There are so many fun summer activities that happen after my kids are asleep. I feel like I’m depriving them of some formative experiences, plus I frequently need to lie about an event they see being set up or about their friends’ whereabouts so they don’t feel like they’re missing out. If I could get them to sleep later the next morning, I would, but I can’t, and I know we won’t have any fun during the daytime if they’re sleep deprived all summer. Thoughts?
You know your children best, and you know what they can and can’t handle. If staying up late is in the “can’t handle” column, then you are doing your best possible parenting by ensuring that they go to sleep at a time that gets them adequate rest. They won’t be this age forever, and sleep patterns change. A few years of missing out on after-dark activities doesn’t constitute a deprived childhood, even though it’s probably a bummer for all of you.
However, kids can change a lot in a short amount of time, and even more over the course of a year. If they had a miserable time at last year’s July 4th fireworks and you haven’t tried any late-night activities with them since, you actually don’t know how they’ll respond this year.
It could be worth choosing a low-stakes test case when you don’t have anything planned the next day and letting them stay up late to see how it goes. If it’s awful, you have your answer for the rest of the summer, and if it’s not awful (or maybe even fun), you get to loosen things up a little bit for the next couple months.
Another alternative is to give your kids the option to take an afternoon nap. Some kids, even those who stopped regular napping long ago, will be willing to rest in the afternoon if it means staying out late for a fun activity. You can’t force them to sleep in, sadly, but you may be able to enforce some afternoon rest time, especially if the rule is, “We can’t go unless you rest first.”
Finally, if lying about other people’s bedtimes all summer isn’t your ideal parenting mode, consider the possibility of coming clean next time your kids ask about an activity. “Different things work for different families,” is a useful mantra, as is, “I’m sorry you’re disappointed. What fun things should we do tomorrow?” You can never do all the fun things anyway, and that’s true for kids and adults.
Helping your kids manage disappointment and not compare themselves to others are important life skills on par with getting enough sleep, so be confident that you’re setting them up for success even if the short-term consequence is frustratingly early bedtimes.