Gradual Adjustment Is Key To Your Child’s Behavior – And Your Sanity – This Time Of Year

Children are creatures of habit and thrive on routine.  As parents, we do our best to keep things consistent for our child’s well-being – and for our own sanity.

The slightest change in a child’s routine can lead to irritability, interruption of sleep, and all-out temper tantrums.

And this time of year, there is one unavoidable disruption to our kids’ schedules that can cause days, or even weeks, of family upheaval – all because of one little hour!

As we approach the end of Daylight Savings Time, we often think we will enjoy the bliss of one extra hour of sleep as we “fall back.”  But, alas, if you have kids, you’re probably in for a few rough days as they adjust to this shift in routine.

There are ways to minimize this disruption in the family’s schedule – and to prevent the whining and irritability that comes along with it.

Today reported on how one little hour can make such a drastic impact:

“Your internal clock will not shift as rapidly as you can turn the dial on your alarm clock,” [says one sleep expert]. “It doesn’t move that fast. It’s like a turtle, and this one hour is much more than the internal clock is designed to handle. It’s too abrupt.”

The failure to adjust the internal clock can hurt mood, emotions, the immune system, stress levels, memory, learning and coping ability, among other things.

“The timing of wake and sleep is very important for our overall physical health and mental health.  It affects every mechanism in our body.”

So what’s a parent to do twice a year when all of our planning and discipline to establish routines is sabotaged by the clock?

By making slight adjustments to our child’s routine for the few days leading up to the time change, parents can help make the transition a little easier – on their kids and themselves.

First and foremost is to gradually adjust bedtime and wake time by short increments.  Beginning several days out, put the little ones to bed a few minutes later, and wake them those few minutes earlier each day, adding five to ten minutes per day until an adjustment of an hour has been made.

Changes in sleep routines are most noticeable in infants and young toddlers, and younger children are more dependent on their parents to help with sleep and wake transitions.

The effect of the time change will also depend on your child’s personality.  The more sensitive a child is to change in routine, the more important it will be to prepare beforehand.  Some kids will just “roll with it,” while some will have a meltdown.  Know your child and work within their tolerance level.

Parents Magazine suggests some other ways to cope with the yearly time change:

Dim the lights:  Melatonin is a hormone that helps regulate your body’s internal circadian clock. It increases in the evening as it becomes dark, which helps induce sleep, and shuts down when it’s light out, which can then increase wakefulness and alertness. The end of daylight savings time throws that natural cycle out of whack a bit, and that can be particularly difficult for kids.

When daylight saving time ends, the key is making sure your child doesn’t go to bed too early or wake up earlier than she already does (what parent wants that?) So when you “fall back,” make sure your child has some light exposure in the early evening and ensure that her room isn’t too bright in the morning.

Stick with a routine:When daylight saving time begins or ends, it’s especially important to stick with a bedtime routine, as your child is now dealing with a change in schedule that might throw him off. “For young children, it’s absolutely critical that they have a routine during bedtime. “That’s what helps create a powerful signal for sleep.”

Be sympathetic:  In the days following daylight saving time, try to be more forgiving if your child is throwing extra temper tantrums and seems to be particularly frustrated or difficult in any way. “The time change can cause such short-term changes in your child’s mood, but your understanding and support will help him or her adjust a little better.”

And it is also important to apply these tips to Mom and Dad, as well.  We are all affected by a change in routine and our sleep patterns.  The more well-rested we are, the more patient we can be to help our little ones through this transition.

This year, we set our clocks back an hour at 2 am on Sunday, November 5th.  It may be helpful to plan a low-key day at home that day to allow for an adjustment period for the whole family.

While it may seem insignificant, this one-hour change can have some serious impact!  Be patient and understanding, and you will be back on track in no time.

Do you adjust your child’s routine prior to a time change?  What are some of your tips?  Leave us your thoughts in the comments section.

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