woensdag 12 november 2014

Singaporeans do things differently: Bedtime for children

The other day, Blondie's teacher posted an article on sleep deprivation in children in the portal we use to see pictures of our children's school days. Blondie's former childcare centre had a similar article posted in the reception area.

"You tuck your child in bed by 9pm, so why does he still look like he's not getting enough shut-eye?" is the opening line.

"I thought I had passed even Singapore standards of letting toddlers staying up late", Man Tamtam said when he took Blondie to see the 8.30pm performance of "Roasted" (the Singapore parody of Disney's "Frozen"). "But just after it started lots of other parents showed up. They were probably still having dinner."

Bedtime for children in Singapore is significantly later than in the Netherlands (Singapore averages 9.40pm, the Netherlands advises 7pm to 7.30pm). Our children fall somewhere in the middle, going to bed around 8pm, finally sleeping between 8.30pm and 9pm.

This is fine for Big Boy, who has a humungous nap in the middle of the day (and who wakes up at 7am in the morning) but Blondie actually needs a bit more sleep. She has just dropped her nap (early, by Singapore standards, who expect their children to nap until primary school at 6 years of age) but needs to make up for this at night. We routinely have to wake her up at 8am and that makes her grumpy. Usually, she has a huge nap on Saturday, and on Sunday morning she sleeps in. This Sunday, she woke at 9am. (Big Boy woke at 6am.)

During our last parent-teacher conference I mentioned this to the teacher, as a way of explaining why Blondie is often late for school. The teacher told me this was a common complaint. Apparently, one four year old routinely requests "a ten minute snooze" upon being woken up. Another mother, Indian, told me her children don't sleep until 11pm (the Indian average bedtime for children is 10.15pm).

Singapore has a culture of long working hours, and children stay up to spend time with their parents. It is why we hear joyful shouting and splashing in the pool long after sundown, and why some play gyms are open until 10pm.

The sleep expert I talked to during Big Boy's non-sleeping phase (I found her very helpful) told me that Western parents often have to be counseled to expect less sleep and later bedtimes, whereas with Asian parents she works on how to shift bedtimes earlier. (Usually because the child needs to go to school and is too tired in the morning - it's not unusual to see a school bus full of sleeping children zoom past during drop-off time).

She also told me that in the end, the timings don't matter, as long as the child gets enough sleep. I know research seems to contradict this, but Singapore children score very high on academic scales. Singapore's only real rival in childhood academics, Finland, also reports the most sleep deprived children.

I will admit to having grown quite lax when it comes to bedtimes, my main worry being to secure a bit of peace and quiet for myself at the end of the day. (A Dutch author, married to a Spanish wife, commented that he didn't understand this need at all: "Spanish people actually enjoy spending time with their children.")

This blogger sums it up best, when she talks about research on "parental ethnotheories": "the researchers found not that one country's parenting was 'better' than the others, but that there is an almost unconscious drive in each country to do it the way everyone else does."

NaBloPoMo November 2014

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