5 ways to help your child relax before bed
What was that? The kids won’t settle down to sleep they’re so wired?
It’s not surprising when you break down a typical day in the life of the modern family. Life is so busy and our days are too full and it’s really no wonder that no one is sleeping well around here. We are all so over-tired from packing too much into our days and not leaving enough room to just sit a while.
For a good night’s sleep, we know how important it is to spend some time winding down and relaxing before bed and our kids need this time too. We need a plan to help them surrender the day and welcome some rest time. To just let go and leave the problems of the day for the night to solve.
Here are 5 tried-and-tested (at my place) ways to help them get there. You are probably doing most of these things already, it’s just the approach that might be a little different.
1. Make bath time count
A soak in the bath is relaxing for anyone, but we often race our kids through this part of their day. Rather than see the bath as a way to simply get clean, start to see it as a way to help your child wind down. Select a quality bubble bath with essential oils like lavender, chamomile, ylang ylang and cedarwood to aid relaxation. Encourage them to lie back and float in the water. Swirl the water around them in a rhythmic, soothing way. If you’re washing hair, don’t forget how lovely a gentle scalp massage is. Some soothing music might also help them focus and enjoy the peace.
2. A sleepy storybook
Reading together is a lovely, soft time in a family’s day. No matter how old your children are (well, okay, teenage years are probably pushing it), they will enjoy being read to. Choose a calming chapter book to enjoy together (we are big fans of Enid Blyton’s Faraway Tree series around here) and keep the light soft and dreamy. Sitting on one of the children’s beds makes a nice, pleasing setting.
Read for at least ten minutes, keeping your voice relaxed and full – voicing the characters and building the story with your inflections. Make eye contact with your children as you read and involve them in the story by asking questions as you go. Let the older kids read a paragraph here and there along the way.
Spend five or so minutes afterwards talking about the story and what you’ve found out so far. Wonder about what might be coming up tomorrow night and remind them that a good night’s sleep tonight will make tomorrow come around much faster (I always like to get that one in as often as I can).
3. Breathe away the tension
After bath or just before bed is the perfect time to do a little calming meditation. Young kids love doing anything with their bodies and this exercise is also a great way to pay them some attention before sleep time.
Have them lie down on the floor on a rug. Ask them to close their eyes and listen to the sound of their own breathing. They will get the giggles when you first start doing this exercise, but persevere because eventually they will enjoy it so much they will take it very seriously indeed. Ask them to count twenty of their breaths out loud along with you – use these counts as a way to slow their breathing down, gradually increasing the length of time between counts.
Once you’ve reached twenty, ask them to stay very still and silent as you are going to make a very soft sound and they are to raise their hand when they hear it. They must keep their eyes closed and only raise their hand. You will tell them when they have raised their hand correctly. This gives them a motivation to stay quiet and also an opportunity for you to remind them how clever they are. You can make the ‘soft sound’ any way you like, but I just make a soft ‘pop’ sound and that seems to do the trick.
After five or so hand raises, the children will be much calmer and quieter. Younger children may be almost asleep (with a bit of luck). Finish the quiet time by counting their breathing again, backwards from 20.
4. Music to unwind to
My first baby was a terrible sleeper and I think I read just about every single baby sleep book going. I SOS’d, I Baby Whispered, I Gina Forded… everything. There was just one technique that worked for Max and that was using music to associate a certain time of night with bedtime. At the age of two, we played him the same music track every night and eventually he associated that track with bedtime. When the music came on, he would even start to get himself ready to go. Eventually we stopped the music because 387 plays of an accoustic version of Cold Chisel’s “When the War is Over” was enough for anyone. Nope, no idea why that particular track was the ‘chosen one’… sorry!
Anyway, years have passed and despite going to bed at a set time every night of his life, Max is no better at winding down to sleep than he ever was. Such that we’ve recently reintroduced the music technique for him (he is now eight). Birdy’s “Skinny Love” is on our stereo at 8pm each night and it really does seem to help him relax into the idea of sleep. Note I said ‘the idea of’ not the actual event. This is a sleep aid, not a cure, I’m afraid.
5. Start a Worry book
My daughter started her “Wori book” of her own accord about a year ago. There is not a lot written in there (which is good!), but the fact that it is there is a great comfort to her. Many children raise their worries and fears right at bed time. This stems from anxiety about the night ahead but, let’s face it, it’s also a good excuse to have mum or dad stay with them for a bit longer as they talk through their fears.
Instead, introduce the Worry book. When your child raises their issues from the day, simply tell them to write them down in the Worry book and tuck it under their pillow to sleep on. “The night is a very good problem solver,” you say. “Things always seem much better in the morning.” Aside from neatly being able to tuck away their problems in the book, saying something like this is a great way of getting your children thinking about ‘the night’ in a positive, comforting way.
For non-writers, you can either do the writing for them, get them to draw their worries or tell them that the Worry book can catch their thoughts if they open to a blank page and think their thought very hard onto the page.
Either way, the Worry book is very good at closing down today’s problems before it’s time to go to think about sleep.
Find more tips on toddlers and sleeping:
This article was written by Maxabell for Kidspot.com.au and has been adapted for Kidspot.co.nz