Tips for Making an Exception to Your Routine

Happy Family
  • What if you just don’t want to go home for bed or naptime?
  • It’s just not convenient, you’re having fun and don’t want to stop.
  • You know if you leave the other adults present will glare at you for catering to your child, and question why you have to be so “rigid.”
  • The predictability of your schedule is beginning to feel like a straight jacket squeezing every drop of spontaneity out of your life.

Does it really matter if sleep times move an hour to two?
Unfortunately, the answer is yes. So think carefully before making an exception. 

Within each of us is a “body clock” which tells us when to sleep and when to be awake.  It runs on a 25 hour cycle so you have to “set it” with regular wake, sleep and meal times, exercise at the “right time” – not before bed and limited exposure to screen time in the evening. 

Research demonstrates that even more detrimental to our well being than lack of sleep is an erratic schedule.

That’s because if your child falls asleep at 7:00 PM during the week, but on weekends stays up until 10:00 it’s as though he’s flying from New York to California every weekend.  It creates “jet lag” making it much more difficult for the brain to know when to fall asleep. 

It’s true; some children are temperamentally more flexible than others and may seem to tolerate this better than others.  These children of course belong to your friends who are criticizing you for being so “picky” about bedtime.  In reality however, even those children suffer from the effects of jet lag, it’s just not quite as apparent. 

So how do you maintain a regular schedule that protects your child’s sleep without losing all spontaneity in your life or being constantly criticized for being too rigid?

  • First remember that firm is a synonym for rigid and it is a good thing.  It creates for your child clear boundaries and a sense of trust. Regardless of their temperament all children instead of finding a predictable routine restrictive feel calmed by it.   Unpredictability tends to trigger insecurity.
  • Secondly, make a plan and be creative – WAIT, before you groan in dismay if you are the type of person who feels strangled by schedules and plans let us explain.  In your schedule designate your sleep and meal times but BETWEEN those times allow as much flexibility as you please.  So when your friend calls and asks if you’d like to meet for lunch, which you know will spill over into your child’s naptime, you can quickly suggest a breakfast outing instead.  If you have an infant who may be napping in the morning why not try a late afternoon stroll to the park.  If there is a choice between weekend and weeknight swim lessons, choose the weekend and eliminate the next morning battles trying to get out of bed.  o Just let the kids know what’s happening in the next hour.  Remember they’re not mind readers and while you know what you want to do and what might happen once you get there– they don’t – for them, it’s a case of “get in the car – trust me.”  Just be “firm” about your sleep routine in order to have a calm day.  The rest can be more flexible.  o Having a plan also makes it easier to know when to make doctor appointments, sign up for activities or classes, or schedule family celebration meals.  Thanksgiving dinner at 4:00 PM protects your child’s nap and allows the cook to start the turkey at a reasonable hour instead of 4:00 AM.  Doing so even protects the adults’ sleep too which puts everyone in a better mood. 
  • Third, spirited children tend to have spirited relatives who do not adapt easily to changes in their plans.   Sometimes exceptions may need to be made.  When that is the case, try this guideline. 
    • Limit “exceptions” to your routine to three times a month.
      • Vacation and major life events may count as one
    • Avoid making exceptions for:
      • Shopping
      • Staying out with friends
      • Being at a party and having fun
      • Getting distracted by the TV or computer and as a result losing track of time
      • Losing track of time because doing so doesn’t fit your temperament

If we lived in the Netherlands this would all be much easier.  There protecting children’s sleep is a cultural value.  You won’t see children out during nap time or later than the designated 7:00 PM sleep time.  Unfortunately in other areas of the world, we often brag about how little sleep we can get by on, not knowing the costs to our health and well being.

So despite your best efforts there will be times when you have to say, “We’re leaving.”  Knowing full well you’ll be talked about and disparaged for the next two weeks, but this is where you must remember. 

If you don’t go your child will fall apart and be the one judged instead of you. Be fair to your child; take the “hit.” 


You can handle it more easily than she can.  Focus on your child and her needs.   Be confident in your own decision.  You can offer an apology, but even if it’s not approved of, you have protected your child. 

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