The article, How to Fall Back Gracefully to Standard Time with a Young Child, first appeared on U.S. News and World Report.
On Sunday, Nov. 5, in the United States and Canada, and October 29th in Europe, we will set our clocks back an hour. For a brief moment, it will feel like we’ve stolen an extra hour of sleep.
However, when you have small children, you may need to make a few adjustments ahead of time, so they can make a graceful transition when they “fall back” an hour.
What’s Your Normal Wake Time?
Most children wake between 6 and 7:30 a.m. — a normal and healthy time to get up. But, with the time change, some children wake up around 5 a.m., and that can be jolting for you as a parent and everyone else at home.
While every child handles change differently, a time change tends to impact younger children more than older ones. With that in mind, my advice for children under 2 years old is to make a gradual schedule transition, so that when Nov. 5 rolls around, you’re ready for the new morning wake-up time.
[Read: How to Ensure Your Child Gets Needed Naptime Rest.]
The Gradual Approach
For children under 2, I recommend a gradual shift toward bedtime four to six days before daylight saving time ends.
In order to gradually transition, shift bedtime forward 15 minutes each evening for four days, or by 10-minute increments for six days. On Wednesday evening, Nov. 1, you will shift your child’s bedtime 15 minutes forward. If his bedtime is normally at 7 p.m., then on Wednesday it will be at 7:15 p.m. On Thursday, it will be 7:30 p.m. and so on. Then on Nov. 5, your child’s bedtime will be back at 7 p.m., because of the end of daylight saving time and the beginning of standard time.
Cold Turkey Approach
If your child is over 2 years old and seems to make transitions with relative ease, he may not need four to six days to prepare for the new time. In this case, you can choose the cold turkey approach. Basically, you will keep your exact routine, but use the new clock time starting Sunday morning.
To help with the early rising, consider using a toddler clock so he knows when it’s time to get out of bed and start the day. A toddler clock shows the child when it’s OK to get out of bed and start the day, such as with a light changing colors or music coming on in the morning.
Easing the Transition
Whether you use the cold turkey or gradual approach to shifting bedtime, you’ll also want to follow some steps to ease the transition.
Shift meals and naps, too. Your child’s meals, snacks and naps need to shift each day as well as the new bedtime. Move everything forward by 15-minute increments over the four-day period, or if you’re going cold turkey, then just shift these on Sunday and going forward.
[Read: Sleep Training Your Baby: Options Beyond Crying It Out.]
Utilize the “dramatic wake-up.” If your child wakes up way too early, go in right away and try to soothe him back to sleep. You can sit near him in a chair, shushing and patting him (not holding him) as he lies in the crib or bed. Keep the lights off, curtains closed and sound machine humming. Stay nearby as long as he is struggling, but take care not to interact and keep stimulation to a minimum.
When the ideal wake-up time arrives, you will exit the room for a full 60 seconds (no earlier than 6 a.m.). Then enter the room saying a clear, “Good Morning!” Open the blinds or curtains — room darkening shades are very helpful — say hello to Mr. Sunshine, and turn on the lights. Finally, sing a happy good morning song and welcome the new day.
If your child is in a bed, wait until the wake-up clock comes on, and tell him cheerfully that it’s time to start the day. The goal is to not start the day before 6 a.m. or initiate any new habits you don’t want to continue. Expect a week or so of early rising before you all get adjusted.
Make naps a priority during the transition. This is important because your child’s body is adjusting and she’s slightly confused. Try to maintain a normal routine this week, avoiding long outings that tire your child or require a missed nap. A well-napped baby is much more flexible than a tired one.
On Sunday afternoon your child may need a short bonus nap to make it to the new bedtime that evening.
Take an early morning walk. Weather permitting, getting outside in the morning is one of the best ways to reset your child’s internal clock. Exposure to sunshine for 20 to 30 minutes will help reset his internal body clock. Sitting or playing in the sunshine that streams through your window is also a great alternative to a brisk fall walk outside.
Watch her sleep cues. Even if you take all the advice given, pay close attention to your child’s sleep cues this week, such as eye rubbing, yawning or zoning out. If she’s tired, you should move her to bed right away so that she doesn’t become overtired and have a meltdown.
[See: How to Promote Safe Sleep for Your Infant.]
You’re ready now. You are armed with a plan, and you know what you’re going to do. You can make this transition a more peaceful one for your child by following these tips, staying consistent, and providing your child with the extra love and attention he needs during this shift.