Are you a day person or a night person? Right now I’m taking an online course on circadian rhythms, including waking and sleeping. It caused me to reflect on just how different people—even in the same family—can be! As far as waking and sleeping, I find I have had to adapt my rhythms over the years and circumstances. Sadly, I am sandwiched between night people! My mother was never up to fix breakfast and get us off to school and when I came home after school, I had to make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for myself and siblings because dinner (though delicious!) was never before 9 in the evening (and bedtime was at 10).
My daughter is like her grandmother! When I was going to graduate school, I adopted a new rhythm for both of us to solve the problem: I would go to bed at 8:30 p.m. and get her to go to bed then, too. If I had stayed up, she would get up and down all night trying to interact with me. I would then set my alarm for 4:30 a.m. and would get up and do my studying and writing when she was still fast asleep. I also adapted when I was first in college. I had to work long hours and never got to bed before midnight or later. I learned to catnap for a few minutes before my classes began and took my hardest class right after lunch when I knew I could get in the studying I could not do the night before.
Now research tells us that adolescents naturally do better when they have later bedtimes and wake up times. Some secondary schools have altered their daily schedules accordingly.
Whether you are a night person, day person or somewhat adaptable, it is important to find ways to support your child even when you are very different.
Thomas and Chess did a wonderful longitudinal study many years ago where they looked at temperament and how it changed from birth to 30 years old. They found some of us are naturally more regular in our habits (like sleeping and waking), some are much more active, some naturally have sunny dispositions, and so on. They also found that if parents loved and accepted their kids—regardless of their annoying inclinations—they raised happier and more successful individuals.
As parents we need to use our creativity to let our kids be who they are and find ways to help them get enough sleep, make friends and generally deal with life without making it an ongoing war.
As teachers we need to make sure we include activities and choices for students who have different strengths and interests than our own.
It isn’t ever easy—but it’s worth it!