Rule #1:
Make Certain That
Your Kids Stay Up Too Late

Your kids' bedtime.

Ah, just reading those words puts a smile on your face, doesn't it? I love my children as much as the next parent, and at the same time I am not ashamed to admit that I also love sending them to bed at the end of a long day.

The two things are not mutually exclusive.

One day, well into my son’s two-week long spring break, I asked him, "Isn't it almost bedtime?"

He screamed, "Mommy, it's only 6:30! We just ate dinner!"

I couldn’t believe it.

The problem with sending our kids to bed is we somehow feel that we're doing it for our benefit and not theirs. We’re tired; we want to watch Desperate Housewives and eat a bowl of ice cream in peace. Our kids, on the other hand, have so much energy, and they fight and argue against going to bed so strongly, it seems cruel and selfish to make them go to bed.

Many parents that work outside of the home feel extra guilty sending their kids to bed only a few hours after getting home. They think, “I haven’t seen the kids since breakfast! I can’t send them away already!”

We're tired, we're guilty, and we do want to see our children more than a few minutes each day. So, we let them stay up. They're kids, they're young. What's a little sleep? No big deal, right?

Wrong! It is a very big deal.

Kids need sleep. Lots and lots of sleep. They need consistent bedtimes and regular sleeping hours. It's easy to convince parents of this when their children have stayed up hours past their bedtimes. The next day, those little angels are cranky, miserable, and unreasonable.

The thing is, it is not the once-in-awhile-crazy-late bedtimes that cause the long-lasting problems. It’s the kinda-late-every-single-night bedtimes that do the most damage and cause problems in school.

Kids need to be at their best at school every day, and that means they need to be well-rested every day. It breaks my heart to watch a student struggle to keep her eyes open or actually fall asleep in class.

Before you start feeling superior because you know that your kids never fall asleep in class, I want to stress that consistently losing even a small amount of sleep adversely affects children. Sleep-deprived children don't grow as fast as they should, don’t learn as much they could, and don't get along as well with others.

Even the big kids need to get their rest. I learned in a recent Reader's Digest article that "teens that don't get enough sleep are at an increased risk for depression, rage, use of stimulants and alcohol, low grades and car accidents."

You may be surprised to learn how much sleep our children need:

3 to 6 year olds = 12 hours a night
7 to 9 year olds = 11 hours a night
10 to 12 year olds = 10 hours a night
12 to 18 year olds = 8 to 9 hours a night

Are your kids getting enough sleep? Few are. Some students come to school sleepy nearly every single day. They spend their entire academic careers operating at less than their best.

How much learning do you think is taking place?

Dealing with large numbers of chronically sleep-deprived students is a huge problem for teachers, and it seems to be getting worse. I blame cable with its 500 channels on 24 hours a day. It used to be that after a certain time in the evening, the TV went off. You heard the National Anthem, then it was fuzz on all four channels. You had no choice but to sleep! The Good Old Days.

Parents who are conscientious in every other respect drop the ball when it comes to bedtimes. I completely understand; letting our kids stay up is easier than making them go to bed. We all do it (some of us more than others). But, we must be strong! If it makes it any easier, tell yourself that you really want to let your children stay up, but you love them too much.

Tell them, "This is harder for me than it is for you."

Let’s be clear: sleeping means eyes closed, snoring, dreaming. It does not mean brushing teeth, begging for one more story, arguing and debating the merits of sleep, watching one more show, getting ready to hang up the phone, etc. Sleep means sleep.

Oh, and one more thing: if your kids are different ages, they can- and should- go to bed at different times! They'll get over it, and will feel better in school, to boot.

Don’t you wish that someone demanded that you go to your room, get in the bed and go to sleep? This is punishment?

Anyone who thinks the art of conversation is dead ought to tell a child to go to bed.

Return to advice for parents.

Go on to Rule #2.