I have a child who worries. She ties herself up in knots over little things and it always seems to become especially overwhelming at bed time.
I also have a child who sometimes just can’t switch off. He can’t lie still, he can’t stop getting up and down, he just can’t go to sleep. And the more he stresses about it, the worse it gets.
When our kids were babies we always helped them to sleep when they needed it. And over the years we’ve come up with several ways to help our older kids wind down and relax enough for sleep.
Here are some of the ways we use to help kids sleep…
Audio Books, Podcasts and Music
This is my go to idea for kids who are not reading independently yet. Having something to listen to and focus on can help quiet and over active mind and over active body. Being transported into the imaginary world of a story distracts you from your worries and gives you something other than getting out of bed to focus on. Listening to quiet, calming music can also have the same effect.
You can download loads of fabulous free audio books and kids podcasts, including some kids relaxation podcasts.
Our favourite free audio book site is Storynory, and we shared more of our favourite free audio book downloads here. We also like the Guiding Star meditation for children by Stin Hansen which is free to download via itunes. You could also try one of our favourite lullabies.
Books and Reading
The rule in our house is that you may read for as long as you like, as long as you are quiet and not disturbing anyone. Yes, sometimes that means my worrier reads late into the night, but we know from experience she wouldn’t be sleeping even if she wasn’t reading, and in fact she would get to sleep later after all the worrying if we didn’t let her read. So we let her slip away from her worries into the world of books until she can’t keep her eyes open any longer and she sleeps.
For younger kids who are not reading on their own yet, we pop a pile of favourite picture books beside their bed and leave them to it. They know the stories well enough to not need the words read, and just the act of focusing on the book helps them to calm down and get ready for sleep.
Drawing or Journaling
Sometimes when your head is whirring with ‘stuff’ you just need to get it all out before you can switch off and rest. I know that is true for me as an adult, and it is also true for my kids. Writing or drawing their thoughts can help get them out of their head and help make any worries seem not so big and scary.
We try to make sure that each of our big kids had a small notebook and allow them to have it and a pencil by their beds. When they are little I just encourage them to draw whatever they want. As they get older I encourage them to write a list of words, any words, whatever comes into their head. It doesn’t matter how they are spelled or whether anyone else can read them, just write. As our girls have grown up they now sometimes use their notebooks to write stories, or write letters to me or their siblings. Often the letters or stories are never read by anyone else but they help get thoughts, ideas and worries out of their heads so they can let them go and sleep.
Over the years I’ve found that one of the biggest things that stops my kids falling to sleep is not being still. Tossing and turning, sitting up, fiddling with this or that, getting a drink, switching ends of the bed… when your body won’t switch off and slow down, then your brain won’t either. So anything that helps our kids keep their body still also helps them to relax into sleep.
Being still is not always easy for kids, especially if they have a head full of worries, so trying a few things to help them relax their bodies to stillness helps a lot. A small item to hold in their hands like a soft toy, or a squeezy ball, can help them keep the rest of their body quiet, but still release any tension and movement. An easy relaxation game like starting at their toes and making each body part still as you say goodnight to them is an easy one for kids to practice on their own after a few goes with adult help. Something as simple as asking them to listen to all the quiet noises of the night can also help them focus on something and keep their body still.
As much as I would love it to be true, my job as a parent doesn’t stop when my kids go to bed. If my kids need my help or support during the day I give it. If they need my help or support to fall asleep, regardless of how old they are, I give it.
My end goal is to help my kids learn the skills and techniques to help themselves to sleep, but to do that, especially in the beginning, it often means I need to be there there to show them and support them. I also want them to know that it is ok to worry sometimes, that it is ok to take a while to fall asleep, it is ok to find this stuff hard sometimes. It is not something I want them to feel bad about as that just adds to the problem.
Sometimes just spending five minutes helping them calm down by talking to them, drawing on their back, rubbing their feet, reminding them of things they can try, or just being there, reassures them and gets them to a place where they are better able to try again to help themselves towards sleep.
Do you have a worrier? Or a ‘can’t sleep-er’?
How do you help your kids wind down and get ready for sleep?
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Read the comments or scroll down to add your own:
Julie @ Off to the park says
Great tips! Thanks for sharing. I have a 6yr who gets out of bed anywhere between 2-6 times a night. The list includes for a drink of water, go to the toilet (she wants us to take her, even though the toilet is right in front of her room with the light on!), tell us something, too hot or too cold, but the best one we’ve heard was that her eyebrows were keeping her awake! Daddy’s solution…if eyebrows don’t go to sleep they won’t get any ice cream for dessert.
Seriously, we’ve tried her reading in her bed at night, but don’t have a lamp so think we might need to set up a little lamp and bedside table for her, so she can read or journal. :)
Has anyone used any if these ideas with a younger child/baby?
I have an 11 month old who has only ever had success falling asleep alone (or even with me but without rocking, patting etc) when wrapped. These days he is too strong for wrapping and it’s also too warm in his room for that so his sleep has deteriorated massively. U now feed or rock him to sleep and he then wakes about every 2hrs needing to be fed back to sleep (he doesn’t want/need milk, just needs the sucking to get back to sleep – I know because when he was wrapped he happily slept 11hrs with no feed and even before that only woke on e to feed).
I wonder if some of these ideas of helping him relax (he squirms kicks, kneels, thrashes arms and winds himself up rather then down) and fall asleep himself or with me njust nearby?
Any ideas would be welcome!
Oh I feel your pain, my middle child was a terrible sleeper at that age and it can really get you down!
We use most of these ideas for older kids but some of them could be adapted for younger children. I’d definitely look at using music to create a calm sleep environment and happy sleep association- check out some of the relaxation type music. I’d also adapt the ‘being still idea’ with other ways you could offer that feeling of being wrapped – maybe a sleep sack that encloses his legs, you can even get some that are loose and light but enclose arms and legs, that may help him feel comforted?
I can also recommend Elizabeth Pantley’s No Cry Sleep Solution book if you are looking for gentle options to break the feed to sleep cycle.
We’ve successfully use Lavender essential oil, Peace & Calming essential oil and will be trying Cedarwood. Lavender and Peace & Calming made HUGE impact on our sleep life. Worth EVERY single penny.