As the school term comes to an end our kids are giving a sigh of relief and looking forward to a lengthy break from schoolwork – even if they have not attended in person and have been shackled to Google Classroom.
For many parents, on the other hand, the imminent abandonment of usual household routines causes additional stress – particularly when it comes to the crazy sleep schedules that kids of all ages adopt when they don’t have to get up at a set time in the morning.
After just a few days of compromised sleep, children become grumpy and irritable due to late bedtimes and even later breakfasts. Poor sleep means kids become more prone to minor ailments.
We know that lack of sleep compromises our immune systems which is the last thing we want in the middle of a global pandemic and we are heading towards the annual cold and flu season without adding COVID-19 into the equation.
If you want to keep some sort of routine going and ensure that your kids are getting some decent sleep, the following tips might help reduce the festive stress.
Extend bedtimes – but only slightly
Whilst you might want to extend bedtimes, I would still stick to, say 45 minutes – 1 hour past the usual time and, for anything later than that, older kids can go to bed but read for a while.
You’ll have more of a battle with tweens and teens when it comes to stopping gaming and social media usage though.
We use Ourpact software which allows you to see fixed times for internet access and to grant and block access in between those times too.
Shut down screens at least an hour before bed
These days, kids seem to spend more time on YouTube and TikTok than they do watching TV but even if you enjoy a family movie night and a rerun of Elf, you should still allow an hour of no screen time before bed.
In any case, the potential damage of blue light from screens to developing eyesight should be minimised by removing devices to a central charging point in the house at an agreed hour.
And a ‘No Phones In The Bedroom’ rule seems eminently sensible to me to avoid lengthy social media chats with the risk of grooming and online bullying.
Many of us are guilty of letting our kids access platforms such as Instagram before they are the required age (13) but if you do, you should ensure that this is on the basis that you know the child’s user name and password and it is understood that you will periodically check their timelines.
Stick to your usual rules
With the exception of Christmas morning and New Year’s Eve, sticking to your usual rules will help keep the family on an even keel and help develop healthy sleep habits in children.
This is particularly important when it comes to mealtimes. Late evening meals and snacking can disrupt sleep patterns and it’s easy, too, for breakfast to get later and later. When that happens, all the day’s mealtimes are thrown out. If kids are eating breakfast at 11 am they are obviously not going to want lunch at 12:30.
We have a rule that breakfast should be no later than 10 am and if the kids miss it then a simple fruit snack or yoghurt is offered to tide them over till lunch. I’m not advocating starving them but rather ensuring that they eat a full nutritious meal where possible.
And on the subject of letting children stay up to see in the New Year, I’m not a fan. I can barely keep my eyes open till midnight myself these days and the thought of coping with dog-tired kids on New Year’s Day has never appealed.
Limit sugary foods
Yes it’s Christmas but leaving tubs of Celebrations and Quality Street out is asking for trouble where kids are concerned. Better to get the chocolates out once meals are over and at least some fruit and veg have been consumed!
And if you know a child with the discipline to resist munching through an entire selection box let me know. Grinch-like I may be but those get rationed out in our house as well!
In all seriousness, the nation’s average daily sugar intake is too high even before the Christmas treats plus if you’re rationing the kids’ sweet intake you can hardly munch them yourself can you? Hmmm.
Maintain a good sleeping environment
Make sure that bedrooms are not too hot or cold and that mattresses are comfortable and supportive.
Intrusive light from street lights can be minimised by adding a blackout lining to existing curtains or installing a blind behind the curtain. This will also help minimise noise to some extent although you may want to consider carpeting woodblock floor and the addition of some noise-absorbing underlay. You can also invest in noise-reducing material which can be installed in the back of wardrobes for example.
Dodgy double glazing can let in cold and noise so it is worth checking your windows. Triple glazing and acoustic glass can help reduce noise but replacing windows can be a costly investment- although worth it in my experience.
It is also important to teach your kids consideration for those who are sleeping or who may have earlier bedtimes – for example any gaming could be done using headphones (and minimal shouting!) once little ones are in bed.
Early risers should be encouraged to stay in bed with a book rather than dashing straight to the PC or TV. A Kindle could be a very good bribe for this.
Ease back into your normal schedule a few days before
Once those dreaded early morning starts are back on the timetable again, take a few days to gradually reduce the kids extended bedtimes to their usual ones. That way, the shock of 6:30 am on a weekday isn’t too great a challenge.
Whilst there will be plenty of grumping and moaning about the return to an earlier bedtime, usually the kids are so knackered by this stage, their resistance doesn’t last long.
Employing some of these strategies should help all the family get along during the holiday period and will hopefully minimise the constant arguing and bickering which tends to erupt when everyone is tired and irritable.
And, for us parents, getting our kids to bed at a reasonable time means we have some quiet time for ourselves, which after the stress of Christmas preparations is absolutely crucial!