Updated: Apr 23
Make sure they don't get enough. And whatever you do, don't make sleep a family priority. There are so many things that you can do instead! Forget about the fact that none of us do anything really well when our brains are lacking in sleep.
Also, forget that current brain research shows that lack of self-control is related to lack of sleep. And also put the research out of your mind that shows a lack of self-control is prevalent in violent children as well as adults.
Sleepless In America by Mary Sheedy Kurcinka, (author of Raising Your Spirited Child ) uses facts and research to show us that, ADHD, bad school performance and violence are linked statistically to lack of sleep.
Today, there is growing pressure to engage ever-younger children in a dizzying variety of activities and experiences. Even infants are impacted s they are towed along to older sibling' activities and exposed tohigh stimlation levels that leave their bodies too tense to sleep. -Mary Sheedy Kurcinka
Having said that, getting kids to sleep and developing good sleep habits is a huge undertaking. Some children are inherently more difficult than others to get to sleep. Parents who have more than one child and childcare providers know this to be true.
The question of how to get kids to sleep leads me to my second point.
If you want kids who learn less and sleep less, forget about the tried and true method of repetition.
Or if you want kids who learn better and sleep better, think about using it like this!
Children learn by repetition. It's the way their brains work.
In the first few years of life, more than 1 million new neural connections form every second.* After this period of rapid proliferation, connections are reduced through a process called pruning, which allows brain circuits to become more efficient. In light of these findings, focussing on early childhood only makes sense. -Center for the Developing Child, Harvard University-
Some adults insist on novelty when young children need repetition and predictability in order to make the brain connections they need for optimal learning and self-control.
Simply allowing large blocks of time to play is optimal for learning and sleep because it lets them learn and repeat things at their own pace.
Lullabies and nursery rhymes are good examples of ways adults can use repetition to stimulate young children's brains. After all, it's the things we do over and over again that shape us. Our habits, our schedules, and our rituals.
That’s why repetition is so important for learning and for sleep.
After 43 years of experience and giving thousands of successful nap times as an early childhood educator, I’ve learned to always do soothing things in the same order, when I want kids to sleep. It’s different for each age and each individual child but I always include a story, a cuddle and the child’s own special lullaby. Older children get to choose 3 books to bring to bed.
Rituals help the brain cope with life. Learning to sleep well is an important part of life.
One reason children resist sleep so much is that they have to take a break from learning and their brains are reluctant to do so. We know, however, that their learning will continue and be even stronger after a brain break. Children learn and play better after a good nap.
Here’s the story of how one legendary family childcare provider used ritual and comfort to make naptime one of the kid’s favorite times of the day.
Naptime was never hurried at Miss Penny’s House. After all, it wasn’t something to get through, but rather something to savor.
Ms. Penny got her group of 1-4-year-old children outside every morning. They played hard and loved exploring together. Near the end of the playtime, they often gravitated to the sandbox where they sat digging and chatting until it was time for lunch. During lunch, they talked about what they played and made plans for the next time.
Ms. Penny had every child get into jammies and slippers before nap. She dimmed the lights and used music and stories to transfix them. Each child had a comfy cot with their own soft blankets. They got in bed happily and closed their eyes while she sang one special lullaby for each child. She drifted around the room and gave compliments to those who were lying still and cozy. She moved quietly in and out of the room as they each drifted off.
And that’s how Ms. Penny made sure the children in her care were refreshed and ready to learn and play again when they woke up.
Without that restful brain break, it may have been a completely different sort of afternoon.
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Kurcinka, Mary Sheedy. Sleepless in America: Is Your Child Misbehaving or Missing Sleep? Harper, 2007.
Center For The Developing Child, Harvard University, https://developingchild.harvard.edu/
Nanci J Bradley is an early childhood and family educator, author, teacher, family aerobics instructor, and an all-around fun-loving person. She believes in the power of sleep, healthy eating, lifelong learning, and most of all, PLAY! She studied early childhood ed at Triton College and received her BS in education in 1986 from NIU. She received her MA in human dev from Pacific Oaks College in 2011. She lives and teaches in Madison WI and is the founder of early childhood rocks, a non-profit org dedicated to creating change through early childhood education.