Everyone is experiencing something like never before. Parents are home; kids are home; parents are trying to work; kids are trying to attend school; and through it all, everyone is home all together nearly 24 hours a day. Parents and kids are both trying to do their best to occupy themselves with their free time when they would normally be going out and playing sports, shopping, and seeing family and friends. Even though there are many resources and free activities that can be done via the internet (see these resources here if you’re looking for some), your children are likely having more down time and less activity. This is not designed to be negative toward parents, on the contrary, parents everywhere are stepping up to help their kids at a time when they have more expectations on themselves than ever. You’re doing a great job!
Considering the amount of time kids and families are home and the extra down time they’re most likely having, one of the things your child may be experiencing is difficulty sleeping. If your child was always a good sleeper, they may now be having difficulty falling asleep, experiencing waking up at night, or waking up too early for the day. Even though these things seem out of your control, there are things that you can do to help your child sleep better.
To combat sleeping problems, the first thing to do would be to keep steady on your child’s nighttime routine. A nighttime routine should be a routine your child follows prior to bed every night. This routine will consist of brushing their teeth, getting on pajamas, reading a nighttime book, and any other calming activities that get your child ready for bed. If you do not have a consistent bedtime routine, start one as soon as possible. This may help your child sleep more consistently and fall asleep easier, not only during this challenging time, but in the future as well. Consider making the nighttime routine a bit earlier or later depending on the behaviors your child is displaying as their typical bedtime approaches. If they seem tired earlier than usual, start the nighttime routine at an earlier time. If they are having difficulty falling asleep and don’t seem tired at their usual bedtime, consider pushing the nighttime routine back a bit to better match their sleep schedule.
If your child is waking up overnight when they don’t usually, it could be the same factors at play that would be causing them to have difficulty falling asleep. If they wake up overnight, get up and come into your bed, and sleep there the rest of the night and that works for you and your family, that is okay. This is a scary, new, and challenging time for everyone so this might be your child’s way to cope with the stresses they may be feeling. If your child wakes up and you prefer they don’t come into your bed or they just aren’t able to fall back asleep on their own, there are also a few steps you can take. When they wake up overnight, if they aren’t able to fall back asleep on their own, go into their room and try your best to have them remain in their bed. Calm them in a way that works for your child, such as patting their back or singing a lullaby. Once they are calm, leave the room prior to them falling asleep so they can continue to self-soothe and put themselves back to sleep.
For kids who are waking up much earlier than usual for the day, such as 5 or 5:30 am, there are also things you can do to help them. Once you have a consistent nighttime routine at a time that works for your child, it may help them to sleep until a more appropriate time in the mornings. However, if it doesn’t, sometimes an ‘okay to wake’ alarm can be useful to help children sleep to a later time. This is a visual reminder that will turn from red to green, with green indicating it’s okay to wake up and get out of bed. If you don’t currently have an okay to wake alarm, you can use a different light in your house, such as the hallway light outside of your child’s room. When the hallway light is turned on, they can get out of bed; when it’s off, they need to stay in bed. Staying in bed will likely help them fall back asleep as well.
Whichever method you use to work through sleep issues with your child, remember to provide a lot of reinforcement, including positive praise, extra attention, and a special breakfast treat or snack. If you’re interested in a further explanation of any of the above procedures, please view additional blogs on these topics and full trainings on these topics offered here. Also, remember to be kind and patient with yourself. It’s okay if your child needs you more right now. Even if you develop a few habits during this time that you may want to break after your kids return to school and we resume our normal schedules, it’s okay! We will be able to help you when that time comes.