Back to school means getting kids adjusted to a new schedule. Anything that messes with a routine can be hard, not to mention super stressful. How can we wake up kids for school in a way that makes our mornings easier and less grumpy? Here’s your back to school plan.
It was 6:30 AM on the first day back to school last year. I put my hand on my daughter’s fluffy floral comforter and shook her.
Gently, of course.
OK… OK… it was harder this time. Because this was the fifth time I walked into her room that morning to pull her from bed. This morning was close to becoming a chaotic mess.
What could really happen?
I knew that now, she wouldn’t have enough time to shower before school. I time her for 10 minutes in the shower but after all the 5-minute extensions I give her, her shower time is closer to 30.
She would want me to dig through all the tangles in her long brown hair and then braid it. A task I’d feel like a jerk for refusing because we’d be horribly late. Pull up to the school, running to the classroom kind of late.
She wouldn’t eat a good breakfast. Probably end up grabbing a freezer waffle, popping it in the toaster and devour it on her way out the door.
Then she’d complain to friends about her stomach hurting because she had no time to eat anything that morning on account of how late we ran. I imagined my daughter’s teacher overhearing this, then looking at her tangled hair and thinking to herself, “Wow, poor girl, her parents really aren’t on it.”
This is madness…
The importance of sleep for kids is undeniable. Experts explain it does everything from promote growth, boost learning, increase attention span and even affects weight.
Sara Lappe, MD stresses that “if you set three alarms and still have to drag your child out of bed in the morning, it’s time to work on sleep habits.”
How do we solve this?
I discovered that two specific things prevented my daughter from having enough time in the morning:
- Not getting enough sleep the night before
- No real incentive to wake up earlier.
By making small changes to my daughter’s sleep routine before school started and by letting her have special privileges the first week of school, waking up for school became less of a hassle and more of a manageable morning.
Start Adjusting Your Child’s Sleep Schedule
It’s 8:30PM and we are only half way through American Ninja Warrior. Jesse Graff – the amazing ninja stuntwoman – is still scheduled to run. What’s the harm in letting my daughter stay up to watch?
Actually, a lot. I announce, “We’ll finish this tomorrow. Time for bed.”
“But, just a few more minutes! I’m not tired!”
“No worries,” I reply, “We can finish this tomorrow.”
I wish I could say that she agrees and delightfully skips off to bed. But, no. She usually gets mad at me and stomps off down the hall.
This parenting gig is far from easy.
A week before school starts, we begin to adjust bedtime back from 9PM. For the first few nights, it’s 8:45PM. Then, we bring it back to 8:30PM, all while explaining that we are making sure she gets enough sleep for school.
Limit Device Use
As adults, we know its hard to fall asleep when you’re not tired – and it’s definitely the same for kids.
When we start making their bedtime earlier, our rule is only to be in bed by a certain time. If my daughter’s not tired, she can always read a book, but no electronics.
Why? According to Scientific American, the screens in our devices have a higher concentration of blue light than any other light. Blue light is known to affect your levels of melatonin -the hormone that causes you to fall asleep – more than any other light source.
If kids (and adults) use devices right before bed, it can negatively impact sleep. Even though my daughter has access to a whole public library of e-books on her tablet, we insist that she choose reading material of the paper variety when she’s laying in bed.
Start a New Morning Routine
The term “getting ready” can be such an abstract term. What does it mean to “be ready” for school? We know what we want from our kids, but do they know?
That’s why we need to plan new morning routines with our children. It helps to sit down before school starts and plan out exactly what your child needs to do every morning. Some items on her list can be:
- make her bed
- eat breakfast
- take a shower
- get dressed
- pack lunch
- pack her school bag
- put on shoes
By knowing exactly what needs to get done before she leaves for school, her brain can better plan out the amount of time it will take to get ready.
Get a Few New School Items to Wake Up Kids for School
Do you remember the joy of using a new backpack the first day of school? I remember jumping out of bed because everything I had for school was new and exciting. New school supplies, new undershirts, new clothes…
Our kids feel the exact same way. This school year, my daughter got a new backpack and a few new headbands.
But here’s the parenting ninja part, we don’t allow her to use any of her new items until the first day of school. This creates anticipation and excitement to jump out of bed the first week of school.
Novelty is your friend when trying to get your child back on a decent wake-up schedule.
One word: Breakfast
You can use the same novelty mind trick by letting your child pick out a new breakfast food that she can’t eat until the first week of school. Some ideas:
- a new breakfast cereal
- frozen breakfast sausage
- a different flavor frozen waffle
- Instant oatmeal with brown sugar and raisins
Notice all these are super easy that kids can fix themselves. We don’t need to overcomplicate the mornings by adding one more thing for us to do as parents.
Let Natural Consequences Take Over
At some point during the first week of school, or maybe the second, your child may start sleeping in again. That is completely normal. In fact, I hope for it.
We can only do so much for our kids. While we can help them plan and show them the way to be successful, it’s ultimately up to them. After we’ve set the groundwork, we need to step back.
If your son sleeps in and misses his breakfast, he will feel hungry until lunch. If your daughter doesn’t get out of bed and then lacks the time to brush her hair, she will have a tangled mane the entire school day. Maybe, one of her friends will ask her about it, and she’ll probably feel hurt.
Mistakes are the way we grow. According to Morihei Ueshiba, founder of the martial art Aikido, “Failure is the key to success; each mistake teaches us something.” Mark Manson, author of The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck (which I totally recommend, just get it on your e-reader), “A successful person is just someone who has made more mistakes than you.”
We need to let our kids make these mistakes and feel the consequences. That is the only way we stop nagging. By letting them experience the consequences, our kids will be more self-motivated to get out the door in time.
By providing a groundwork of adjusting their bedtime, making kids aware of expectations and giving morning incentives the first week, we are doing our job as parents to make the transition back to school as easy as possible. Now, it’s up to our kids to take it from here with gentle reminders from us.