We’re all likely looking forward to the upcoming spring weather and armed with the hope that it’s coming soon - most of those groundhogs did see their shadows, predicting an early spring! Goodbye snowsuits! Goodbye volatile weather! And hello flowers, warmth… and daylight savings time!
Parents of young children, where daylight savings is a thing, may not be looking forward to losing an hour in their day - not to mention the potential upheaval to morning and bedtime routines. Like with all things parenting, there is no one size fits all or magical approach, to get through the time change. However, there are ways to navigate it with more ease.
Here are five areas to explore during the time change. And remember, when all else fails, take in the fresh smells of spring and know that there’s always coffee shops that open early.
❤️ Shift your perspective.
Sleep shifts at many points during parenting; and frankly, daylights savings adds no value to parents’ already unstable relationship with sleep. But while it’s an archaic system that messes with our natural rhythms, for now, most of us will be left dealing with it.
It’s easy (and even normal) as a human to jump into a negative thought spiral, and even easier to do as a parent, when new challenges come into play.
According to psychologist Rick Hanson, in his book Hardwiring Happiness, our brains have “evolved with a built-in negativity bias.” To survive, with predators all around us, we needed to see and appropriately respond to risk everywhere. While we still need to be aware of risk, our world is much different than that of our cave-person ancestors. We know that worry and negativity do more harm than good and that there are ample ways to settle our front brains (amygdala) to approach stressful situations (like time changes and lack of sleep) with more calm.
To shift our own, and our children’s perspective, we first need to activate the parasympathetic nervous system, to feel a deeper sense of calm and safety. We can do this by merely breathing more deeply, meditating, and practicing inversions (any position that gets the legs higher than the heart). Adding more smiles and hugs to our day is another easy tool - they boost our oxytocin levels making us feel good.
Affirmations are another incredible tool to conquer tricky experiences. Some useful ones for the time change might be, "This too shall pass!" "I’m enjoying the spring flowers." "I’m enjoying this hot cup of coffee or tea." Check out more tips on how to create your own perfect affirmation here.
❤️ To plan or not to plan?
As with all things parenting, there is a deluge of advice on how to cope with time changes. One often cited method is to plan in the weeks leading up to the clock shift. For some babies, children and their families, this can work well. However, for most families, in the modern spirit of Robert Burns, the best-laid plans of parents and their children, are bound to go awry.
Whether you plan or not, children are unpredictable (one major flaw of modern parenting advice is that we treat children like programmable robots) and planning can often create more stress than it aims to eliminate.
Remember, nothing ever stays the same. Time will pass, and everyone will be settled into the new time frame in a week at most.
❤️ Sleep hygiene - set your family up with healthy habits.
Studies show that our sleep environment is closely linked to the quality of our sleep. With shifts in time, keeping our environment and our sleep routines in place can help everyone adjust more smoothly. Here are a few factors to consider:
Lights Out! Any form of artificial light in the evening hours can affect our own and our children’s sleep. Consider using blackout blinds, eye masks, and aim to reduce the usage of televisions, tablets, phones, and night lights, close to bedtime and during nighttime hours. If you need to use a light in the night, red-hued lighting, such as salt lamps, keep our brains from getting stimulated into awake mode.
Keep calm and connected. Studies show that the more calm we feel before bedtime, the easier it is to fall asleep. Plus, our sleep is likely to be deeper and more restorative. Journalling, drawing, or verbally letting go of our day or any worries, is a useful activity for parents and children to incorporate into their bedtime routine. Activities that connect with our loved ones - playing a game, chatting through our thoughts, having some cuddles - help everyone feel safe and ready to release into rest.
Regularity and routines. Children often like a sense of familiarity and routine. Creating a simple habit of connection and calming activities before bed can create a positive association with bedtime and sleep and cue your little one that it’s time to settle in, relax and sleep. Bath, brushing teach, pj’s, books, songs, slow dancing or cuddles, the list could go on! Pick just a few things to keep it simple and unrushed and look to be as present as possible to your little one.
Get to sleep earlier. Head to bed and read, listen to music or meditate before your regular bedtime. This is helpful when anticipating a time change but could also be a helpful habit to throw in once or twice a week. It’s a tiny bit of “self-care” that can give you that extra boost you might need for an early riser. Making time to sleep in on weekends is also a great treat. While that might seem impossible with little people, you can plan for this by having one parent, grandparent or friend rise with the early risers so you can get just a few more minutes of stress free winks. Maybe you’ll even get hot coffee in bed? I’m sure you’ll offer to take next weekend, right?
Check out some more tips on how to get more sleep with a baby in tow here.
❤️ Get active. Get sunlight.
Fresh air, sunshine, movement and new scenery are magic – they help revive us if we’ve had a rough night, offer us necessary Vitamin D, and they are also great ways to help our circadian rhythms stay on track. Movement may feel like the last thing you want to do when you’re exhausted, but the endorphins that are released during and after being active will make you feel so much better… You just have to get started!
Additionally, our bodies need sunlight to regulate our melatonin levels and “body clocks”. They want bright sunlit days, and dark nights to function optimally.
Getting outside can also help us enjoy the seasonal shift and socialize (and empathize) with other parents that are going through the same transition.
❤️ Amp up the empathy and self-care.
Fit in time to do things that make you feel whole. Easier said than done! This may take some conversations and being intentional about creating support for yourself. What are the things in your day or your week that fill you up, make you feel grounded and capable of taking on the day or the rest of the week? What do you look forward to? It could be as simple as a hot shower without having to worry about meeting your child’s needs. How about setting up child care so you can go to a class of some sort? If you feel riddled with guilt, know that even the airlines promote putting on your own oxygen mask before putting on your child’s.
Empathy with your little ones. The time change means nothing to our little ones. When they respond negatively to a shift in their sleep it’s because it doesn’t feel good to their body, not because they are trying to be difficult. Take a moment to bring them close and acknowledge their feelings; let them have some time to feel and process the emotions they might be having.
As author L.R. Knost puts it so well, "when little people are overwhelmed by big emotions, it's our job to share our calm, not join their chaos."
Empathy with yourself. We can all lose our kewl when it comes to lack of sleep, combined with energetic children. If you snap or are unkind with your tone of voice remember that you can apologize for overreacting and let them know you’ll do better next time. “I’m so sorry, I love you” and a cuddle can go a long way. Don’t forget to give yourself a hug and forgive yourself too!
While the spring time change can have greater implications on our bodies and routines, than the autumnal shift, it’s worth remembering that we are heading into the light - and some much needed warmth.
This blog was written in conjunction with Ruth Ruttan, a doula and pilates expert, with a specialty in pelvic floor health. Ruth lives in Toronto and spends her time mothering three humans and supporting all things pregnancy, birth and baby. Find out more about her at www.ruthruttan.ca.