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The 2 Most Important Times of Your Kids’ Day

January 31, 2020
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How your kids start the day and finish the day have more to do with setting them up for either their best or less than their best than just about anything else. I believe when they get up and start their day, and when they end their day and go to bed are the two most important times in their day. They don’t know this, and unless somebody’s pitched the idea to you before, I’m guessing you didn’t know this. I was in my 50’s before I picked up on it. My kids were all up and grown and building their own lives and families by that time. I wish I’d known this when they were little. So I’m passing this along so you can maybe get much better use of the information than I got to have with it.

For a lot of families, bedtime and get-up time are battle zones. Sometimes, getting kids (especially when they’re little) ready for bed and actually in bed is a full-out battle royal. Most kids fight tooth and toenail to stay up later. By the time they’re tucked in, you’re tuckered out. I have dim memories of this. It’s a rare kid who asks to go to bed early, and then gets themselves ready. We had one, but I think she was 1 in a 1000. (Actually, she’s 1 in a 1,000,000, and for way more reasons than that she liked early bedtime. Jenny, you rock!)

I was the kid who hated getting up. I still do. I don’t remember not liking bedtime, but I do remember how hard it was to get up. I still have to force myself to get out of the warm cocoon of our bed every morning. My dear mom should have made me get an alarm clock and be responsible for my own rising, but she was my alarm clock. It wasn’t a hostile battle, but it was always a battle, every morning.

So I have personal experience with the morning and evening battles. If these two times of day are no problem for you and your kids, then give Glory to God and go on to the next thing on your to-do list. If not, read on.

Something I encounter in my work with families is homes that have no real bedtime. Kids stay up late, and go to bed at random times, keeping adult hours. Sometimes the TV sets the schedule for bedtime. There are some problems with this. There are a few things the TV does well. Setting bedtime isn’t one of them.

I’m not an advocate of rigid early bedtime, but I am an advocate of generally early bedtime. Our bodies renew themselves through sleep. And the younger the person is, the more sleep they need, because there’s much for their body to create and renew. Remember how your newborn slept pretty much all the time (except when you need to sleep…)? This wasn’t because they were lazy. It was because God created their internal clock to give them maximum sleep so that the literally billions of things that have to happen in a newborn’s body can happen.

Your kids need more sleep than you probably think they do. The truth is YOU need more sleep than you think you do. No duah. No, really. Reliable scientific studies affirm that we’re a sleep-deprived society. Believe it or not, the science is that you need about 8 hours of sleep each night on a regular basis. I know, you’d like to get 8, but the universe doesn’t’ seem to cooperate. I also know people who don’t seem to need 8. How I envy these people. I have one friend who can be spot-on with 5 or 6 house of sleep. He is an anomaly. This is not normal.

You kids need more sleep than you do. Check this link out for the science and recommendations of pediatricians: https://www.aap.org/en-us/about-the-aap/aap-press-room/Pages/American-Academy-of-Pediatrics-Supports-Childhood-Sleep-Guidelines.aspx

When you click on the link, you’ll see that 10 hours of sleep isn’t extravagant. Your teen will never like the idea that then need that much sleep, but they need between 8 and 10 hours.

If you and your kids are going to get the sleep recommended, I can almost guarantee you’ll have to go to bed earlier than you normally do. Just run it back on the clock. When do you and they need to get up in the morning? OK, just run it back on the clock the number of hours you need to get the amount of sleep they (and you) need. It will probably be earlier than you’re shutting things down now. And at first, if you decide to let this math tell you when you should shut things down and put your kids to bed, this new schedule will NOT be easy to engineer. So fasten your seat belt. The ride will get bumpy.

If your kids are young, you just need to set the limits and boundaries, and then enforce them. If your kids aren’t in school yet, the odds are good that they can’t tell time (and probably have a pretty bad sense of the passing of time), so don’t try to explain the math I’ve written about here. Just 15 minutes before the new bedtime tell them, “You’ve got 15 minutes, and then it’s bedtime.” And then 15 minutes later, you gather them, work with them to put up whatever they’ve been playing with, and take them to bed. Endure their protests and fits. You can do it.

