Daylight Saving Time: How parents can prepare their kids for the time change

Try keeping your child's room dark by using blackout curtains, experts suggest. Click&Boo/Getty Images

This weekend most of Canada will be turning the clocks forward, meaning many of us will be losing that one precious hour of sleep.

And while adults may arguably be better equipped at coping and adjusting, kids may need a bit of help getting back on track.

READ MORE: Daylight Saving Time starts soon – here’s what you need to know

That’s why it’s best that parents help their kids adjust before the clocks go back, experts say, otherwise you might have a cranky kid on your hands.

“The reason that a child’s behaviour and mood may be off with the change in their schedule depends upon where that child is in their sleep cycle,” certified sleep specialist Heather Plante, of Soothing Angels, says. “This applies to everyone. If you are woken in the middle of your deep sleep, this is when you are disoriented and take a minute to figure out where you are. You are going to wake more groggy and grumpy than if you were allowed to wake at the end of a sleep cycle naturally. This is where some children will wake more miserable until they fully wake up.”

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A child’s sleep cycle is about 45 minutes long, while an adult’s is 90 minutes, Plante explains – hence the difference the loss of an hour can have on children versus adults.

Losing sleep at any time, really, can alter a child’s mood and even learning capabilities, Janey Reilly of WeeSleep adds.

“When we lose sleep, we shift,” Reilly explains. “We are more anxious, irritable, grumpy and off our game. A tired baby or child is the same. They may be [clingier], whine or cry more and show poorer emotional self-regulation. As the day goes on, an overtired child may become more active.”

But it is important parents don’t panic, parenting expert Gail Bell of Parenting Power says.

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“We have to remember it’s an hour and not 20 hours either,” she says. “So I think sometimes the talk around it is bigger than the actual deal.”

That doesn’t mean, however, that parents aren’t about to deal with cranky kids.

So to make a smoother transition to Daylight Saving Time, Plante, Reilly and Bell have some dos and don’ts for parents to prepare.

All of the experts agree the best way to start the transition is to move the child’s bedtime 15 minutes to a half hour earlier a few days before the time change happens, and wake them up 15 minutes to a half hour earlier as well. Then when the time change occurs, go back to their normal bedtimes. This will make the time change feel less like a shock.

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But if your child is already combative about bedtime, try not to use the word “sleep,” Bell says.

“You cannot make your child sleep,” Bell says. “However, you can be completely responsible for the routine and consistent environment [in] which it happens. It’s not about panicking and telling them to hurry up and go to sleep – it’s about telling [them] the expectation is for them to lie in their bed quietly with their head on the pillow.”
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Also, make sure to keep regular nap and bedtime routines, both Bell and Reilly say. This means sticking to nice calming bedtime routines, like taking a bath, reading a story, etc.

To help prompt sleep, darken their bedroom completely, Plante advises. Blackout curtains are a great solution for this.

You can even try a sound machine to help soothe your child to sleep, Reilly suggests. This will also help block out the chirping birds in the morning and other outside noises at night.

Lastly, be patient with your child and yourself, Bell and Plante say. In fact, don’t be surprised if it takes up to two or three weeks before the child is back to normal, Plant says.

“Just know that if the change is going to affect your child’s mood, it’s going to affect your mood too,” Bell says. “Will it take a little time and patience? Yes, but if you’re consistent with the other tips, then it might only take a week, maximum.”


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