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Joyful Musings--a weekly blog

Joyful Parenting Coaching is focused on clarity, consistency, connection, being an effective parent, finding balance as a parent, and above all being a confident and joyous parent. Topics include communication, having difficult conversations, having constructive conversations, chores, routines, family meetings,  I teach parent education and parenting classes because parenting is a skill—not something we are born knowing. Get the parenting skills you need today!


Elisabeth Stitt

What are some bad sleep habits elementary school, tweens and teens have?

•Having their phones in their rooms with them.  Yes, a smart phone makes a good alarm, but not if kids are texting and checking social media all night, so better to get your child a conventional alarm clock.  

•Going fully speed ahead right up until bed time.  People need wind down time.  Just as when they were babies or toddlers, kids should have a routine that calms and soothes.

•Varying their bedtimes by a lot.  While the occasional late night can’t be avoided, sleep experts agree going to bed at around the same time every night is helpful.

•Trying to make up for lost sleep during the week by sleeping until noon on Saturday.  

How can parents help their elementary school, tweens and teens break bad sleeping habits?

A big issue here is that parents really aren’t aware of how much sleep their kids actually need, so education is the first step.  Since the recommended ranges are pretty broad (according to sleep  between 7-12 hours “may be appropriate” for kids school aged to teen), I have parents rate their kids a) on how independently their kids get themselves up, b) what their kids’ moods are and c) have the children self report whether/when they feel sleepy at school or during the day.  If kids are getting themselves up in a good mood and not feeling sleepy during the day, getting as few as 7 hours a night may well be appropriate for that child.  

       If, on the other hand, the cild struggles to get up, is really grumpy in the mornings, or self reports struggling to stay awake during the day, it is safe to say no matter his age, the child needs more sleep.  Once you have observed and rated your child for a week, it is much easier to go to her and make the argument that she needs more sleep, and it is your job as her parent to help her structure her life so she gets it.  I would start with adding an hour of sleep to whatever she is currently getting.  

Identify what is contributing to their bad sleep habits.

    Once your children are more or less on board with the idea of getting more sleep, identify what is contributing to their bad sleep habits

 If your kids have their phone in their room with them at night and it is pinging at them all night, that is an easy place to start.  Dock and charge the phone in a central place like the kitchen.  

If teens and tweens are climbing into bed with their adrenalin running high, the first place to look is their overall schedule.  Many kids are just doing too much.  Let’s just look at the math.  The recommendation for teens is that they get between 8 to 10 hours asleep.  So if your teen goes to bed at 10:00 p.m. and sleeps 9 hours, that means he is getting up at 6:00 a.m.  If school starts at 8:00, for most kids that should be enough time to get up, dress, shower, eat and travel to school.  (If your child has a 0 period and has to be at school closer to 7:00, that suggests that bedtime is going to have to be closer to 9:00!)   

Now, for the sake of argument, let’s say your kid has soccer from 3:00 to 5:00.  On a good day he is home by 5:30, but Mondays he has piano until 6:30, and with dinner at 7:00 there really isn’t time to do more than unpack his backpack, go to the bathroom and help set the table.  By the time he has cleared the table it is 7:45 and he still really hasn’t had a break today, so while you might think he should settle down to do his homework, he simply doesn’t have the bandwidth, so he fools around for an hour so.  At this rate, it is pushing 9:00 by the time he starts his homework.  Clearly, he is  then going to stay up too late doing his homework because there just isn’t time to do it earlier in the day.  

Parents grossly underestimate the amount of downtime kids need after they have been focusing at school all day long.

Parents might argue that kids aren’t using their time wisely (which might be true), but I find that parents grossly underestimate the amount of downtime kids need after they have been focusing at school all day long.  Many kids are not going to be able to handle a full day off classes, followed by an crammed afternoon of sports or activities and then be able to knuckle right down to their studies.  They need time to hang out and decompress before they start their homework.  The problem with that is they start their homework late and they then need to decompress from homework before they can actually fall asleep.  It is especially important to remember that while sports and activities might be really fun, they are generally still structured, high energy activities.  Unless it is something like a youth group where participants show up and hang out or play whatever games they feel like, it really isn’t down time.  

Often, the only solution is to cut something out of a kid's schedule.  Interestingly, to really get their needs met when revising the schedule, it can help kids if they put the hour of downtime in their calendar first as a non-negotiable.  Sometimes if kids know they are absolutely going to have an hour to just chill, they find themselves using their other time more efficiently.  It is when they feel that they are always going to have too much to do that their need to procrastinate pulls strongly at them.  

Create a soothing wind-down routine.  

Once your child’s schedule actually opens up, it is reasonable to ask him to create a soothing wind-down routine.  He should have at least 30 minutes before lights out, away from electronics, to do his ablutions and then be in his room with a quiet activity such as reading or drawing.  Even with teens this can be a good time for a parent to come in for a quiet talk about the day.  Or I used to lie on my daughter’s bed and read my book while she read her book, which gave us close physical proximity that our busy lives didn’t allow for the rest of the day.  

Let’s work the evening math backwards:

10:00Lights out

9:30   Ablutions/wind down

7:30-9:30 Homework

7:00-7:30 Dinner

6:00-7:00 FREE TIME

5:30-6:00 Home from school

3:30-5:30 Sports

If all your child has is soccer practice every afternoon, this is probably a reasonable schedule.  But what about on game days?  That can mean long travel times and coming home an hour or two later.  Most parents think it is the free time that should then be cut out.  But for your child’s well being, it really doesn’t work that way.  If he has been in a high stimulating environment (like school, then a game and then a noisy bus ride), he really needs time to (as one parent expressed it to me) inspect his navel.  Whether he actually sets aside the hour or wastes an hour on and off getting distracted in the middle of doing his homework, your child’s need to do something NOT on the school/activity checklist is real and important to acknowledge.  Without this downtime, he won’t fully recharge.

If you are keeping your child to one activity—even accounting for some late games or rehearsals—she is probably doing pretty well.  But what about piano lessons and practice?  And girl scouts?  And working on the float for the homecoming parade?  As soon as you add in more things, it is usually sleep that suffers. 

Parents are the gatekeepers.  This is the time to train your kids in balance and self care.  If you sacrifice sleep while buying into the whole getting into college rat race, chances are you are setting your child up for a life time of being chronically sleep deprived.  

Why is sleep so important for elementary school, tweens and


      My favorite quote on this is, " A teenager with two hours less sleep than he needs is functioning at the same level as someone with a 0.05 blood alcohol level – like someone who has had two beers.”  (  We would never approve a child drive drunk yet we let our sleep deprived children stay up in the name of their education, despite researchers’ good understanding that it is in deep sleep where we full process and store the information we have learned that day.  

The arguments for why  it is so important for kids to get sleep are the same as for adults but even more so because their bodies are experiencing more changes.  

This is a critical place for you to be a leader in your family (and, of course, a model!).