It’s all fun and games until school starts back up after holiday break and you realize that giving a little too much freedom to your kids — including unlimited cookies and late night movies — wasn’t the best idea after all. It’s totally acceptable to give a little and relax a bit, but too much can do more harm than good. Moderation is everything right now.
According to Sanjiv Patel, M.D., medical director of Mercy Health – Fairfield and Liberty Falls Sleep Centers, bending the rules a little bit is totally OK. However, some parents think we get a break so that means we are giving our kids a break, too, when really we are not. Drastically changing our routine — diet, sleep and exercise — can turn into a downward spiral for everyone.
“Obviously it’s the loss of that schedule,” he says. “We graze [eat] more during the holidays and it changes our structure and how our normal rhythm is; it’s cold and the kids aren’t having recess and having physical education. That all changes.”
Already kids are off their schedule so any other major changes, such as lack of sleep, can cause them to feel more fatigued and moody. According to Patel, a lot of kids have sleep issues because of parental guidelines (not setting a schedule, keeping them up too late, sugar before bed, etc.)
“We don’t put down good habits for them,” he explains.“ Part of what you have to do is be a good example. How do we shut down before bed, how do we eat, how do we shut down our electronics — that’s what your kids see; that’s what they think is normal.”
Being a good example will also help you to sleep better, too. Make time to wind down at the end of a busy day and spend time together. In addition, keeping some of your routine during the holidays can help. Take time to play, eat a balanced diet, and include balanced, healthy meals as often as possible.
“I’ll let the kids stay up an extra hour or hour and a half, but I’m not letting them stay up for four hours extra,” he says.
Again, moderation is key. According to Patel, just that one day of sleep deprivation can take days for us (including our kids) to recover from. And that is no way to spend a holiday break.
“We can bend the rules during the holidays, but you don’t break the rules,” he continues. “Don’t change the pattern by too much.”
Kids live by schedules. Instead of letting them snooze until whenever, pick some days where you all get up early together, get some breakfast and go on a winter walk, for example. This will help keep a little structure. A large portion of kids in the U.S. are sleep deprived, and there’s a lot from a physical standpoint and from a psychological and mental standpoint, says Patel.
“Data shows with sleep deprivation, kids have difficulty focusing and concentrating; from a physical standpoint, one of the big issues we see is obesity because when you sleep, for kids, there’s certain hormones that are released, especially growth hormones that cause them to grow.”
When kids aren’t getting enough sleep, that growth hormone isn’t being released, causing them to not reach their target height potential, but their weight continues to increase.
A Well-Balanced Holiday
• Plan Ahead – Slowly get kids back on school schedule in advance, about two to four days before school restarts.
• Go For Small Wins – Set small goals. Once that small change works, stretch it a little further.
• Write It Down – It’s easier to see patterns if we write them down. If you struggle with sleep, keep a journal for clarity.
• Enjoy Time with Your Kids – Enough said!