By Samuel Brownson and Paulina Razo
With Daylight Savings Time approaching, many already sleep-deprived parents may be dreading the impending change to their child’s sleep routines. While every child is unique and adapts to changes differently, it is good parenting practice to prepare children as much as possible in advance for major transitions and changes to their daily routines. To understand how to do this for the transition to Daylight Savings Time, we explore two main ways the change can impact children’s behavior — loss of sleep and mood changes — and what you can do about it.
When the clocks move forward or backward, children will get less sleep. When adults lose sleep, we usually become lethargic and tired. When children lose sleep, they often exhibit the opposite behavior, becoming more stimulated and thus more dysregulated, particularly around bedtime. In other words, kids paradoxically have a harder time sleeping after not getting enough of it. This also means shorter attention spans in school, lower frustration tolerance, and general irritability at home. Studies show that these effects can last as long as a week after the DST change for some children.
To cope with these changes, going to bed earlier in increments of 15 minutes a week or two before Daylight Savings can gently help younger children adjust to the change. Often, the children’s room is darkened and/or blackout curtains can be used to prep the room. Infant massages and lullabies can support having a child fall asleep. While in bed, they can have a favorite toy as a positive reinforcement. With this, they are not abruptly changed out of their normal sleep routine causing sleepless nights. For children that are a bit older and are in school, there are a bit more options such as picking out a pretty or cool alarm clock, a new stuffed animal, or new pajamas as a motivator to go to bed. Additionally, parental preparation can provide comfort and an opportunity to bond with your child. For instance, picking out a bedtime book about daylight savings and talking about adjustments and/or effects.
If your child has a difficult time separating from you at bedtime, the added dysregulation from the time change may increase your child’s anxiety around transitions. For younger children, this anxiety might look like crying for a caregiver, having a hard time sleeping, and/or being fussy. They may need some extra assurance and comfort from you in the bedtime routine and during routine separations such as school days and caregiver transitions. Just as they are adjusting to the change in their bedtime, they are also needing help adjusting their bodies to changes in mealtime, naps, snacks, and other everyday activities.
Moving nap times 15- 30 minutes earlier can help young children with adjusting his/her sleeping schedule. This can also apply to children that are a little older who still nap. Doing something entertaining with them can help keep them active and distracted if they want to sleep earlier than the scheduled time. It can also support separation when the activity is done.
For changes to everyday routines, structure and consistency can further support your child, and they will gradually start adjusting. Separation anxiety might occur if just this one time “you let it slide.”, It’s dysregulating for a child’s daily routine to be thrown off. Consistency lets the child know that parents follow through with what was said or planned. Furthermore, using phrases like “We are having so much fun, but we have five more minutes before we get ready for bed”. Giving a 5–10-minute warning before ending an activity can support regulation and avoid forceful and/or abrupt transitions.
Each child is unique and will have different and sometimes no reaction to daylight savings. Whatever the outcome is, as a parent, remember to have sympathy and remain calm. Be lenient towards any fussiness or tantrums, as this shows your child is adjusting to the time change. Sometimes, adults are also affected by the change of time so try to put yourselves in your children(s) shoes. Children are not only learning about the world but also time. Also, don’t forget to also take time for yourself to debrief and not resent your child. This is only an adjustment period and not a permanent situation.
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