Clocks going back? How to help your child adjust to the time change
The best tried-and-tested hacks and techniques to help babies, toddlers and young children adapt to the autumn time change when clocks go back an hour
Hurrah, the clocks are going back on Sunday October 29th 2023, so that means an extra hour in bed! Um, EXCEPT if you're the parent of small children.
Yep, while we – theoretically – gain a whole hour's extra snooze time in the October clock change, the memo never quite seems to make it to babies, toddlers and young children. Which means, joy of joys, they're up and raring to go at (the new) 5am – because, to them, it's (the old) 6am.
So, is there a way to help your child adjust smoothly to the autumn clock change, so that you're not woken at silly o'clock on Sunday? Or, even if you are, you're not doomed to start the day at silly 0'clock for the rest of the year?
Here are 2 easy ways to help your child adjust to the autumn clock change
1. Start tweaking the clocks one week before (best for babies and toddlers)
This autumn clock-change hack is routinely recommended by parenting experts and influencers on social media and it does work – but it's worth knowing that it has 2 potential limitations:
- You have to be on the ball enough to set it in motion a whole week before the clocks actually go back (so it's no good if you suddenly remember about the clock change on the Friday or Saturday night before it happens)
- Your children need to be young enough not yet to have to fit into a schedule dictated by nursery or school
Assuming that's all good for you, here's how it works:
More like this
- 6 days before the clocks go back (Monday October 23rd): push your child's bedtime 10 mins later than usual (so, if it's usually bedtime 7pm, make it 7.10pm). You'll need to push mealtimes and any naptimes later by the same amount.
- 5 days before the clocks go back (Tuesday October 24th): push your child's bedtime a further 10 mins later than usual (so, 7.10pm becomes 7.20pm).
- 4 days before the clocks go back (Wednesday October 25th): push your child's bedtime a further 10 mins later than usual (so, 7.20pm becomes 7.30pm).
- 3 days before the clocks go back (Thursday October 26th): push your child's bedtime a further 10 mins later than usual (so, 7.30pm becomes 7.40pm).
- 2 days before the clocks go back (Friday October 27th): push your child's bedtime a further 10 mins later than usual (so, 7.40pm becomes 7.50pm).
- The night before the clocks go back (Saturday October 28th): push your child's bedtime a further 10 mins later than usual (so, 7.50pm becomes 8pm).
- And bingo! Your child is now going to bed a whole hour later than they were last week, which – cross fingers! – means they should now wake up an hour later on Sunday October 25th in ace synchronisation with the clock change.
2. Accept the Sunday hour-loss and use it to make Monday clock-perfect (for children at nursery or school)
This autumn clock-change hack is simpler and works even if you forget about the time change completely – but you do have to suck up the pretty much inevitable loss of the extra hour in bed on Sunday October 25th.
And – word to the wise – don't try to beat the clock change by just putting your child to bed an hour later on the Saturday night. You'll probably have a knackering Saturday evening dealing with a tearful, tired child and then still get woken up at the crack of dawn on the Sunday. "Even if you keep your child up the night before, they are still likely to wake up at 'normal time'," says child sleep specialist Katie Palmer from Infant Sleep Consultants. It turns out our internal sleep clocks are pretty powerful.
So here's what to do instead:
- Accept that your child will probably wake up at the normal time on Sunday but see if you can keep them in their cot or bed for 10 minutes or so longer than usual.
- Use mealtimes to adapt to the new time in 3 same-day stages. "Meal times can help to reset your body clock," says Katie, so simply serve up Sunday's meals later and later than usual, unless you've made up the hour. We'd recommend aiming for breakfast 15 mins later, lunch 35 mins later and tea 60 mins later.
- Make bedtime an hour later – or as close to an hour as possible. Your final task is to see if you can move bedtime an hour later, without a torrent of tired tears. (Perhaps this is where an additional couple of Peppa Pig episodes can come in handy...) See what you can do but, if your baby or child can't make the full extra hour, don't push it. You can probably add those extra few minutes to bedtime tomorrow.
Good luck and sleep well!
About our expert Katie Palmer
Infant sleep consultant Katie has been working with families for 25 years. She started her career working as a nanny around the world before moving to London and working as a private maternity nurse. She is NNEB and MNT trained and has completed the Solent NHS trust sleep practitioner certification, and her advanced OCN level 6 sleep practitioner training. Katie also works as a sleep practitioner with the NHS and CAMHS. She has 3 boys and is based near Sevenoaks in Kent.
Pics: Getty Images
Helen is author of the classic advice book Parenting for Dummies and a mum of 3. Before joining MadeForMums, she was Head of Community at Mumsnet and also the Consumer Editor of Mother & Baby.
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