7 Time Change Strategies…..

I realized this week that we gain an extra hour of sleep next weekend as we fall back into daylight savings time.  I couldn’t be more excited as a working adult.  However, when you are a parent it sometimes doesn’t quite work  out to an extra hour of sleep…….  So for those of us who are parents and especially those of us who are parents of a child with special needs what should be an event partnered with anticipation is often fueled with dread….  Last year at this time I wrote an article on time change and wanted to update it and share again….

For many adults and children sleep is problematic, it may be caused from our busy schedules, the lack of exercise or the foods we eat…. But most everyone has something in common…..  they are tired…..  In order to achieve sleep, one must be able to self regulate, meaning they have the ability to regulate or control their emotions, thoughts, focus and behaviors.  Unfortunately many adults and children especially those with special needs have deficits in this area which can be cause for their impending issues with sleep.  Adding a time change to an already struggling sleeper can be  challenging at best. Young children through school age are continuously developing their sleep routines and patterns. However your neurotypical child will adjust to the time change within a couple of days to a week. Some children with special needs, especially those with Autism may need weeks or even months to adjust to the change.

In children with autism in particular, the time change can be even more problematic. For children on the spectrum, routines or rituals are highly valued. A breakdown or change in these routines can often cause high levels of anxiety and displays of socially unacceptable behaviors. Therefore the changes in time are very difficult for the child with autism to adjust too. It leaves the individual feeling anxious and out of control of their own daily environment. Unfortunately, the change of time does not only affect their sleep, but their appetite, their attention span, mood and behavior.

Because of their need for structure and routine, the biggest challenge is centered around the amount of time it stays daylight and the amount of time it stays dark. For instance, it normally is daylight during supper and now it is dark, or it may possibly be dark for several hours before bedtime leaving the child confused.

In order to help meet these challenges here are 7 Strategies I would recommend for any child but especially those with special needs, those who function best within a routine and those who are on the spectrum.

1. Prepare the child for the change. Explain the setting back or moving forward of the clock. Discuss how it will be getting darker sooner or staying light longer, and how it might affect their schedule. Such as limit their time playing outside etc.

2. Use a social story to depict the changes. Social stories are an excellent resource to use with any kid. It’s like a road map or vacation pamphlet that tells you all you need to know about a subject in story form. Make sure your story is individualized fir your child. For instance, if you normally pick your child up from daycare at 5:45 and its been daylight, you will need to address in your story, that now it will be dark…. The failure to address this could cause major insecurities in the life of your little one…

Once summer ended and school was back in session, the days begin to get shorter.  On several occasions the first couple of weeks it was dark earlier, Will would want us to put our pajamas on and get read for bed…..  although I personally thought it was a great idea….  His dad wasn’t too keen on going to bed at 6:30 just because it was dark.  But to Will, it was bedtime just because it was dark.

3. Carry on normal bedtime routine at the normal time. Although as parents we often want to hurry through this process keeping it consistent is best. We sometimes fall into the trap of giving baths earlier because of outside play time being cut short. Do not!!! All routines should stay the same and at the same time despite your activities or lack thereof. Providing a consistent routine gives your child a safety net making them feel calm , safe and secure.

4. Begin a few days or a week in advance adjusting bed time, night time or morning time. This should be done in small increments of about 10-15 minutes. This will get the child’s body used to the new schedule, without it being a noticeable difference.

5. Set boundaries for child. If your child has a tendency to get up before daylight, set the rule that he or she can’t come out of their room until its daylight. Or perhaps it is no drinks after 7:00 pm or no electronics after 8:00pm.

Will loves to come and get in the bed with his daddy and I and snuggle which is great at 6:30 am. Not so great at 4:30 or 5:00. So we set the boundary of him not getting in bed with us until 6:30. He knows what it looks like and knows he can’t until then…. Parents…… The best thing you can do for yourself and your child is learn to set boundaries!!!

6. Research has shown that exercise aides in the body accepting the time change. Keeping your child busy throughout the day will help them feel tired and more accepting of bedtime…. Sometimes it means falling asleep before bedtime and in the most unlikely places or positions.

7. The last strategy and most likely the most important one is the parents must get a goodnights sleep… I’m sure your shaking your head right now saying yeah right Brandi, hows that supposed to happen. Glad you asked…… For married folks… Trade off…. One night mom gets up and soothes, coaxes, threatens, entertains, the next night dad does. Or if your child is like Will and wants only one parent then I highly suggest one night every week the spouses each take a turn spending a night away from home…. Where? A hotel, a friend’s house, parents, in-laws, or neighbors…. Why is this important? Because it will provide consistency to your child. If both parents are exhausted neither will be in the frame of mind to handle, work with, discipline or remain consistent. In order to develop a new pattern of sleep consistency is the key.

Now, for those of you who are single mothers or fathers, or your spouse or significant other works nights or out-of-town. You must enlist the help of others. Call upon your friends, family, neighbors or caregivers. Invite them to stay the night and “Be on call” per say if the child awakens leaving you to sleep.

Sleep is a powerful thing….. and NO SLEEP is even more so……  people often do things they normally would never do because of the lack of sleep and pure exhaustion.  Do not become a victim of sleep deprivation.  Do what you have to do, exercise, drink  warm milk, go to a hotel, get a babysitter, or even take meds… but take care of yourself…. If you don’t who will… and more importantly who will take care of your children????


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