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What Makes A Kid Happy? It's Less Complicated Than You Think.

If you want a happy kid, you have to meet basic biological needs. And while we've all heard "I'm not sleepy" at bedtime, our kid's physical and emotional well-being depends on the vital functions that happen during sleep.
Happy kid sleeping

In a 2017 study conducted by the University of Melbourne and Behind the News TV program, 47,000 Australian children were asked about their happiness- and while things like art, nature, sports, family, and music all made the list, sleep was the number one indicator of happiness.

It makes sense, sleep is an indicator of emotional and mental well-being in adults, so it would also be an indicator for children as well. Considering how sleep is directly tied to so many necessary functions and behaviors like short-term memory, learning, reaction time, and alertness, our well-being (and the well-being of our kids) would absolutely be affected by sleep problems. 

Two Main Factors Affecting Kid’s Sleep

Most parents know that babies need the most sleep and that as kids grow they need progressively less sleep. It’s normal to worry if your kid is getting enough sleep, but what the study found to be true is that sleep isn’t just about the act of sleeping, it’s about how safe and secure kids feel in their lives. In fact, children who did not feel safe at home, at school, or in their neighborhood were 2-3 times less likely to be getting the recommended amount of sleep than their peers.

Additionally, the study found that 47% of children reported sleeping with a screen-based device in reach on at least some nights of the week and that device stopped at least 29% from getting enough sleep on some nights during the week. As adults, we know that when we spend hours scrolling through our phones before bed we fall asleep later and don’t rest as well when we do fall asleep, and we have brains that have developed at least some degree of self-control. For kids, screens are even more enticing and they often haven’t developed the part of their brain that helps with self-control. More kids are spending time on screens during the day than playing sports or spending time outdoors with friends, screens are reducing the opportunity to exercise enough to feel sleepy at the end of the day. 

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What Makes Kids Happy? 

It may feel like it’s impossible to help kids get the sleep they need, but it’s actually traditional childhood sources of happiness that lead to better sleep. Kids in the survey identified that friends, family, music, and sports made them feel happy. And happy kids mean kids are more likely to sleep well. Thankfully, friends, music, family, and sports are likely already part of your child's life, at least to some extent.  

kids exercising helps with good sleep

How To Help Your Child Get Good Sleep

  1. Physical exercise during the day. For babies, this can be as simple as laying them on a blanket and letting them kick and wiggle their arms and legs. Older kids might need to get involved in sports, dance, or other physical activities. You can also easily incorporate a family walk in the evenings or include your kids in your exercise routine.
  2. Bedtime Routine: the actual steps of the routine don’t matter as much as the consistency, so choose a routine that you can stick to every night. With that in mind, you’ll likely want to keep it somewhat brief: brush teeth, read a story, hugs, and kisses, and lights out. With bedtime routines, less is more because consistency is the key.
  3. Start slowing down the house before bedtime. Turn on quiet music, dim the lights, do slower activities as you near bedtime. Allow your child to see you slowing down- reading a book on the couch or chatting quietly with your partner or a friend on the phone. These can become signals to your child's brain that it is time to start relaxing and getting ready for sleep.
  4. Watch your child's screen time, especially for the two hours before bed, and remove screens from their room at night. We know that blue light interferes with our circadian rhythm. We know that games and apps are designed to give our brains little hits of dopamine to keep us engaged with the app for as long as possible. Removing the temptation to stare at a screen for hours helps your kid feel rested. If you find resistance to this practice, make it a family-wide rule- no screens in bedrooms after dinner, and then you follow the rule as well. We could all use that boundary for ourselves regardless of our age.
  5. Connection, connection, connection. Good sleep in children is a matter of feeling safe, secure, and loved. When we hug our kids after school, kiss their owies, ask them about their day, laugh at their jokes, hang their pictures on the fridge, and listen to their problems, we are connecting with them in a way that helps them feel safe. That connection is a powerful force that not only helps with sleep but helps with so many other facets of development.
connection between parent and child

Good Sleep Means Happy Kids

With all the pressures of modern parenting, it’s refreshing that something as simple as a good bedtime routine and consistency at home can help your kid be happy. You can’t prevent every scraped knee, but you can make sure that your kid has a good night's rest to help them cope with whatever life throws their way. 

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