For the past two weeks we have been talking about how to set up sleep routines for kids (or adults). We have talked about some ideas for routines and how to pre-teach those routines. Today we are going to talk about what to do when the routines don’t necessarily go as planned and parents hear the dreaded words:
“I can’t sleep/get back to sleep!”
This is one of the most common complaints from children as they are going to bed at night. Have a plan for what to do when children say they can’t sleep or wake up in the middle of the night and have difficulties going back to sleep. This will vary from family to family and child to child. Choosing one way of addressing this and sticking to it will usually yield the best results. That may require a high level of resolve and firmness at the beginning as the family settles into the routine.
Some families are ok with their child reading or doing a quiet activity in bed when they can’t sleep. Others find that staying up, even with quiet activities, will make it harder for children to get up “on time” feeling well rested. While we cannot MAKE our children go to sleep, we can set up the expectation that they stay in bed so their bodies and minds can have the chance to rest and recover from the day.
When establishing my own family’s bedtime routine I often found myself responding to complaints of not being able to sleep with something like the following, “You do not have to go to sleep, but you do have to lay quietly and let your mind and body rest.”
If your child needs more support in order to fall asleep or get back to sleep in the night, decide together which technique will be most useful and make sure they have what they will need before they go to bed. Some children are able to listen to a guided relaxation, do a body scan, or breathing practice to get back to sleep on their own. If using a guided meditation, consider how you might set this up without giving your child access to a device that might distract or stimulate. You can find some examples of guided meditations here.
You can also check the environment. Is it too hot or too cold in your child’s room? There might be some new noise that is distracting your child. For some children who regularly have a difficult time falling asleep, you might think about using a weighted blanket.
Some other things that can help children and adults get a good night’s rest are: lots of exercise, health-promoting food (did you know that pistachios and kiwi are rich in melatonin?!?), and limiting exposure to screens and other sources of light in the evening. Most importantly, don’t stress about sleep! Sleep is just one component of a healthy lifestyle toward which we may all gently reach. Every step we take will be a step toward maintaining the equilibrium we need to get through the tough stuff, here and now.
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Text: © Kids In Transition to School 2021
Image: © Letuve | Dreamstime.com