So, here we are again, singing, hi ho, hi ho, it’s off to school they go.
Or not, many of us will be home schooling or un schooling, but for those of us for whom September means a harsh jolt back to the reality of early wake ups, morning rushes, new classes, homework and endless bedtime battles after the easier going summer….then read on.
Firstly, let’s just remember that school, of any kind, is a seriously big deal for our little ones. In so many ways and for so many reasons. We may be desperate to get them back out of our hair after 6 long weeks but let us please not underestimate what a big transition it is for them, whether they’re starting out for the first time, going into a new class or year group…it’s all change, it’s all learning, it’s all overwhelming, it’s all big stuff.
And so, it all affects sleep.
I am already seeing parents in online forums panicking about how to get everybody back into a routine…but panic ye not. For starters routine is only a teeny tiny part of the huge jigsaw that is sleep, and I’ve got you covered for the rest with my 5 pillars of Healthy, Happy SLEEP.
So, here are 5 ways to transition smoothly into the new school year, being mindful of everything that might be going on for your little one along the way.
1. S is for Sensory:
School can be a monumental head f*ck for those of us with low sensory tolerance levels.
It’s noisy, colourful, bright. There are people everywhere, possibly bumping into you at any given moment. School uniforms are often uncomfortable and stiff. Many children will be required to sit down and sit still for much of their day so those of us with bigger sensory cups will be getting ants in their pants before too long…and that’s after the assault of getting dressed, brushing hair and teeth and all sorts before they’ve even arrived.
So, watch out for any signs of anxiety, unspent energy or unusual behaviour as they go back to or start school. Difficulty staying still whilst trying to go to bed, quick to anger, nail biting are all signs that a sensory system is out of balance. Watch your little one for cues on where they might be getting over or under-stimulated. If it’s over stimulation create a lovely calm, soothing space for them to retreat to after school and don’t disturb them. If they’ve sat down too long and need some more stimulation, engage in some heavy bonkers play or rough and tumble before bed or get them straight to the park to swing about a bit on the way home.
Balancing their sensory needs like this will allow the sensory system to relax so the body can find sleep more easily.
2. L is for Learning :
Well, that’s what school is for right? There are so many little neurons firing inside our little people’s heads before you add the newness and educational element of school on top. So try to balance that with quieter evenings and weekends. Try not to bombard them with a million questions about their day as they may need longer to process and make sense of it all. Avoid working on homework right before bed and build in lots of nice quiet time. For little ones who are really struggling to switch off to sleep try a nice calming, children’s bedtime meditation.
3. E is for Eating, diet & nutrition :
School is exhausting, and after the holidays where they’ve had access to food and snacking all day long, most of our little ones will now be expected to eat at certain times and so may well be totally ravenous as soon as they leave school. And that can look like serious hanger with blood sugar levels going all over the shop.
My tip? Get dinner inside them as soon as you possibly can and then top up with a nutritious bedtime snack such as a peanut butter sarnie on wholemeal bread and some banana about an hour before sleep.
Also, we all know that back to school means back to the den of snot and germs…it seems compulsory to get ill in September with all the new bacteria we’re exposed to at the start of a new school year. Well, not necessarily. Since our tummy houses our immune system, it’s a great place to start in the fight against September snivels. And while we all know that eating mounds of fresh fruit and veg is the best way to do that, it’s also not that easy to manage on the daily. So, you can read about the only supplement we use and recommend (and the only supplement used and recommended by Dr William Sears) here…bonus, it’s free for school age children!
4. E is for Emotions:
School can be a super emotional rollercoaster make no mistake. For our littlest ones mostly in the form of separation anxiety and having to go out into the world, every day, without us there to guide them. Scary.
But as busy, stressed, juggling parents rushing out of work to pick up the kids, get dinner on, get back and bedtime done so we can finally collapse, it’s very easy to forget what they’re going through.
So many of the bedtime battles I see are actually our little ones clamouring for some attention. Finding whatever way they can to prolong their contact with and proximity to us after a day apart.
Simple solution: slow. down. Stop, pause, breath, leave everything else to one side and truly BE with your little ones for a while after you pick them up before getting on with everything else. Show them how excited you are to be with them again, get down on their level, make eye contact, laugh, play whatever dreadful game it is they want you to play.
Get those little love buckets topped right up so they can drift off to sleep easier with love in their heart and a smile on their lips.
You probably aren’t going to thank me for this one, but the best way to get everybody back into a good routine (I prefer ‘rhythm’) is to get up at the same time every day. Every. Single. Day. So if you need to be up at 6.30 for school during the week, that’s the time you need to get up at the weekend. Our bodies really thrive on predictability, knowing when sleep, food etc is coming. With those basics met we have more energy for everything else. Our little ones’ bodies will be much more able to relax to sleep if sleep comes at the same time every night and the day starts at the same time every day. If we use weekends for (oh so longed for) lie ins and later nights we’re forcing our little ones’ bodies into a permanent state of foggy jetlag and it’ll be much harder to shift things. If you have a partner, take it in turns to get up with the kids while the other has a sneaky lie in if you need to (and let’s face it, we all need to).
So, there you have it, 5 simple steps for back to school SLEEP success. Try them and let me know how you get on! And if you’re interested in learning more, I have a whole course about these 5 pillars so just ping me a message at firstname.lastname@example.org. Chat soon!