In my office, I see parents seeking “strategies” every day in regards to how to manage their child’s behaviour. By the way I hate that term – “strategies” – when did parenting became so… strategic? Although I do accept that each and every child is an individual, and what is right for one family may not be for another, I find myself coming back to a few core points.
At best, these core points are often overlooked, and parents jump the gun to sticker charts, discipline measures and professional therapy. At worst, the lack of consideration and attention to the points below may lead to inappropriate diagnoses such as Attention Deficit Disorders and Oppositional Disorders all while the solution could be quite simple.
The majority of children I see in my office are sleep deprived. That conclusion is not borne through rigorous assessment, but rather it is written all over their faces, and largely responsible for irritable moods, hyperactivity, defiance, poor concentration, reduced patience and persistence at a task, poor academic results, and aggression.
I think in many ways we have lost track of just what is an appropriate amount of sleep for children. According to an expert report published in 2015, children of primary school age (6 years – 13 years) require between 9 -11 hours sleep per night. What is often overlooked, is that losing sleep is a cumulative process – ie. getting 30 minutes less sleep per night adds up to a sleep deficit of 15 hours over a one-month period, putting that child significantly behind their peers and at a disadvantage.
Putting a priority and value on the quantity of your child’s sleep is one of the simplest things you can do today as an investment in their physical health, emotional wellbeing, academic progress and behaviour.
If your child if not used to earlier bedtimes there will likely be a battle on your hands – but one that is well worth it. Establishing a good bedtime routine of calming the mind down through reading and self settling will set your child up for a lifetime of good habits.
Recently there has been a discussion in regards to adjusting the guidelines for children’s screen time to come in line with something that is more “practical” in today’s world. Whilst the jury is out on the exact hours and minutes that may be ‘appropriate’, in my mind screen time (tablets/computers/tv) presents with very few positive benefits for any child (beyond their fantastic use as bribery for good behaviour). The introduction of electronic screens on a daily basis to our children is rapidly reducing their attention span, damaging their ability to self-entertain and play imaginatively, increasing irritability and aggression, and making them downright lazy. We are breeding a generation of kids who can’t problem solve, think for themselves, apply themselves long term to accomplish a goal and live a life on the fuel of instant gratification.
Yes, banishing screens altogether is impossible. School homework is now almost exclusively on the computer (don’t get me started…) and Google does provide a wealth of educational information for a curious mind. But if you are struggling with your child’s behaviour then pull the power cord out (or change the wireless password) and challenge your child to simply find something else to do (cue boredom complaints about screams that you’re the worst parent ever).
Slowly but surely your child’s mind will have to start ticking over in a new way – a calmer way, a more imaginative way, and a more engaged way.
So before you reach for any further “strategies” or magic solutions, honestly assess the state of the sleep and screen time in your home and keep an eye out in my future blogs for more detailed discussions on each of these topics – their critical and fundamental role for our children can not be emphasised enough.