“I need some water!” “Just one more book?” “I don’t want to go to school tomorrow.” “I am NOT tired!” “Just five more minutes!” “Something happened at school today and I need to talk to you about it, right now.”
For so many, these are the words heard over and over and over again at bedtime. You can do the whole routine perfectly, bath, teeth brushing, books, but as soon as the little heads hit the pillow a switch in the mind is triggered and procrastination hits hard. Little minds start to churn into a frenzy of emotions: anxiety about school, fear of being alone, or worried about friends and family. Many times children aren’t even able to communicate what they are feeling or thinking but they know it doesn’t feel right or good and are not quite sure how to make it better.
At these times no amount of water, night lights, or book reading is going to help your child identify his or her feelings or calm his or her mind to slip into sleep. Even if your child begs and pleads and hopes and dreams. And no amount of sitting on the floor in their room, threatening your child to stay in bed, rocking or bribing your child will do it either. There is something that can be incorporated into your bedtime routine that can support recognizing emotions, calming mind, and relaxing into sleep: a mindful practice!
Supporting your child in a bedtime mindful practice is not hard, only takes a few minutes, and can result in many benefits including less anxiety, a calmer mind, falling asleep faster and a more restful night’s sleep! Here are three practices to try to help your little one (or tween or teen) relax into sweet dreams.
1. Body Scan
Supporting your child in checking in with his or her body and becoming more aware of physical feelings and sensations is often enough to help your child calmly drift into slumber. Body scans are easy and don’t require anything other than a few moments and attention. Have your child lie down on his or her back and take 3 deep breaths through the nose, noticing the breath going in and out. Invite your child to bring attention to his or her feet, noticing any sensations and sending calming energy and gratitude to the feet for working hard all day walking and running. Move up to the ankles, calves, knees and legs. As you work your way up the body, periodically invite your child to take a couple of deep breaths. After you have invited your child to scan his or her entire body, take a moment to have your child feel all body parts and any sensations that still may be present. Encourage your child to continue to be present with his or her breath as sleep is welcomed.
2. Sense Visualization
Another easy mindful exercise you can invite your child to participate in at bedtime involves becoming aware of his or her senses. Again, have your child lie down in a comfortable position. Lead your child in taking three to five deep breaths through the nose, noticing where the sensation of the breath is felt. Next, have your child visualize a favorite place. It can be a beach, the baseball field, New York City, or anywhere that brings your child joy. Invite your child to mentally list everything that can be seen in that place. After a few minutes move on to what can be heard, then smelled, then felt and tasted. Between each new sense have your child take a couple deep cleansing breaths.
3. Floating Thoughts
Bedtime is often the magic hour where children’s anxieties, fears, or worries pop up and like little monsters, take over the child’s thoughts and minds. This rumination in thought can make sleep very difficult. When this happens, have your child start by taking some deep breaths and blowing out extra long. When each thought or worry pops into your child’s head, have him or her name the worry and picture putting into into a balloon. Your child can then take a big breath and blow the balloon, imagining it floating away into the blue sky. This will help your children not only identify their emotions, but also become aware that thoughts are just thoughts and have no real power.
Whatever the thoughts or feelings your child is having, never force mindfulness or make it mandatory. Mindfulness should be an enjoyable part of relaxing into sleep. And just maybe you will reap some benefits too!