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This article about biorhythms from Working Mother magazine has some good points. As adults, we can control what we do and when we do it. But a child is subject to her parents’ whims as well as to her own moods. The connection between a child’s physiological needs and her behavior is much stronger than an adult’s. Adults can get through a meeting if we’re hungry or a workday without much sleep, but a child is much less adaptable. For parents, recognizing and working with their child’s natural rhythms will help the whole family have smoother, happier days. What’s most effective is to be flexible and experiment with what works best.

Sometimes the thing that works best seems contrary to what you might expect. It might seem like a child that is a night owl but who still has to get up in time for you to get to work at 8 a.m. would do better to sleep as late as possible. In fact, a gradual waking up such as a little music or getting in mommy’s bed, then a light turned on for a while, and then a slow getting dressed seems to work better for slow movers. Providing a sense of structure and routine is crucial to helping a child recognize and respond to her rhythms. Routines help kids understand what’s coming next. When the routine gets thrown off, kids may not perform or behave as well. Even developmental spurts can disrupt the routine. Adding solids to a baby’s diet can result in fewer feedings and perhaps longer stretches of sleeping. Giving up an afternoon nap can result in a sooner-than-expected bedtime, which may alter your evening schedule. Be prepared to regroup every few months or so. Daylight savings time is going to adjust soon, which will be a shift for the whole family.

Sleep routines seem to be the most difficult to adjust. A consistent bedtime is what synchronizes a child’s clock, yet we keep hearing about parents’ letting kids stay up late. Don’t let children stay up until they say they’re tired, or let them drift off in front of the TV. Young children need a ritual to shut down physically and mentally. If your child consistently crashes at night before you tuck him in, he’s exhausted way beyond a point that’s healthy.

Just like sleeping rhythms, children have eating rhythms. Some crave a big breakfast, while others may not have a hearty appetite until later in the day. Feel free to allow nutritious snacks when your child seems to need them. As long as the child’s overall nutritional pattern and how they’re growing is good, a few skimpy meals won’t hurt anything. Rhythm is very much a little-kid issue. As children get older, they adapt to schedules and routines more easily. Look at how well you have adapted. Just go with the flow.