Dr. Dana Johnson: Adjust Child’s Sleep Schedule Before School Starts

Article by Dr. Dana Johnson, pediatrician at Meriter McKee Clinic. The article was featured in the Wisconsin State Journal on July 26, 2012

Dear Dr. Johnson: My son has always taken long afternoon naps since he was a baby. At day care, the class rests together in the afternoon and my son has continued his two-hour nap. He heads to all-day kindergarten in the fall and I’m wondering about the best way to wean him from his long naps.

Dear Reader: No matter how much we may want to deny it (maybe our children more than us), the beginning of the school year is quickly approaching. There are school supplies to be purchased, forms to be completed and backpacks to be packed.

There are several other steps you can take to begin preparing your children for the upcoming school year. This transition can be especially important for kindergartners.

There will be many changes children have to adjust to once school starts, but try to avoid a new sleep schedule as one of them. A good night’s rest is important for your child’s mood, behavior and ability to learn.

Determine what time your child will have to be awakened in the morning to have sufficient time to get ready for school and eat a nutritious breakfast. Then work backward based on how many hours of sleep he needs at night to determine the appropriate bedtime.

If this bedtime is earlier than his current bedtime, adjust the bedtime earlier by 10-15 minutes every couple of nights until reaching the goal bedtime. Begin waking him up at the time needed for school, so you are on the school schedule routine several weeks before school starts.

When it comes to naptime, some 5-year-olds do still need an afternoon nap. Many kindergarten classes offer an afternoon rest time. Find out ahead of time what your child’s classroom schedule will be by calling the school this summer. That way you can begin to mimic this schedule.

If there is not a nap time or if it is shorter than his usual naptime, he may benefit from napping after getting home from school. Use the coming weeks to slowly adjust to this schedule by shortening the nap or moving it later. Even children who haven’t napped in years may need a nap or rest time after school as they transition to the activities and demands of the kindergarten day.

Don’t forget to talk with optimism and excitement about the upcoming school year. Your child will follow your lead. If he is nervous or scared, provide reassurance that there will be help to solve any problems that may arise. If offered, take advantage of any opportunities to tour the school or meet his teacher ahead of time.

Last but not least, if your child has not had a well-child check within the last year, get this scheduled. At the appointment, any needed immunizations can be given and any issues that may affect your child’s ability to learn can be discussed and evaluated.

Enjoy the remainder of the summer and a great start to the school year.

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