Kids nowadays have so much stuff to stimulate and entertain them. Only a generation or so back, there was no 24 hour TV with dedicated kids channels. Computers were static and the size of a small suitcase, the internet was either very slow or still ‘dial up’ and, if you had a mobile phone it was monochrome and you could either make a phone call on it or send a text with it – hands up who had a Nokia 3310!
The most popular toys a generation ago when we were getting into the noughties were Furbies, robotic dogs and Bob the Builder toys. Nowadays, kids of all ages and backgrounds have some kind of access to computers and smartphones. Some even have their own dens kitted out with TVs, computers and online gaming consoles, so apart from food and loo breaks they hardly need to leave their room. Sad times.
We all know that when kids don’t get enough sleep, they can become hyper, irritable and moody, but they can also have difficulty concentrating or learning. This makes it really important for them to get the right amount of quality sleep.
Like an adult’s bedroom, your kid’s bedroom should be cool, dark and with no or very few distractions. That means no TV, computer, phone or PlayStation in the room; children should be dreaming not streaming. However, if your kids are older, that may be a tough one to negotiate.
How to get them to sleep well
Kids thrive on routine and rituals; you need to find something that suits you and your kids as there isn’t a one-size fits all solution. You need to include things like washing or bath time, brushing teeth, changing into PJs and reading or being read to in bed for 10 minutes. They’ll associate these rituals with a sense of safety and positive feelings that help them become sleepy and improve their sleep patterns.
Part of this routine must be to get them to learn that they need to ditch their tech around an hour before sleep time. It might be hard at first, but persist. TVs, computers, tablets and phone screens emit blue light which is on the same spectrum as natural daylight. When it gets dark, your brain produces the hormone melatonin otherwise known as the hormone of darkness to make you feel sleepy. If you or your kids are having too much screen time before bed, your brain gets confused and stops the secretion of melatonin which means you wake up and then you get into the ‘wired and tired’ scenario and can’t get to sleep.
Make it a family affair
It’s very true that children learn more by your example than by your advice. Remember when you were young, if a parent said don’t do something, how difficult was it for you not to rebel?
Get them into regular bedtime and wake up routines (even at weekends) and set an example by doing the same yourselves.
…just like children, grown-ups can also get grumpy and irritable if they don’t get enough sleep as well.
It’s no good wanting your child to be in bed asleep with no distractions, if you’re going to still be up watching TV or posting on social media at midnight. Because, just like children, grown-ups can also get grumpy and irritable if they don’t get enough sleep as well.
Just like they need routine, kids are also competitive and understand rewards. Loads of computer games work on this principle – you earn points, get something good or useful and then you go back, earn some more points, and so on.
For example, why not turn their daily rituals (including bedtime and sleep) into something similar with a bit of competitiveness in it? Make up a sticker chart, let them ‘earn points’ for doing their chores and include tech switched off and being ready for bed at the right time as well.
These points can add up to give them ‘simple’ rewards; anything from another pack of Lego bricks, a day out that they’ve been pestering for, or a bit of extra pocket money if they’re more financially inclined. Remember to make sure there’s also room for deductions in there if they don’t do their allotted tasks or misbehave. Kids will soon catch on, and you may well find that they’re ‘negotiating’ bonus points. ‘How many points if I help clean the car/carry the shopping/empty the dishwasher’ and so on. That Lego won’t buy itself.
At the very beginning, set some bedtime boundaries. Don’t give in to the ‘just one more…’ request: just one more story, just one more trip to the bathroom and so on. Kids are very good at finding your Achilles heel.
Be firm. It may be tough love in the beginning, but pretty soon your kids and then the whole family will gain from it and, as parents, if you get yourselves into a good bedtime routine, you will soon start to benefit from a good night’s sleep as well.
If all of this fails and you’re still struggling with bedtimes and feeling like the Walking Dead, sit down with a favourite drink of your choice and listen to the unmistakeable tones of Samuel L Jackson reading the brilliant Go The Fuck To Sleep. It should at least put a smile on your face for a few minutes.