Supporting Your Mini Explorer's Sleep as the School Adventures begin.
Hiya, fellow parents and caregivers! As your little ones embark on their exciting journey into the world of preschool (I write this with tears in my eyes and heart strings being pulled) it's only natural for both us and them to experience a mix of emotions. I know we certainly do in our house as we get ready for our eldest to start school next month. One area that might be impacted during this transition is of course sleep. In this article, I'll explore how starting school can affect your pre-schooler’s (soon to be ‘school-er’) sleep and offer some gentle strategies to minimise disruption to sleep and help them (and you) through this period of excitement, nerves, fear and change.
The Impact on Sleep:
Starting school is a big step for pre-schoolers, and just like adults, they might feel a little anxious or excited about it. These emotions can sometimes lead to disrupted sleep patterns. Your child's new routine, with early wake-ups and increased stimulation during the day, might contribute to their sleep being a bit unsettled. But fret not, because with a little understanding and some nurturing strategies, you can help them maintain healthy sleep habits and soon get sleep back on track.
1. Maintain a Consistent Bedtime Routine: We know from research that an age appropriate, soothing and consistent bedtime routine is associated with more sleep (Staples, A. D., Bates, J. E., & Petersen, I. T. , 2015). A soothing bedtime routine can work wonders in calming your child's mind before sleep. Engage in calming activities like reading a book, some gentle stretches, or simple chats about their day. Consistency is key here, as we know that children thrive in predictability and with all this newness, consistency at bedtime will absolutely help. It's also a really lovely opportunity for dedicated, extra focused connection from you.
2. Focus on Connection and communication: In the run up and during the first few months of new school keep communication open and incorporate even more connection time. Make space for discussions about the day, encourage them to talk about their feelings and experiences. Role play with their toys any scenarios you think could be contributing to their worries that might be keeping them up at night. Filial play is an especially powerful tool to use when you think your child might be anxious about something but finds it difficult to put into words how they're feeling. Make dedicated time for these child-cantered play sessions and see if any topics come up that need addressing further. Sometimes just a chat and validation are enough.
3. Involve your mini adventurer in the preparations: As parents we are often on autopilot when it comes to getting things done for our children. BUT it really helps prepare them for new and uncertain things if they can be part of the preparation themselves AND even make their own decisions on things. New pencil case, school uniform; shoe shopping, water bottle - offer limited choices with all these things to give them a sense of autonomy and self confidence. Get them to name stamp their new PE kit and uniform as a fun activity. Read books about starting school – visual aids are often much more impactful at their age than words. Some brilliant books as recommended by Dr Martha: a clinical psychologist specialising in family therapy, are:
4. Encourage Physical Activity: School days are filled with new adventures and activities. And although it's very likely your little one will be exhausted after school, they may still benefit from opportunities for big physical play before bedtime. Whether that’s a run around in the park on the way home or a fun obstacle course in the garden or living room. Being physically tired can be a game changer for bedtime and sleep.
5. Manage you own Expectations: Things take time, and every child is different, it might take a little time for your pre-schooler to adjust to their new schedule. Expect them to be more tired than normal and help navigate that with slightly earlier bedtimes. You may also find they have an explosion of emotions when they get home – this is super normal and very common. You are their safe space, where they feel MOST comfortable. The more we understand why this happens, the better equipped we are to handle it. Having said that it can be A LOT, and in orderto be patient and empathic, you also need to look after yourself and your needs. So fill your own cup to help you make space for the extra comfort and support you’ll offer your little big person.