by W. Douglas Tynan, Ph.D.
For many families, the return to school means the end of unscheduled days. It means a return to the morning routine of getting up, getting dressed, and eating breakfast, brushing teeth and getting to the bus or school on time with all the stuff - lunch, backpack, homework, gym clothes, band instrument, permission slips, raincoat - a student needs.
Let’s take a look and see what helps. Some of this is obvious, but it helps to review:
#1. Start the night before. Get the clothes laid out and make sure everything is packed for going to school. You don’t have time to do those things in the morning. Make sure all of this is taken care of in the last hour before bedtime. It will save time in the morning and keep them off of electronic media at a critical time. Set an expectation that you will have a great morning the next day, that they will see their friends, that this is a change but a good change.
The sun is setting earlier and it is darker in the evening than in June, so start setting the school bedtime now. No electronics, TV, computer or video for 30 minutes before bedtime. That type of visual stimulation delays sleep for about a half hour. Now is a good time to get the TV out of the bedroom if you have not done it yet. Check all electronics in the kitchen before bed, you don’t want them texting until 2 a.m.
#2. Light up their room in the a.m. To get up in the morning, especially for middle and high school students, it helps if there is some light in the room 10-15 minutes before scheduled wake up time. Light does help start the body’s daytime cycle of wakening. Open the shades and/or turn some lights on a few minutes before it is time to get up.
#3. Make sure they’re up. If you, the parent, need to prompt, shake or holler to get your child out of bed, don’t leave the house until you see that they’re actually up and moving. If you walk away, they may go back to sleep.
#4. Write out a schedule. You may have to put on paper a morning schedule such as “out of bed by 6:45”, “breakfast by 7:00”, “back upstairs to get dressed by 7:20”, “ready to go by 7:30”. Post it on the refrigerator or on their bulletin board. This simply reminds your child about what he or she needs to do between getting up and getting on the bus - a blueprint for a groggy brain.
#5. Refuel them. Don’t skip breakfast, this will cause all kinds of problems by 10 a.m. Cereal and milk, a banana and whole-grain toast, a sandwich, even a piece of fruit and some whole-grain cereal in a zipper-lock bag to take to the bus stop, it’s all good.
#6.Understand that getting back to an early-morning routine is a hard change for kids. Be aware of that, encourage and praise them for getting ready on time. If you do that, they are more likely to be ready on time in the future. If your son or daughter’s having a tough time with early mornings, accept that you may have to set a schedule, stand near them and prompt them - gently - as they move through their get-ready routine. It’s extra work, but worth it. If you let them sleep in and get to school late once or twice, it will be much harder to get back on a schedule in the future.
W. Douglas Tynan, Ph.D., joined Nemours/Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children in 2001 as a clinical psychologist and currently serves as chief psychologist with Nemours Health and Prevention Services, and associate professor of pediatrics at Jefferson Medical College.