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Understanding the Impact of Time of Day on a Child’s Behavior

As any parent can attest, children’s behavior can vary greatly depending on the time of day. From energetic mornings to tired afternoons, each time of day presents unique challenges and opportunities for parents and caregivers. But what causes these changes in behavior, and how can we work with them to promote healthy development?

While there are many factors that can influence a child’s mood, recent research has shown that time of day plays a significant role. In this article, we will explore the science behind how time of day affects children’s moods and actions.

Firstly, it’s important to understand that children’s biological clocks, also known as circadian rhythms, are different from those of adults. While adults typically feel most awake and alert during the day and sleepy at night, children’s circadian rhythms may vary widely. According to a study published in the Journal of Biological Rhythms, “circadian rhythms are not fully developed until late childhood or adolescence, and sleep patterns change as children grow and develop.” This means that a child’s internal clock may be different from their parent’s, and can shift as they grow older.

Another factor that can impact children’s behavior is their daily routine. A study published in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry found that children who have a regular daily routine, including consistent meal times and bedtimes, are more likely to have better emotional health and well-being than those with irregular routines. This is because a consistent routine helps children feel more secure and in control, which can reduce stress and anxiety.

By understanding factors of the internal body clock, daily routines, and external stimuli, parents and caregivers can create environments that support children’s development and help them thrive.

So how does time of day specifically impact children’s behavior? One study published in the Journal of Sleep Research found that preschoolers are more likely to exhibit negative behaviors such as irritability, hyperactivity, and aggression in the late afternoon and early evening, compared to earlier in the day. This is thought to be due to fatigue and a decline in energy levels, as well as hunger and thirst after a long day at school or play.

On the other hand, another study published in the Journal of Experimental Child Psychology found that children are more likely to engage in creative play in the late morning and early afternoon, when they are well-rested and have energy. This is because creative play requires focus and imagination, which can be more difficult when a child is tired or hungry.

Morning Behavior

For many children, mornings are a time of high energy and excitement. This is due in part to their natural circadian rhythm, which tends to peak in the morning and then gradually decline throughout the day. Children’s internal body clock is influenced by a variety of factors, including genetics, age, and exposure to light and dark.

Research has shown that morning behavior can have a significant impact on children’s learning and development. Children who start their day with a healthy breakfast and plenty of physical activity tend to be more focused, attentive, and productive throughout the day. Conversely, children who skip breakfast or have sedentary mornings may struggle with attention and mood regulation.

To support positive morning behavior, parents and caregivers can establish consistent routines that promote healthy habits. This might include a set wake-up time, a healthy breakfast, and time for physical activity or outdoor play. Additionally, parents can use positive reinforcement and praise to encourage children’s efforts and successes in the morning.

Afternoon Behavior

As the day wears on, many children begin to experience a natural dip in their energy and mood. This is often referred to as the “afternoon slump,” and it can make it difficult for children to concentrate and stay engaged in activities.

There are a number of factors that contribute to afternoon behavior changes. One is the natural dip in the body’s circadian rhythm that occurs in the early afternoon. This can be exacerbated by a variety of external factors, including lack of sleep, poor nutrition, and insufficient physical activity.

Research has shown that afternoon behavior can have a significant impact on children’s learning and development, particularly in academic settings. Children who struggle with concentration and focus in the afternoon may miss out on important learning opportunities and fall behind their peers.

To support positive afternoon behavior, parents and caregivers can incorporate activities and strategies that promote engagement and concentration. This might include taking regular breaks to move around and stretch, providing healthy snacks and hydration, and creating a calm and supportive environment for studying and homework.

Evening Behavior

For many families, evenings are a time of winding down and relaxation. However, for some children, the transition from daytime activity to bedtime routines can be a challenging one. This may be due to a variety of factors, including overstimulation, anxiety, or inconsistent routines.

Research has shown that evening behavior can have a significant impact on children’s sleep and overall well-being. Children who have difficulty winding down in the evening may struggle with falling asleep, staying asleep, or getting quality sleep throughout the night.

To support positive evening behavior, parents and caregivers can establish consistent bedtime routines that promote relaxation and calmness. This might include activities such as reading, quiet play, or a warm bath. Additionally, parents can create a calm and supportive environment for sleep, such as a dark and cool bedroom with comfortable bedding.


So what can parents do to help their children during these different times of day? Here are some tips based on the research:

  • In the late afternoon and early evening, when children are more likely to be irritable or hyperactive, parents can try to schedule quiet, calming activities such as reading, drawing, or listening to music.
  • Providing a healthy snack and drink can also help children feel more energetic and less cranky.
  • In the late morning and early afternoon, when children are more likely to be creative and imaginative, parents can encourage creative play such as building with blocks, drawing, or playing pretend.
  • Ensuring that children have enough rest and sleep is also crucial for their overall well-being and behavior.

It’s important to remember that every child is unique and may have different needs and preferences when it comes to their daily routine and behavior. However, by understanding the science behind how time of day can affect children’s moods and actions, parents can make informed decisions and create a routine that works best for their child.


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