How to help your young child adjust to the clocks going back

‘Spring forward and fall back’ is always welcome in the Autumn when that extra hour in bed for one Sunday morning is worth its weight in gold…unless you’re a parent of young children. Dawn wake-ups are barely manageable in the summer even though the light makes it feel that the day has started. Starting your day at 5.30am on dark, windy October mornings is just cruel. It’s a double whammy of injustice when you don’t have the luxury of making yourself a coffee for fear that the noise of the machine will wake the other (sleeping for now) child. When you’re having lunch at 11 am and longing to crawl into your bed by 4pm, maybe it’s time to tweak bedtime routines.

Babies and toddlers thrive on routine. The hour change can affect their little circadian rhythms for anything up to two weeks and they need a little help with that adjustment. Since Sunday morning you’ll probably find that your baby or toddler wants to go to bed at what is now an hour earlier. Logically then, they are waking an hour earlier. Anybody with an over-tired, over-wrought little one who wants to sleep at tea-time knows that this is dangerous territory. If they nap, they won’t go down for the night until all hours and if they don’t, you may both end up howling  from exhaustion!

If you have been having difficulty with getting back to routine since the clocks changed last Sunday, the easiest solution may be to stretch out bedtime by just 15 minutes a night, and do this every night for 4 or 5 nights until your baby is going to bed at their regular time. So last week, their bedtime was 7.30pm but this week they are really fussy and tired at 6.30pm. Start the bedtime routine (i.e. bath, feed, story and cuddle) at 6pm and put them down at 6.45pm. The next night, at 7pm and so on until you’re back to the old time. This should be reflected in later waking times, in 10 to 15 minute increments each morning. It’s hard but you’ll get there! Just try not to pick them up the minute they wake. If you let them self-settle, they may drift back to sleep. If they are fussy, take them back into bed with you and explain that it’s dark outside so everybody stays in bed until the sun comes up. If you start reading, singing or playing, your little one will take their cue from you and jump straight into awake mode.

The above advice generally works for children up to the age of about 7 or 8. For older children, the mid-term break from school means that their routine is probably pretty loose this week so bedtimes are a moveable feast. Try to start winding it back by Friday night, so that the first day of school isn’t harder than it needs to be. As ever, encourage books over screens as a way to wind down and keep a consistent ‘lights out’ time. As adults, we can often have difficulty with bedtime boundaries ourselves (the curse of Netflix!) so it’s really important that we help children develop good bedtime routines and general structures around their sleep.

This article was contributed a member of Parenting Limerick. Parenting Limerick is a network of parenting and family support organisations.