Dr. Wind: My mornings are a disaster! My nine-year-old son and 14-year-old daughter often get up late, skip breakfast, barely make the school bus or miss it altogether. A couple times a week my husband or I end up having to drive one of them to school, and then we are running late the rest of the day. What can we do?
Answer: “Late” is usually a symptom of something else and not a condition by itself. What is going on that has resulted in your children being late so much of the time? Are they getting sufficient sleep? First be sure there are no problems with their sleeping like nightmares, night frights, or insomnia. Children can have sleep problems that require sleep studies or even medication.
More common is a nine-year old who has managed to convince his parents that 8 hours sleep is enough even though 10 is more appropriate for this age.
“But, Mom! Joey and Crystal’s moms let them go to bed at 10:30.” Be firm in communicating that you are not Joey or Crystal’s mom.
One way to deal with the child who habitually goes to bed too late to get started on time in the morning, is to have a written contract with him. It should state that every morning the child is late for breakfast means he goes to bed 15 minutes earlier that night. This makes it a choice the child makes by his actions not by his words, manipulations or whines.
Older children running late can also be suffering from insufficient sleep. If your teenage daughter is doing homework until midnight and then getting up early to make a 6:30 bus, she is going to be exhausted and slow to get up just because she needs more sleep.
You can also contract with your daughter although her contract would need to take her whole schedule into account. She might need to knock 15 to 30 minutes off her afternoon or evening activities in order to get to bed earlier.
Even if your child is in his or her room it does not mean they are sleeping. Many children’s bedrooms today are literally studio apartments with multi-system entertainment units that can prove much more interesting than sleep. If your children are tired or late, then their bedrooms should be stripped down to be just rooms where they sleep. All the distractions should be removed until your children demonstrate that they are rested enough that mornings cease to be chaotic.
Remember at least 9 hours is the ideal sleep time for most teens and at least 10 hours is needed for younger school children. The five to eight hours sleep many of my patients report just doesn’t cut it and adversely affects their short-term memory, reaction times and concentration.
More advice to follow in next time's part-two blog!