PARENTS

Establishing A Bedtime Routine

14/08/2014 17:02 | Updated 20 May 2015

Sleep

It's nine o' clock and your seven-year-old is still refusing to go to bed. Or she has gone to bed and is now on the landing - again.

If, like many parents, you struggle to maintain regular bedtimes you can take some comfort in not being alone: one in three children does not have a regular bedtime.

How does this impact on family life? You rarely have any time alone with your partner, so you end up texting each other the next day about everything you forgot to discuss the night before, and your child goes to school feeling very tired and grumpy.

But longer term, a disorderly home life contributes significantly to under achievement, because children fail to learn that organisation and planning are part of the requirements for success - as well as being unable to stay awake in lessons!

Apart from the obvious fact that your child can be too tired to learn, a disorganised home life establishes a pattern which, according to Dr Pat Spungin, a child psychologist, impacts on a child's ability to plan homework and have good time management.

Tired children can be a disruptive influence in a class. It only takes one or two children in a class of 30 to create havoc.

There are some parents who believe that children will go to bed when they are tired. But what often happens is that these children end up so tired - who wants to go to bed when it's much more fun being with the grown ups - that they cat-nap during the day. This might be endearing when a four-year-old suddenly flops and has a nap mid-afternoon in the corner of the lounge, but it's not fun for anyone if they doze off during a lesson on phonics.

So what happens in your house? Off to bed sharp at 8pm, or still running around at 10pm? Julia, who has established a routine, describes what happens in her house.

"We have a bedtime routine which isn't completely fixed in stone but my daughters, aged 7 and 11, don't like it if they do not have reading time. My partner Dan and I take turns when possible to do bedtimes. The girls get into their pyjamas, we read together, they clean their teeth, snuggle in, then we sing a particular song to each (Dan and I have a special song each for each child). On the very rare occasion there are any problems or arguments about going to bed, they have lost reading time, which they hate. They both sleep until 7am. Without sleep, they are very grumpy!"

Alice, who has three children aged seven, five and two, agrees that parents have to be strict about bedtimes. "What works for us is no backing down. We got them used, at a very early age, to going to bed. If they got up they were put back to bed - silently, no chatting, no discussion, don't engage them, just take them by the hand back to bed. Don't give in if they cry or beg- and there is no negotiation. At first it takes persistence but then after just a few weeks, their behaviour pattern is set and it's really worth it."

It sounds quite easy- but just to make sure, I asked Kids' Coach Naomi Richards for her advice, which shows that Julia and Alice are doing the right thing.

"If your child gets out of bed then you need to sit outside their door and when they come out coax them back into bed without too much conversation. To avoid the tantrums you can get them to add in their thoughts about bedtime – would they perhaps like to play a game before bed, make up stories with you, read a book together. Bedtime needs to be calm and relaxing and enjoyable. When bedtime is fun, your child will want to please you and go to bed."

So the answer to organised bedtimes it seems is be prepared for some pain initially, but persevere. You'll not only be helping your child's education, but teaching them, as Dr Spungin explained, "Life lessons, by covert means."

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