Sleepyhead kids get the royal treatment from softhearted moms and dads
If anything can be considered a universal heart-warmer, it’s the sight of a sleeping child snuggled underneath his blankets. No matter how rough the night before, no parent can stay grumpy in the face of that totally relaxed, utterly innocent expression worn by a child absorbed in sleep. Oh, if only they were always like that! Inevitably, however, the sun slips over the horizon, and the little ones must be reeled in from dreamland. How do Beijing parents deal with this sometimes heartbreaking task?
Every morning, local mother Shen wrestles with her conscience when it comes time to rouse her 3-year-old, Keyi. “All kids need more sleep than adults,” she says. “If I have to wake her up, she will cry – it wastes a lot of time and it’s hard to get her clothes on.” Grandma’s old-school approach is to apply a cold towel to baby’s face to snap her out of sleep, but this is a practice that Shen disapproves of. “A better way is to play her favorite music from low to high, and then she will wake up with a smile,” she says.
If this musical wake up call fails, Shen goes even further to avoid Keyi’s discomfort: “If she has to be at school but it’s too difficult to wake her up, I will let her stay asleep and get her fully dressed, and carry her in my arms to the gate of her classroom, and then she’ll wake up when she sees her classmates and teacher. She won’t cry and will be very good and sit there for breakfast. This is the best way to give a child the longest sleep – carry her to school while she is still sleeping.”
American expat journalist David Wivell has a similar strategy, albeit one that only goes as far as the bathroom. “Our eldest daughter attends primary school, so she has to get up a bit earlier than our little one. I get up first, so it’s my responsibility to get her out of bed. She responds to me picking her up and plonking her in the bathroom. She doesn’t get picked up as much as the little one – she likes it and pretends to still be asleep.”
David’s wife Zhihua, a local Beijinger, is in charge of waking their younger daughter. “She doesn’t pick her up,” he says fondly, “she just tells her to get out of bed! We certainly don’t have any worries about them getting enough sleep; they get more sleep than we do. My wife would like them to get more sleep, but I don’t really mind – I figure if they get up early then they’ll sleep better at night.”
Older kids need some discipline of their own. Local mom Liu Yin has been encouraging her daughter Jin Meng to be self-disciplined about waking up in the morning since Jin Meng first began attending school. “Chinese teachers are very strict,” says Liu. “Chinese people have no choice but to be self-starters. I don’t want to scare her awake – I bought her a cartoon alarm clock that she has to switch off herself.”
As a nurse, Liu is aware of how important it is for growing children to get adequate sleep. At the same time, her daughter’s academic pressures leave little room for a good night’s rest. “Her private time is taken up with study, so there’s no other way but for her to sleep at school. She usually sleeps through her history class. She can get out of bed if she knows she can sleep at school. I don’t like it, but there’s no choice.”
There may well be no sure-fire strategy for easing the kids into the day. Everyone’s little precious is unique in terms of sleep needs and morning disposition. In March this year, research on the PERIOD3 gene further corroborated evidence that the difference between early risers and night owls is part of our genetic code, suggesting that some kids are going to struggle through their mornings no matter what you do to urge them along. So go on, softies, and let them have those five extra minutes.