If you’re reading this, it’s likely because, like so many of us, you have some anxiety about the prospect of leaving your child for the first time in many months, in a world that is entirely uncertain.
With just a few weeks remaining before a potential return to daycare, school and work, many parents are sitting up at night weighing the risks, the benefits and all of the possible scenarios.
Like so many others, I feel an enormous amount of stress regarding this decision.
As a paediatric sleep specialist, my practice focuses on the emotional and developmental needs of a child, while using attachment theory to guide the development of a customized sleep plan. Everyday, I speak to parents – from all walks of life – across Canada and the United States. I hear their struggles. I share their concerns. And I empathize with their various considerations.
Like countless other parents, my husband and I have not yet made a final decision about what we will do with our children come the fall. Yet, despite the uncertainty about whether or not we will ultimately send our kids back to the classroom this fall, proactive steps can be taken to maximize sleep and minimize stress after Labour Day.
The process of matchmaking creates opportunities to introduce new attachments through existing attachments. In the context of a return to school, a child would be given the chance to observe their parent interacting with their new caregiver. COVID obviously presents a challenge here, in that most face-to-face gatherings simply aren’t happening right now. That said, the desired impact can still be achieved digitally. Inquire about the possibility of a virtual meet-and-greet, connect with families who have had the teacher before, print out a photo of the teacher and spend some time every day ‘interacting’ with him or her.
Strengthening The Bond
Though it may seem obvious, parents should redouble efforts to build strong bonds with their child. It is important to know that a strong bond filled with emotional availability is the best way to reduce a child’s stress during transition. Introducing ‘special time’ is a great way to connect, and can integrate seamlessly into a bedtime routine. (This is also a great way to fulfill their attachment needs right before bed, which will help them sleep better at night.)
Let’s face it… our usual schedules and routines have, shall we say, evolved over the past few months. Ahead of the fall, take time to begin slowly shifting bedtime back to a reasonable hour, and eliminate screen time in the hours leading up to sleep. (I am also a big proponent of blue light glasses!) Stay consistent with the techniques you use to get your child to sleep though. Changes in this area can lead to increased stress and less sleep for everyone in an already stressful time. Particularly in times like these, more than anything, children need to know that they have the support of their parent — day or night. So be there for them through this transition.
Loving The Lovey
For younger children, start building a bond with a ‘lovey’ (or comfort item) if your child does not yet have one. Parents can wear the comfort item to transfer their smell, or spill some breastmilk on it if there is a breastfeeding partner. Send items to school or daycare that will remind your child of their space at home. If you’re sending sheets for nap time, you can sleep on them for a few days before sending them in so they smell like you. The more familiar items you can send along with your child, the easier the transition will be.
Bridging To The Next Connection
When you do your drop offs in the first few days and weeks, it is important to always say goodbye to your child. Don’t try to sneak off. Say your goodbyes, but bridge to your next connection with them. For example, say, “I can’t wait to read stories with you when we get home”, or, “I’m so excited for our after dinner snuggles.” Instead of focusing on separation, this shifts the focus to the next connection.
Being A Safe Space
You may find that when you pick your child up at the end of the day, you spend an hour or so with a very cranky child. Especially for a child having difficulty with the transition, this is completely normal. You are your child’s safe space so they will want (actually, need) to share with you. Support your child through their big emotions, fill your child’s bucket with all the love and connection they need as soon as you’re back together. Otherwise, children will seek this connection at bedtime and throughout the night.
As parents, we should take time to reflect on how we feel about the transition. As much as possible, it is important to feel confident about the decision we make for our little ones. Children sense our insecurities and will mirror our anxieties. Conversely, they will also mirror our confidence and enthusiasm when given the right set of circumstances to do so.
Finally, remember that you’re not alone.
If you are struggling with getting your children back on a schedule, or you need help with bedtime and night wakings, no matter your child’s age, I am here to help without the use of separation-based techniques or any form of extinction.
Book your free 15 minute discovery call to chat about how I can help you and your family.