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As adults, we know what it feels like when we have a poor night’s sleep. We can wake up the next morning feeling like we don’t have energy, grumpy and can even experience “brain fog”. Children also are affected by poor sleep, particularly when poor sleep happens night after night.
As we approach the start of the school term, this week is a good week to get those sleep routines back in place.
Setting up Sleep Routines
A good place to start is to look at how they prepare for sleep. A sleep routine is all the routine actions we take on the way to putting our head on our pillow. We all have a sleep routine but some actions are more helpful than others.
A helpful sleep routine might look like:
- some quiet time (e.g. reading & drawing);
- laying out clothes for the next day;
- getting into PJs;
- brushing teeth and visiting the toilet;
- having 10-15 minutes with a parent reading a story together; and
- lights out.
Some habits are not going to promote good sleep. Try to avoid the following:
- Don’t let your child have sugary and caffeinated drinks before bedtime. Too much sugar and caffeine makes it hard for their bodies to wind down;
- Don’t let them take an electronic device to bed. The light that these devices emit gives the brain the message that’s its day-time, making it harder to fall asleep. Plus, the visual stimulation that comes with video games keeps the brain alert…the opposite of what it needs at bedtime;
- Don’t give in to repeated calls for drinks, cuddles and more stories. A gentle (but brief) reminder that you are near-by and that it’s bedtime is all that’s needed. Giving lots of attention at bedtime, only helps to keep your child awake;
- No vigorous exercise for your child before bedtime. Exercise energises us…again the opposite of what we need to feel at bedtime; and
- Don’t spend too much time trying to settle the child (e.g. rocking or cuddling the child) when they can’t sleep. Aside from giving lots of attention, it may be stopping the child from learning self-soothing skills themselves and may actually keep them awake longer.
Some actions which are more likely to promote good sleeping in children include:
- Making sure that there is sufficient quiet time in the routine…at least 20-30 minutes and putting this in at the start of the routine. Very few of us wind down in 5 minutes!
- Trying to incorporate a bath into the routine (for those children who like baths). A warm bath is an excellent way to relax the body. Be careful with showers though – they tend to refresh us and wake us up.
- Leaving nightlights on. Younger children, in particular, find this comforting and fortunately we are spoiled for choice in terms of brightness, colours and shapes.
- Reassure anxious children that you will come back during the night and check on them and that you are in the next room etc. This can help soothe any worries.
- Being consistent. Sleep routines take a while to establish.
Need more help with your child’s sleep?
These ideas are general and a good place to start. Some children struggle with sleep and need more than just good sleep routines in place. The psychology team in the Centre can help with further assessment and strategies. Please call our Reception on 9274 7062 for more information.
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Aside from getting back into routine, going back to school is a great time for children to reconnect with their friends. It’s also another year ahead of learning and fun. For some children the transition back into school can be challenging. Rather than leave that transition to the night before, there is quite a bit that you can do right now to help with getting your child ready.
5 Tips for getting ready for school
If you haven’t already started, this week is the time to start focusing on getting everyone ready for school again. How can you prepare?
- Sit down and plan out with your children what you will need to do to prepare for school. Create a checklist and timetable of all the steps that are required. This helps reduce any overwhelming feelings to something more manageable.
- Talk about the good things that are likely to happen when your child is back at school. The start of the school year is a time to make new friends and meet new teachers. There’s also lots of cool stuff to learn about.
- Adjust sleep times. During the holidays most children tend to go to bed later than they would on a school night and sleep in later. Starting to adjust sleep times gradually before school starts is likely to be more effective then suddenly demanding that your child be asleep at their usual time the night before school starts!
- For younger children, do a walk around the school showing them where their class will be, how to find the toilets and where school drop-offs and pick-ups will be and
- Celebrate back to school with a party or special event. Include one of their friends or classmates for school to make the occasion that little bit more special.
What about the anxious child?
Some children become very worried at the start of the new school year, often imaging the worst is about to happen. As parents, it’s important that we acknowledge those worries. Telling someone not to worry seldom works! Instead the focus on coping strategies and helping the child find things to help them manage these worries.
For some children, rehearsal strategies like social stories are really helpful. They explain what is going to happen and can reassure the child that things will be fine.
For other children, finding gentle ways to challenge their worry thoughts is what’s needed. For example, reminding them of all the other times they were worried and good things happened.
Being a little worried about going back to school is perfectly normal. However, if you feel your child is “too worried” then our psychology team is there to help with strategies to help children back into school. Please call reception on 9274 7062 for more information about our services.
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Bushfires have dominated the news these holidays. For some, the holiday season has been about survival and trying to keep a roof over their heads. For others, it’s been the mixed feelings of sadness and at times anger as we monitor the news. There have been stories we have read about where we have felt proud about our fellow Australians – mixed in among the distressing ones. For many of us, we have experienced worry as we have watched daily coverage about the bushfires. Sometimes, even frustration as we look for meaningful ways to help.
Through all of this time (and times to come) our children have also been watching. Through the media, they are learning about the impact of the bushfires on people, communities and animals. They are also learning from how we as parents respond to the news. While older children may be able to use their words to ask about what is happening and seek reassurance, younger children often can’t. Changes in behaviour are often how we know if a child is feeling distress or anxiety.
Signs to look out for
Whether it’s to do with the bushfires or other natural disasters, children may be displaying symptoms of anxiety and distress through their behaviour. During the school holidays, these are some behaviour changes to look more closely at:
- sleep changes – nightmares, sudden difficulties sleeping alone and/or difficulties falling asleep
- eating changes – loss of appetite or a sudden increase in appetite
- mood changes – increased anger or irritability (this can also look like a sudden increase in defiant behaviour).
- increased clinginess – needing to be physically close to their parents, needing more physical affection, separation anxiety
- increased complaints about feeling unwell – complaining of tummy aches, headaches – where there is no underlying medical concern.
How can parents help
There are three keys things that parents can do to help children feeling anxious about bushfires:
- Limit how much exposure your child has to the news. Re-occurring images about devastated communities, the impact on wildlife and the anger people are feeling are scary for children. If anything, it’s the news stories about bravery, communities supporting each other, animals being cared for that is the range of stories to let young ones see. Make sure to talk about any of the stories children are seeing -both to provide balance and to provide reassurance.
- Monitor your own feelings and responses. Big feelings (anger, fear, sadness) being expressed by parents can be overwhelming to young children. As parents, we need to find places to express these away from our children.
- Reassure children. When children are expressing their own fears, they need to be reminded that they are loved and cared for and most importantly, personally safe. Let them know that there are people in the community helping those that need help, including the animals.
These same strategies are also relevant for older children too.
Lastly, it’s normal for everyone to have big feelings when terrible things are happening in the world. However, if your child continues to remain anxious after the bushfires, then it might be time to seek help. Your GP or school student services team (once school is back on board) are good places to start. You are also welcome to talk to one of our psychologists.
Please feel free to ring Reception on 9274 7062 for information about our services.
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I’m hoping that everyone is having a great holiday. Our team is back from theirs and the office re-opens today (Monday 06 January).
Please feel free to call reception on 9274 7062 to schedule appointments or to enquire about our services.