How to Help Your Child Adjust to Time Changes

Adding or taking away an hour from a child's day can be difficult! Here's how you can help your baby, toddler or older child with traveling to different time zones and yearly time changes.

Nobody likes moving the clocks forward at the end of Winter. The extra hour of light at the end of the day is nice, but morning commuters are sleepier, children are waiting for buses in the dark again, and babies get very confused. Little ones enjoy a routine, and throwing their pattern off by a whole hour all at once can be rough! Traveling to different time zones is also difficult for wee ones.

Many parents would abolish time changes altogether if they could, but since that isn't possible, planning ahead is key. For example, starting the week before, move bedtime and nap routines ahead by 10-15 minutes each night. The same method can be used if the time change came as a surprise, and you forgot to plan ahead. Rather than putting a toddler to bed an hour earlier and getting them up an hour earlier, which is just asking for trouble, do it gradually instead.

The special routines around naps and meals and bedtimes are important to children. Since little ones don't understand the concept of time, we can't just say, "You have 10 minutes until lights out," and expect them to comprehend what needs to be done between now and then. Unlike teenagers and adults, young children cannot compute what 10 minutes is, nor do they automatically start to think of what needs to be accomplished in those next 10 minutes. As caregivers, we move them through the motions of putting on jammies, brushing their teeth, getting tucked in, and we read them a story or say prayers. Those things are their clock. We start preparing food and tell them to go wash up, and those are the signals that tell them that it's time to eat. This is why having routines and gently shifting those routines will help them adjust to time changes. Sticking to routines also helps children adjust to more massive time-changes associated with traveling to other time zones.

While the concept of time is abstract to tiny tots, time is concrete to older children. They are learning that time affects their lives in every way. You can either be sneaky and change the clocks at night while they sleep, or you can make them a part of this twice-yearly mandate, creating some fun traditions. Why not have a ceremony while everyone watches or participates in "catching the clock" in the middle of the day? Do something special with that "extra hour" or pretend to take away something bad when an hour is "lost." Perhaps allow them to skip something unfavorable just for that one day since they "don't have time" for it. Some children might enjoy learning about the science and the business reasoning behind time changes, while others won't notice or care at all.

Be patient with your children as their sleep schedules adjust. Adults can think ahead and tell themselves to go to bed an hour earlier, knowing that it will help them wake up an hour earlier. Children hate going to bed early! And infants will normally stick with their biological sleep schedule no matter what our clocks say. Give them time and show some appreciation for their lack of reliance on clocks. During the first week after the time change, keep the schedule flexible and open. Enjoy some spontanaeity and allow yourself a few extra naps, too!


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Val Mills
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Graham Brown
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