August is upon us and the end of this long, hot summer is approaching. While the heat is likely to be with us for some time yet, our kids will soon be exiting our homes and re-entering school buildings. This means it’s a good time to bring back (or start) routines that make for a smooth entry into weekday schedules.
In addition to getting back-to-school clothes and preparing supplies, many families begin to adjust bedtime for earlier mornings. Before taking that step, ask yourself whether, along with a later bedtime, you’ve also permitted longer evenings in front of screens. Without adjusting screen time, you may be asking kids to go to sleep when their brains are still fully stimulated by screen-based activities. Therefore, as you start to move the bedtime hours earlier, also institute a no-screen time before bedtime. Research tells us that ideally, your kids should be off screens a full 90 minutes before bedtime, but if that feels daunting, start with 30 minutes and work up from there.
Ideas for off-screen activity include reading, board games, puzzles, singalongs and time cuddling with a pet or each other. The hardest part in all of this may be the commitment it requires of you, especially at first, when your children will likely want you to participate with them in this time of screen deprivation. Keep at it and resist the temptation to check your own media.
If your nightly bedtime reading occurs on screens, dim the screen light so that it’s not full force. Apple has Night Shift for its phones and tablets and for other models, there are free apps that soften the light in the evening. Your goal is to have as little light as possible coming from the screen, even if that means you need to turn on an overhead light or lamp. In other words, you want to diminish the light that goes directly into your child’s eyes.
Finally, taking a cue from the PBS KIDS show “Work It Out Wombats!” Involve your kids in an activity where you identify all the steps required to get ready for bed. Write those steps on a big piece of paper, or turn them into a song and you now have a bedtime routine that they have helped create. It won’t always work according to plan (especially on dessert nights), but you’ll be giving them ownership of an important part of their day.
Benjamin Kramer, PhD, is the director of education for Austin PBS.