The York mother of two has been an educator for 23 years. She is the head of lower school for York Country Day. Before that, Miller worked as a public and private school teacher.
Despite department stores selling back-to-school supplies in July, the first week of school always seems to sneak up on students and teachers alike. A summer of sleeping in late, forgetting about bedtimes and eating breakfast closer to lunchtime packs a nasty punch of fatigue, grumpiness and misbehavior when the school bell rings.
“I feel like adults go through the same process that children do just getting our brains back into the same mindset,” Miller said.
But planning ahead, being the rule-enforcer and staying positive is your child’s best bet to a successful school year.
“I think the one important thing is that we as parents are our children’s first teachers,” Miller said. “Whatever we can do to get our children prepped and ready for school is a valued partnership.”
Help them grow
A good night’s sleep doesn’t just get a child ready to learn at school.
Dr. George Robinson II, a sleep disorder specialist with WellSpan Lung, Sleep and Critical Care, pointed out an oft-neglected benefit of sleep.
“Did you ever notice that kids over the summer grew? They grew because they slept,” he said.
Extra snooze time means a child’s brain has a chance to develop, muscles have an opportunity to strengthen and bones get to grow. It’s vital, and it’s too often pushed aside by children and adults, Robinson said.
Well-rested children behave better, grow faster and are often healthier. Studies have shown that teenagers who get extra sleep are safer drivers.
But how can you get your kids to sleep more?
“Sometimes you can sell it,” Robinson said. Tell an academic child that deep sleep consolidates memory, translating to doing better on exams. Tell an aspiring athlete that sleep allows muscles to grow. Tell a lovesick teen that his brain will work better — and impress his crush — with adequate sleep.
For parents of younger children, things might be a bit easier — even as simple as turning out the light.
“The thing about kindergartners is, they wake up in the morning,” Robinson said. “In general, all you have to is get them in the bed when they need to be in bed. Most of the time they take care of the rest.”
Get into the groove
Bedtime routines are hugely important for children, especially those who have trouble with sleep or transitions, said Dr. Allison Wawer of Springdale Pediatrics in Red Lion.
Try to keep something consistent and steady for them to fall back on like a rote memory, she suggested.
Remember: You’ll be doing this all year, so make it something that suits everyone in the family. And maybe pare it down to three steps instead of 12.
“The hardest part is that some of the kids want to drag on the routine and further delay the bedtime,” Wawer said. “Find a happy medium.”
- About an hour before bedtime, turn off electronics and begin less stimulating activities. Maybe that’s the time for a bath, a story, listening to relaxing music and lowering the lights.
- Once a bedtime and routine is figured out, implement it.
- Start off sending the children to bed 15 to 20 minutes earlier. A few days later, move it back even further.
- Wake your kids up 15 to 20 minutes earlier each day. Get them used to waking earlier as well as going to bed earlier.
How much sleep?
The amount of sleep a child needs varies with age. In general, school-aged children need 10 to 12 hours of shut eye, Wawer said.
“It’s a lot of time,” she said. “As they get a little older, they go from that 10 working toward 8. Still, most people need more sleep than everyone thinks.”
While a high school senior might need fewer hours than his kindergarten-aged brother, he’s likely still sleep deprived.
“The real problem is, school starts too early and kids want to stay up too late,” Robinson said.
He suggests letting teens sleep in an hour later on Saturdays to catch up. Maybe pare that down to 30 minutes longer on Sunday so they’ll go to bed on time Sunday night.
Another issue is the prevalence of caffeine. Pay attention to what your child is consuming.
“If your kid’s drinking three Red Bulls a day, the answer is not another Red Bull. It’s get another hour of sleep,” he said.
“The only thing we can do as parents is be aggressive and vigilant about getting the kids to bed,” Robinson said. “They need to rest. They need it for their brains.”