With school once again in session, nourishing, restorative sleep is essential for children. Insufficient sleep is easy to overlook as the cause of our child’s “mis”-behavior. School is demanding, particularly at the start of a new fall semester, and even more exhausting for preschool, kindergarten and first-grade children, who are adjusting to new expectations, schedules and rules. No amount of parenting agility works with a child suffering from sleep deprivation. Grumpy, uncooperative days are certainly not enjoyable — for child, parent, or teacher.

The first step to peace, cooperation and happiness is adequate sleep. Although each child’s respective development, temperament, and environment are all considerations in behavior, we might overlook what’s most important for her well-being. Studies reveal children are now sleeping significantly less than just thirty years ago. Screen-time stimulation, increased homework, and parents’ work schedules can compromise healthy sleep patterns. Research indicates chronic poor sleep may also undermine children’s brain development, learning abilities, and attention. When our child lacks needed sleep, meltdowns, irrational behavior, and refusal to listen may result. Certainly, we all can admit we have less energy, less flexibility and less patience without adequate sleep.

One mom’s story: After several nights of waking numerous times for her sick child, she awakened to find her children fighting. Navigating blurry-eyed to the kitchen, she was not ready to start the day. After challenges with her children while waiting for the school bus, she collapsed in tears at home. Later that day, she realized how impaired she was after being deprived of sleep. She better understood the impact on her children when their sleep patterns are disrupted, reflecting on how difficult they are whenever their sleep has been compromised. In children, sleep deprivation often leads to an increase in sibling battles, power struggles, and resistance at bedtime.

Children need specific amounts of sleep to function well: infants require 14 to 16 hours within a 24-hour period; toddlers, 13 or more hours; preschoolers, 12 or more; school-age children, over 10 hours; and adolescents, 9 or more. Thus, it’s hardly surprising that many children suffer from sleep deprivation. Parents lament there aren’t sufficient hours for all the activities and needs that challenge required sleep time. Many families report morning separations rife with tension, followed by regret for a parting that was far from loving.

We don’t always see what’s staring right at us when our child is out of control, refusing to cooperate, seemingly bursting with energy. How easily we can overlook the connection between challenging behavior and sleep loss, instead thinking that our child is being manipulative or that other factors are causing the problem.

No amount of reasoning or negotiation will erase the impact of insufficient rest. Although parents can sometimes function with a few nights’ lack of sleep, children are adversely affected by even one night of sleep loss. To ensure optimal school success, prioritize calming bedtime rituals and nourishing sleep. Sweet dreams....

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