2 parenting mistakes teachers see every day.
May 9, 2016
As a teacher of elementary aged children, I see it all. The hyper kids, the quiet kids, the obnoxious, the kind, the shy, the intellectual, the jock and everything in between. No matter what kind of kid you have, or kids, we all want one thing for them. For them to be happy and successful. And yet, day after day, I see parents fundamentally wrecking their children’s chances for this.
As a part of my math unit, data and graphing, I always survey my class about 2 things. 1 – what time do they go to bed and 2 – what did they eat for breakfast. And even after 14 years of doing this, I am stunned every year by the results. Over 60% of my classes, and we are talking children younger than 10 here, go to bed at 10:30 OR LATER night after night, and at least 20% are coming to school on empty stomachs. And let me tell you, this is hurting your child.
Let’s say your child goes to bed at 10:30, and they have to be up at 7:00 – a pretty typical time for kids to wake for school. They are getting less than 9 hours of sleep per night. “9 hours” you say, “I’d love to sleep 9 hours!!” Yes, but remember, you are not a growing child!! Adults need about 7.5 hours of sleep a night, but we are done growing physically, our brains are fully formed and all our synapsis’s in place – for good or ill. Children under the age of 12 should be getting at least 10 or 11 hours of sleep a night. Even teenagers need at least 9. You can read more about sleep guidelines here: http://www.webmd.com/parenting/guide/sleep-children?page=2 When you add up the missed hours, day after day, these kids are chronically tired.
So now your kids are starting out their day sleep deprived – which probably means getting them up and out of bed will be more difficult. This then leads to fights, arguments, pleading, cajoling, begging and eventually probably screaming to “get in the damn car so I can take you to school!” Where does a good healthy breakfast fit into all this mayhem? Or any breakfast at all, in some cases? No where, that’s where.
This sleep deprived, hungry, and upset child then arrives at school. Ready to learn? I don’t think so!! We keep hearing that disorders like ADHD, Generalized Anxiety, Depression, etc are on the rise in children (and I am absolutely NOT discounting these disorders at all, they are 100% real). Well, how do you feel when you haven’t had enough sleep? Ready to learn? Able to focus? Successful and confident? I would bet not! I know how I behave when I’m over tired – I fidget, I pace, I jump around from one thing to the next, not able to concentrate. Sound familiar?
How about if you are hungry? When your tummy is growling at you, are you able to do your best work? When talking to my students, or my own kids about nutrition, I often equate food to the fuel in a car. If you don’t fill a car with gas, it can’t go anywhere! If you don’t fill a growing child with food, they can’t engage their brains to learn! And healthy food, full of healthy fats, proteins, complex carbohydrates? Well, that is like putting premium fuel in the tank – it burns better and allows all the cylinders to run smoothly.
Until children are 12, they are literally growing their brains. Brains require a vast amount of nutrients to grow properly. They also require sleep to grow. The down time when children are sleeping is when their bodies actually grow (so yes, when your child comes downstairs and suddenly looks taller one morning, he may actually be!), and their brains synthesize all the information they have processed throughout the day, thus creating more connections to be drawn upon later.
If you are concerned about your child’s performance in school, have had THAT chat with his or her teacher, or are concerned about kindergarten starting in the fall; have a look at their sleep and eating patterns. Right now, 10 o’clock bedtime when they can sleep until 8 or 8:30 is not a big deal, but in a few months, you are going to be dealing with an over-stimulated, sleep deprived monster. Do yourself, your child’s teacher, and most of all, your child, a favour, and start moving towards a healthier sleep schedule NOW. This may mean slowly moving bedtime back by 15 minutes, or 20 minutes each night, but start now. Every one will be happier and healthier.