The end of daylight savings used to be a free hour to use at your will. Now it represents toddler terror both in the mornings and the evenings.
So, how do we prepare for this crazy shift that we are are all about to experience? (PSA: Daylight savings ends at 2am on Sunday November 5th) Or if you're reading this the night before, how do you deal with the crazy if you haven't prepared?
The time we wake in the morning, like any behavior, is influenced by three factors: 1) Routine, 2) Clear expectations, and 3) Reinforcement.
We all thrive on routine. You probably have a predictable bedtime routine for your child, even if it's not intentional. Daylight savings ending is NOT the time to introduce a new routine. Acknowledge your current routine, and commit to sticking to it strictly over the next few weeks. Once your child has adjusted to the new schedule, then you can re-evaluate your routine.
As you approach the big day, start shifting your routine later. This is most effective if you can make one small shift every 3-4 days. We know from research in dealing with jet lag that shifting meals can be a helpful way to naturally shift circadian rhythms. We also know that light therapy and melatonin supplements can also help, but supplements should only be given to your child under a doctor's recommendation. However, using blackout curtains in the morning may help trick your child into sleeping in longer after the upcoming time change. And it is important to limit exposure to electronics for an hour before bed to help children fall asleep faster.
Light therapy aside, my favorite strategy is to shift the big meals. This may mean more snacking during the day, but if you can shift your child's hunger cues an hour later, the sleep patterns will fall in line behind it. It will not be overnight, but small changes can help minimize the crazy.
Start teaching an expectation before making a change, if you can, so you can use it to communicate the expectation more clearly. This strategy can be used with a child as young as 6-months. Even if you can't discuss the expectation or rationalize with your child, by using a consistent symbol to communicate an expectation, you can teach it.
There are lots of products on the market to help with this. Alarm clocks for toddlers that light up or play music when it's ok to get out of bed. These are cute and helpful for sure. But, as one of my life heroes, Alton Brown, has instilled in me: I hate unitaskers.
So, I recommended a programmable outlet timer or WiFi enabled outlet timer. This allows you to plug in a lamp, sound machine, or any electronic device and time it to turn on (a light) or off (a sound machine) at the desired wake time. For my daughter, her sound machine turns off at the time that it is ok to get out of bed.
Of course this doesn't work perfectly. Few children hear an expectation one time and follow it strictly moving forward. We have to teach the expectation. So when your child gets out of bed before the cue, you go put them back in bed without a discussion. Give a brief reminder ("stay in bed till the lamp turns on") and leave. If they are still in a crib you can try leaving them. If your child becomes extremely dysregulated, then you want to offer comfort, but at regular intervals so that the time is controlling the comfort, not their level of dysregulation.
Ok, so fine, this plan makes some sense. But what happens if your child is waking up long before the cue? How many times do you go back in and reset the expectation? Don't worry, I'll get to that...
We want our children to experience natural consequences that will reinforce our teaching. (Quick reminder: reinforcement is a response to a behavior that increases the likelihood of that behavior occurring again). While a contrived reinforcer is sometimes helpful to shape up a natural response (giving your child a treat for staying in bed), this can be difficult or can feel disingenuous. We can often reinforce staying in bed by building success and by shifting our tone. When we go in the room to put our child back in bed, we can have a flat affect and use few words to redirect. We can be consistent in our response so that they learn, regardless of their behavior, our behavior will be predictably the same. Then we can shift our response through praise, excitement, positive tone, cheering... whatever your child loves, when we get them out of bed and they have (somewhat) met our expectations.
Ok, so your child is up a full hour before the cue. Are you really going to get into a power struggle over staying in bed for the next hour? I surely don't have time for that... and I'm likely to not stay neutral after the 20th time going in there...
This is where a WiFi enabled outlet is very helpful. Your child doesn't understand that you can control. So, you can correct them 1-2 times and reset the expectation. Then when you know they are in bed, remotely disable the device (or turn it on, depending on your cue), and go in and praise them for staying in bed when the cue changed. You are able to reinforce them meeting your expectations, even if they didn't quite get to the ideal time.
Finally, when preparing for the time change, prepare your own expectations. It is hard on everyone, give your child some grace. Make small changes, and expect progress to be slower than you want. And know that eventually your child will figure out and accept this new schedule. Consistency, patience, and a little grace are all that is really needed.
As a bonus, the following set of strategies can be applied at any time of year to help adjust the schedule for a too-early riser. Still having trouble keeping your child in bed at night? Is your child struggling with bigger sleep issues? Stay tuned, as we will dive into the sleep research more in depth in an upcoming blog post. In the mean time, KidPRO can help! Contact us to find out more about how we can walk with you through this season.
Keep on smiling