOW YOUR CHILD’S TIRED CUES!
Think about all the things that go with back to school. Maybe it’s a new classroom, a new teacher, maybe it’s an entirely new school, maybe they’re making all new friends. This is exciting, but it’s also extremely stimulating. So when it’s back to school time, whether that’s preschool or kindergarten or elementary school, it is an exhausting first couple of weeks.
Now every kid is different, so this is why I’m asking you to know YOUR child’s sleepy cues – their tired or “I’m done” cues. Here are a few examples:
Short fuse — everything seems to be upsetting them when they’re home, in the afternoon or evening, or even the next morning.
Not listening — not just normal “not listening” but blatant disobedience that seems out of character.
Disinterest — does your child usually have tons of energy each evening, yet they suddenly don’t seem to want to go outside, play or talk
Grumpy — acting irritable and put off by the smallest things (toddlers are the epitome of this!)
Yawning, rubbing eyes, laying down, early wake ups
Telling you they are tired – this is a big one because once your child is telling you they’re tired, they’re WAY past the time they should’ve gone to bed!
Once you know your child’s cues and you start to notice them, you can accommodate them! You can definitely aim for 15-30 minutes earlier bedtime and once it only takes them about 10-15 minutes to fall asleep, you’re in that golden time.
I will tell you for my youngest, we had a good 4 months of adjusting to kindergarten. Now my oldest, this was different, but my youngest is a lot more sensitive to her sleep needs. New things can be very overstimulating for her and so I am not kidding you, from September to December of her kindergarten year, she had to go to bed at 6:30pm!
DON’T PLAN ANYTHING.
Remember to keep your weekends absolutely plan free. Don’t do anything!! Remember all the talk about everything is new and exciting?! Yeah! So…
Don’t plan a weekend trip the week after they start school. Don’t get together with friends for a late night barbecue.
Stay home, give them rest time, 1:1 time, and space to talk about what happened over the week!
During the first few weeks keep the evenings simple. Take a walk together, play outside, bike ride, simple dinner, enjoy being together and connecting after a full day (or even a half day!)
SETTING THEM UP FOR SLEEP SUCCESS!
Let’s do a quick check for what we want your child’s sleep environment to look like:
SOUND: The Dohm sound machine is great to block out household noises when you’re getting ready for bed, or early mornings before it’s time to wake.
COMFORT ITEMS: Does your child have a security blanket? Stuffed animal? Lovey? Great! These are perfect to help your child self-soothe. But also, let’s keep it to a minimum of 2 buddies in the bed or we’re opening up the gateway for a zoo!!
Screen Time: Blue light blocks the release of melatonin, the naturally occurring hormone that helps your child get sleepy, fall asleep and stay asleep! We don’t want to prohibit that!! So the easiest thing to do? Cut off screens 1-2 hours prior to bedtime…and get outside! When the sun gets lower in the sky, our bodies begin producing melatonin.
I love the Hatch clock for teaching your child when it’s time for morning, and when it’s acceptable to get out of bed.
Tell your child “When the clock is red, it’s time for bed, when the clock is ______, it’s morning time and you can get up!”
If you have a school aged child who can understand multiple colors, you can even set a transition color: Red = bed / Blue = get up and get dressed / Yellow = okay to come out of the room!
ENJOYING THE WEEKENDS
Is your child sleeping past their normal awake time on the weekends? GREAT!!! Let them! Clearly their bodies need more rest to catch up from a busy week.
When our bodies get a full and unbroken night of sleep our brains are most restored and bodies feel most revived!! Give them the sleep they need!
BONUS TIP: ENJOY THEM!
Just truly, truly, truly enjoy them!! Take pictures and videos and all the things!!
I treasure the first day of school photos – if I can, I also take a video of them if they’re in good spirits and ask them what their favorite part of the day was. Ellie, after her first day of kindergarten, just burst into song and talked about how much she loved everything and she couldn’t wait to go back the next day.