Parents and children can both be intimidated by bedtime. You never know if you’re going to get a sweet, peaceful, and bonding evening or if it will be filled with stress and meltdowns. We would all choose the first experience if we could. While nothing in parenting is guaranteed, there are steps you can take to help with this major transition. As a parent, teaching your child to self-soothe can help improve your evenings dramatically. Here are ways to guide your child into a relaxed bedtime routine!
KNOW WHERE BEDTIME FEAR AND ANXIETIES ARE COMING FROM
You can help your child address their bedtime fears and anxiety by understanding the cause of it.
We have all been frustrated and ready to sternly say “just go to sleep” to our children. Taking the extra time to figure out why they can’t fall asleep can help you eliminate repetitive nights of fighting bedtime. You can be empathetic and supportive, teach relaxation techniques and leave something of yours with your little one.
BEING SUPPORTIVE AND EMPATHETIC
Think about nighttime from your child’s perspective. You are the person who cares for them in every way possible and this is their longest stretch of time away from you. Of course, that can be scary! Your child should be reassured that you are there for them, close by, and that you will see them first thing when they wake up. If they are old enough to express themselves, take the time to listen to their feelings about bedtime. We would recommend doing this during the day so that if the conversation takes longer than expected, it isn’t delaying bedtime. It could be something as simple as being scared of the dark and needing to turn their night light up just a tad.
TEACHING RELAXATION TECHNIQUES
Relaxation techniques and self-soothing are great tools for your child to have during both night and day. You can’t be there every minute of every day but you can help your child learn to comfort themselves whenever they need it. The more they know how to comfort themselves, the less they will come running (or screaming) for you.
Children of all ages are able to identify verbal cues given repetitively. These cues can trigger their evening relaxation and sleep patterns. Try using a mantra or bedtime prayer that is simple and to the point. Something along the lines of “I am cozy, I am safe, I am going to have sweet dreams” can be used. You can practice saying your chosen phrase during the day with your little one to help them remember it and what it is for. The goal is to have your child memorize your special saying. They will then be able to say it to themselves rather than needing you to say it for them.
Blowing Out Birthday Candles:
This technique is great for helping your little one calm down in any situation. Kids don’t always take being told what to do very well. Who really likes being told “you need to calm down” or “you need to take a deep breath.” Instead, try turning “take a deep breath” into something fun. Say your little one is 3 years old. Ask them “How old will you be at your next birthday party?” When they respond “4”, say “Let’s practice blowing out your birthday candles!” Have them hold up 4 fingers. Tell them “Each finger is a candle on your cake and you can blow them out one at a time. Let’s take a deep breath and blow the first one out together!” Have them put a finger down after each blow. After practicing this multiple times, they will know that “blowing out their candles” can help calm them down. They can then do this with or without an adult present.
Applying gentle pressure triggers your nervous system to relax. Parents can give a mini massage prior to bedtime to initiate that feeling of relaxation but it doesn’t have to stop there. You can teach your child these techniques so that they can apply them to themselves. Have them cross their arms and gently squeeze the opposite arm with their hands along their biceps. Another option is gently applying pressure with their fingers while rubbing in a circular motion on their temples.
LEAVE SOMETHING OF YOURS WITH YOUR LITTLE ONE
Try leaving something with your child that makes them feel close to you and reminds them of you. This can be something like one of your sweatshirts, a pillow off of your bed or a family photo on their nightstand. We’ve all heard of build-a-bear but they aren’t the only option for recording a special message. This concept is a way that you can incorporate your bedtime phrase into leaving a part of you (your voice) with your kid. If you record your voice saying your bedtime phrase so that your child can press a button when they need to be comforted, they will slowly feel like they no longer need to come get you. This helps them feel closer to you by using their senses to comfort them.
PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE
We’ve all heard that practice makes perfect. We also know that there is no such thing as perfect in parenting (or in life, really). When you practice the concepts mentioned above, you are giving your child a variety of options to help themselves. What they need one night might change by the next night. When we practice calming ourselves down, we learn to understand our needs and wants. We also learn what works at different times. It is important that we guide our children in building that self-awareness. By adding multiple “tools” to our “toolbox,” and practicing using each of those “tools,” we can become more effective. This is a skill that will serve them at bedtime and beyond.
We are certified sleep consultants in Denver, Colorado, and Kansas City but we virtually help families all over the world!