Sleep. It’s the secret to having a happy kid.
You want to get rid of the crankiness in your child? The distractibility? The failing grades? The moodiness or borderline depression?
Start by guarding their sleep. I know from personal experience with my three that the big problems—every single one—happened when they were sleep-deprived. So these days, we’re on it.
Sleep. It’s the buzz word in our house. It’s the cure-all that really works better than nagging, imparting fabulous life lessons, visiting the counselor, prescribing drugs, popping vitamins, and crossing your fingers for good luck.
Here’s what kids need, according to WebMD:
1-4 weeks 15-16 hours a day
1-4 months 14-15 hours a day
4-12 months 14-15 hours a day (most get around 12 hours)
1-3 years 12-14 hours a day (most get around 10 hours)
3-6 years 10-12 hours a day
7-12 years 10-11 hours a day (most get around 9 hours)
12-18 years 8-9 hours (ask any teenager if they get this much sleep and they’ll laugh in your face)
I’m worried about this coming school year but now that I know what I know, I’m hoping I’ll head off problems before they start. Nighthawk, who’ll be 15 and entering high school, will be going from 8-9 hours sleep a night to probably seven. His school starts class at 7:15 a.m., and then he’ll have after-school sports and honors classes to deal with. So I’m anticipating that his schedule will be very tight. Luckily, he’s a guy, so getting ready in the morning is easy for him. Indie Girl used to need an hour or more to get ready, but Nighthawk just needs to grab a quick shower and go. Dragon, when he was home, had the most problems when he didn’t get enough sleep. His Asperger’s Syndrome symptoms—especially anxiety–would ramp up exponentially for every hour of sleep he missed.
It’s crazy that our public school system starts so early in the morning, but it’s because we don’t have enough buses. So to juggle the buses, high school and elementary schools start early and middle school starts later. It was nirvana in middle school. The kids got plenty of sleep because school didn’t start until 8:20 a.m. But it was horrible in elementary school. Thank goodness my kids didn’t have to get up extra early to catch a bus. I used to see first-graders sound asleep on the buses when I subbed at the local elementary school. It was a disgrace, in my opinion, that little kids have to catch a bus at 6 a.m. and some even earlier.
I’ve noticed that private schools around here all start at a reasonable hour, usually after 8:00 a.m. I guess that’s one reason parents pay between $7,000 and $20,000 a year to send their kids there. It’s a great luxury starting so “late.”
But sleep is that important. I applaud the private schools for recognizing that.
We moms recognize that, too. So if your school doesn’t start at a decent hour, watch your kids’ sleep time. And take heart. It can be made up—partially–on the weekends. For us, that day is Saturday because Sunday we have church at 9 a.m. and it’s half an hour away. But there are sports, too, on Saturdays. So what are we supposed to do?
Be ruthless. We’ll skip church if our kids are particularly sleep deprived—that’s “breaking the rules” in my culture, but rules are meant to be broken when someone’s health is at stake. We’ll limit sports, too. That’s a big no-no these days, isn’t it?
But nothing is more important than your child’s getting that sleep. No church sermon and no home run hit will make a valid, beneficial impression on an exhausted child!
So I recommend that you stop running on the hamster wheel of too many activities (if you’re on it) and get to the source of many of the problems your child might be having: not enough sleep.
Of course, your child may resist. Make sure there are no screens in his or her room. No phones, nothing except books. They will fight and fight and fight to stay awake!
And then enforcing these measures is almost impossible in high school. Our two oldest kids ran small offices in their bedrooms, what with their laptops to do homework and their cell phones to stay connected to their small army of peers. We generally had to leave it up to them to get enough sleep—which they didn’t, by the way, although they learned as they went along.
So with our third child, we’re preparing to make him self-regulated, too. But luckily, he saw what happened when his two oldest siblings didn’t get enough sleep, and it wasn’t pretty. So Nighthawk’s already recognizing a potential problem, which will hopefully make it easier for him to deal with it.
But it is a problem, moms, for everyone I know. What do you do in your household about sleep?