How we will learn.
October 6, 2018
KJ Dell’Antonia — the former lead editor of the New York Times Motherlode blog — writes about “how to create the best possible family life we can with the hand we’ve been dealt” in her book, How to Be a Happier Parent.
According to her research and lived experience, happier parenting often involves reframing our expectations and approach to the tough spots of family life. From chores to sibling relationships, she recommends first changing how we think about those issues and then change what can be done.
For example, how do we change how we think about sleep?
Abundant research confirms that lack of sleep can have cascading consequences – from poor mental health to emotional reactivity to impaired cognition.
A parent’s instinct might be to either attempt to impose sleep rules or take a completely hands-off approach. But a third way, said Dell’Antonia, is engaging teens in the why and then letting them manage the how for themselves.
Instead of focusing on the consequences of sleep deprivation, identify the sleep benefits that will be most appealing to your child – from increasing their speed as an athlete to performing better in school. After all, the teenage brain is more motivated by the possibility of pleasure than by the fear of pain.
“If you teach your kids why sleep is important and what it can do for them, they can genuinely want and learn to change,” said Dell’Antonia.
Parents can model this mental shift; “Don’t talk about it as ‘you have to go to sleep’ – it’s not a bad place to go! You ‘get to go to sleep.’ In fact, your morning self is begging you to go to sleep right now.
”Making healthy family sleep habits a reality might involve rethinking schedule – or overscheduling. For kids in multiple afterschool activities, after dinner marks the moment “you finally get free of other people telling you what to do,” said Dell’Antonia.
“If they are of the mindset that they don’t get any free time, some of those afternoon activities might need to go. It might be too much. You can’t have better mornings without significant shifts in days and evenings.”