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Up for School

By Karen Fond

Back to school usually means new clothes, fresh supplies and searching for the backpack. It also means getting up in the morning. Parents of school-age children rate school mornings as one of the most stressful times of the week. Here are some tips to help you and your child get up in the morning and out of the house on time.

Know Your Child's Sleep Personality

Is she a lark who falls asleep soon after dinner and awakens at sunrise, fresh and chirpy? Or is he an owl who can read until midnight and then is a grouch to wake up? The need for sleep, along with mood and activity patterns, is an inborn trait that is part of a child's individual temperament. More active children may only need 8 to 10 hours of sleep per night while less active ones usually sleep 10 to 12 hours.

Establish an Evening Routine

An established evening routine is essential to morning organisation. Routines help children know what is expected of them, predict the sequence of events and feel more positively about themselves as they follow the set patterns.

Establish an evening checklist with your child. Along with brushing teeth, reading a story and setting the alarm, include preparations for the morning. Lay out clothes and shoes for the next day, choose a breakfast, make a lunch and ready her backpack for school. Designate a place, like a kitchen chair or next to the front door, where your child consistently sets her backpack so that it is ready to grab in the morning.

Set an Alarm

Children may hear the alarm but sleep through it, especially if they are in deep sleep. Adults are more easily aroused in dream sleep phases, which occur more often in the morning. A likely explanation for "wake-up resistance" is that children do not understand the consequences of sleeping late until they learn self-responsibility.

Five to seven-year-olds are concrete thinkers who can understand numbers. At this age, children can learn simple time management when behaviours are associated with specific times, but they still need adults to structure the routine. Eight to twelve-year-olds can understand concepts like time and cause and effect so they begin to demonstrate more responsibility.

Do a Practice Run

The week before school starts, do several test runs of your evening-to-morning routine, from putting your child to bed earlier to arriving at the school. Note the amount of time each evening and morning routine requires. A practice run helps you identify and troubleshoot unanticipated glitches. It can also determine your ideal and less than ideal time frames so you know what can and cannot be accomplished. Involve your child in these practice runs by quizzing her on the sequence of events and asking her which task comes next.

Teach Responsibility

Being responsible for getting to bed and getting up is learning to care for one’s self. Knowing what to do, doing it and gaining self-respect from accomplishing it, paves the way for independence. By Years 5 to 7, children can learn to take over the evening checklist, putting themselves to bed, getting up in the morning and out of the house on time. Parents can lead the way with well-defined checklists, consistent routines and positive reinforcement for tasks well done.


 

Karen Fond is a pediatric nurse practitioner in the Department of Pediatrics at the University of California, Los Angeles, who learns daily from parents who ask all kinds of questions about their children.