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Tired Kids: What Are We Missing?

Dr. Meg Meeker

Dr. Meg Meeker

As predictably as the sun rises each morning, when mid-October rolls around, my office is inundated with panic stricken mothers. Their worry? Their kindergartners have turned into monsters.The previously sweet, compliant children have turned sour, temperamental and belligerent. Many mothers tearfully admit that they are worried that something as traumatic as bullying or abuse has occurred and wonder if they should pull their child from the classroom. So dramatic is the change in their sweet angel’s personality that many parents feel like the tumultuous teen years have arrived ten years early.

This phenomenon is not unique to my pediatric practice; my colleagues in Boston and Tennessee report the same thing. So, what is going on? Are kindergarten teachers pushing kids too hard, making them anxious and overwrought? No. The answer is much simpler: kindergartners aren’t getting enough sleep. This is a universal problem and makes teachers, parents and the kids themselves a bit nutty.

Here’s what happens. With great anticipation and excitement, the child goes off to kindergarten. When she gets to school, she listens for long periods of time, refrains from yelling, sits quietly in circle time and keeps her place in line when she is lead to the cafeteria for lunch. Then, she gets off of the school bus, walks into the familiar kitchen and her internal release valve bursts open. She can relax from being good and let her frustrations rip.

We adults forget that behaving for six or eight hours at school requires a lot of energy for kids. They simply aren’t used to concentrating and keeping their behavior in check for such long stretches. And there’s another factor at work. They are growing. Combine these two issues and by seven o’clock at night, every kindergartner will be exhausted.

So what’s the solution for our 5 year-old angels-turned monsters? Sleep. And more sleep. The majority of young people simply aren’t getting enough down time or sleep and it is costing them mentally, emotionally and physically. I am a proponent of nap time for kindergartners. Whether they come home at noon or four o’clock, every child needs a break after lunch for at least 45 minutes or an hour. And even with that break (which can be given at school), some kindergartners need more sleep when they get home at night.

The average 4-6 year old requires at least 12 hours of sleep in a 24 hour period, so let’s help our little ones get some fun back into their lives and make sure that they nap and get to bed earlier. And they won’t be the only ones who will be happier. Our lives and their teacher’s lives will be a whole lot more pleasant as well.

For more on this subject, go to my interview with experts Karen Stephens and Kathleen Hayes on BAM radio: (http://www.bamradionetwork.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=category&layout=b log&id=35&Itemid=65).

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