Is it hard to help your child “turn-off” her brain before bedtime? Does your child constantly get out of bed or struggle to fall asleep at night? Oftentimes, it is hard for a child to understand what her body is feeling and vocalize what she might need in order to feel more balanced and organized. Overall, children truly benefit from a daily bedtime routine that helps their bodies find a consistent sleep cycle.
The following activities will make for a smoother bedtime transition and help your child’s mind and body become more relaxed:
1) Use a visual schedule: Pictures and cues can help your child see what is included in each step of the routine and help you both talk about the plan and keep a consistent bedtime routine (e.g. first is bath time, second is brushing teeth, third is story time, fourth is turning the nightlight on, fifth is hugs and kisses, etc).
2) Prepare for the next morning: Help your child get ready for the next day (e.g. lay out her outfit, pack her lunch, and organize her backpack). This will not only help your child be more independent, but also will eliminate the morning rush.
3) Keep a bedtime notebook/journal: Keep a notebook near your child’s bed, and help your child write down the day’s events, anything she might be worried about, and any thoughts that are running through her head. If she is a younger child, have her describe her feelings by drawing pictures or using one or two phrases. If she is an older child, have her use complete sentences or bullet points, and possibly write out her thoughts independently. Jotting down what is fresh on her mind will ideally help to eliminate any anxiety that might keep her from falling asleep. It can also serve as a “to-do” list or reminder of what needs to be done in the next day or two.
4) Heavy work: Have your child engage in heavy exercise activities to help fatigue her mind and body, and get out all the excess energy. Heavy work can include: animal walks (e.g. crab walk, wheelbarrow walks, bunny hops, seal walks, army crawls), exercises (e.g. jump-roping, push-ups, sit-ups, Superman position (on stomach, with arms and legs extended and lifted off of the floor), Silly bug position (on back, with arms crossed over chest and head and legs flexed into body), and everyday activities (e.g. pushing/pulling wagon or stroller, carrying/pushing full laundry basket).
5) Take a warm bath: Oftentimes, warm water serves as a great muscle relaxer, and can help melt away some of the stress and worries of the day. Try using a soothing lavender scent, which can help your child further unwind.
6) Lotion massage: Help your child apply lotion after bath time and/or before putting her pajamas on. Provide your child with either a gentle or firm massage, depending on her preference, as the lotion rubs into her skin, as some children show aversion to light or deep touches. Massages help relax the muscles and decrease stress and tension.
7) Make a “kiddo sandwich/hotdog”: Provide your child with proprioceptive and tactile input by creating a “sandwich/hotdog” using large pillows and blankets (e.g. have the child lay on top of a large pillow or pile of pillows and cover her body with another pillow, providing “squishes” to add the sandwich ingredients; or roll your child snugly in a blanket like a hotdog, providing “squishes” to add the ketchup and mustard, etc). This will help increase her body awareness and calm her body down.
8) Set a timer: Set the timer on the microwave or use a regular timer to show your child how much time she has before bed, or more specifically, how much time she has left to complete a certain bedtime activity such as reading a book. This will ideally help to eliminate the battle of “just one more book” or “just 5 more minutes”, because there is already a pre-determined amount of time set aside.
9) Listen to calm music: Help your child set a sleep timer on her alarm clock or simply play a CD , either while she lies in bed or as she begins her bedtime routine (e.g. reading a book). Quiet lullaby music can help a child let go of the thoughts running through her mind and help her get in a more relaxed state.
10) Weighted blanket/sleeping bag: Cover your child with a weighted blanket in order to provide her with extra tactile and proprioceptive (body awareness) input. A weighted blanket helps provide an evenly distributed weight and a calming effect.