If your kids are older and can tell time, you’ll need to be very direct and courageous with the new bedtime thing. This will be more effective if both Mom and Dad stand together on it, if that’s possible. Don’t make it a Good Cop/Bad Cop thing, though. Just stand in agreement. Have a meeting with the family at the kitchen or dining table, and say something like, “OK. I’ve done some research about sleep, and we’re not getting enough of it. So we’re going to change some of the things we do about it. Because science says you need 10 hours of sleep, we’re going to change our bedtime.” And then you tell them the time that will be.

If you have older grade school and teenage kids, this is where you’ll probably feel the oxygen suck out of the room and protests begin, so be prepared. But you don’t have to defend your stance. This isn’t a negotiation. You’re likely to get dozens of reasons why they should be able to stay up later than you wan them to. They’ll probably tell you they’re not a baby anymore. They’ll probably give you a boatload of examples of how their friends don’t have to go to bed this early.

Here’s what I suggest you say when these things come up. “I see what you’re talking about. We’re going to do it this way.”

But what about homework?! What about sports?! Well, yes, there will be times when we’ll have exceptions, but generally, this is going to be our bedtime.

But what about that awesome show on TV that I’m addicted to?! Well, that’s what the DVR is for.

Whatever age your kids are, they should have some input into the discussion at the family meeting. But unless their input is compelling (in the sense that it’s related to reality, not emotion), their input doesn’t equal a deciding vote. Give them a chance to talk. Don’t condemn or shame them. Listen. But remain firm.

By the way, if you’re going to lose an hour of your evening due to an earlier bedtime, you’re going to want to plan your evenings better. You’ll want to make decisions about TV watching and video game playing that will fit into a shorter timeline. But do this ahead of time. As the parent, you have the responsibility of helping your kids figure out how to choose well in these things. You’ll create unnecessary conflict if you wait until the kid’s up to their neck in a video game or into the intensity of the plot in their TV show to pull the plug and make them go to bed. You don’t need to make this earlier bedtime a punishment. But if you don’t plan it well, it will feel like a punishment to your kids. And you already know that if that happens, they’ll find a way to punish you for it.

With teens, it’s harder and easier. Harder because they have more homework and more outside commitments, and will offer more adamant arguments. Not a lot easier, but a little easier because you can reason with them more on an adult level. The key on this is to stay calm. Refuse to argue. They may try to make it personal and ugly. Just keep breathing deeply and stand your ground.

A huge piece of this thing is that it’s an opportunity to teach your kids how to steward and manage their lives well. This doesn’t make it not a problem. Rest assured, you shortening their evening is going to be a problem. But if you do this thing right, you can help your child intentionally shape discipline into their life. And that’s a really good thing that will pay off in hundreds of ways down the line.

Here’s a tip: remind them what the new bedtime is early in the day. If your kids are grade school age, remind them at breakfast. You might want to ask, “What time is bedtime tonight?”

If they’re older, you can be more subtle and creative. But a reminder that there’s a new bedtime is still a good thing for them, as long as you don’t rub their noses in it. If you do that, you deserve what you get back from them.

Most sleep-deprived people don’t know they’re sleep-deprived. You kids probably don’t. One of the things sleep deprivation does is make you cranky. So be prepared for the fact that crankiness at the front end will be part of the deal. But the payoff that comes once this thing becomes a new rhythm is really good. I’d almost say it’s worth the headache of the bumpy ride through the process. But I don’t know your kids, so I won’t make that as a promise.

There’s one more benefit of early bedtimes worth mentioning. If your kids go to bed 30 minutes or an hour earlier, you’ll have 30 minutes or an hour more time to decompress from your day. You might be able to go to bed 30 minutes or an hour earlier. You might have time to watch your favorite TV show. Or read. Or just sit quietly and stare off into space. Or better yet, rediscover your spouse after the kids go to bed. Just a thought.

From → Marriage, Parenting

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