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We live in an age where we have a lot going on in our daily lives, and this can be stressful for both children and adults. There's less time for rest and recovery, when we're all connected for most of the day. This makes it even more difficult for children to wind down in the evenings. CURA of Sweden has tips on how to get your child to relax.
If your child is finding it hard to relax in the evenings, there are a range of possible causes. These can include worries and anxiety, perhaps the child has slept too much during the day or is too exhausted.
Most children simply grow out of this behaviour and you don't need to seek help if your child is difficult at bedtime. However, if your child has a more serious sleep problem, or is afraid to fall asleep and then sleeps badly when they do, it might be a good idea to contact your health visitor or your GP.
As a parent, there are plenty of tricks you can try. Make sure bedtime is always a quiet moment in a stressful day. Here's how to help your child wind down.
Turn off all screens well before bedtime, as both the light from the screens and the content can be too stimulating and make the child more alert, or even afraid if they have been watching something scary.
The light from the screen stops us from noticing how tired we are and reduces the secretion of the hormone melatonin which drives our internal biological clock.
A good bedtime routine is not a relaxation exercise in itself but creates feelings of safety and predictability for both children and parents. Find a routine that works best for you. An example of a good bedtime routine could include:
Giving the child a warm bath, dimming the lights, tucking their cuddly toy in next to them, reading a bedtime story and finishing with a relaxation exercise. Some people even think that a sleep schedule is a good idea to help children relax and fall asleep.
We all like close contact with others, such as hugging, holding hands and being patted. According to current research, touch affects our nerve pathways and raises the level of the hormone oxytocin in the body. This in turn causes our heart rate to drop, helping us feel calm and relaxed. By having close contact with your child, you strengthen your emotional bond and the child feels calm and safe. It's important to always ask your child if they want a massage so that they're involved in the decision and can control their own body.
Giving your child a simple massage can be relaxing and fun. Here are some suggestions for how to massage your child. If there is something you find your child doesn't enjoy, feel free to skip that part.
1. Let your child sit in bed or lie on its stomach.
2. Begin by placing your hands on the child's back and head. Use your whole palm and keep your hands still on the child. This has a calming effect.
3. Stroke the child's head and back with long, gentle hand movements. Children love being stroked. Make big and small circles with your hands on your child's back.
4. Then rub your hands gently on the child's back and arms. This increases their body heat.
Gently knead the child's shoulders, neck and back, as if you are kneading dough. Ask the child if what you're doing feels okay, to make sure you're not pressing too hard.
5. Tap with your hands on the child's shoulders, back and arms. You can use both open and closed palms, as well as your fingertips. Switch between fast and slow, and gentle and firm pressure. Improvise!
6. End the massage by stroking the child's back and then again placing your palms on the child's back and head.
If your child doesn't want you to perform the massage with your hands, you can use a ball. A normal tennis ball works well for this, but a softer one such as an inflatable ball, or even a special massage ball, is even better. Let your child lie in bed on its stomach, then start rolling the ball on their toes.Continue massaging the entire body from the toes upwards by rolling the ball slowly. On the back and shoulders you can give a little extra pressure, to encourage the muscles to relax. Always let the child decide what they think is comfortable.
Mindfulness exercises can help us to focus on the present and be aware of our bodies. Different techniques can help both adults and children concentrate better, feel calmer and be more attentive. For children they help generate positive emotions and increased self-awareness. One of the simplest exercises you can try with your child is a breathing exercise. Start by saying to your child “We're going to breathe together now.” You can hold the child in your arms or lie down next to each other, and focus on your breathing. Involve their cuddly toy in the breathing as well. You can also combine your breathing with words of encouragement for your child.
You can find more relaxation exercises here.
There are several apps for children with recorded mindfulness exercises and calming music. Here are some worth trying:
Mindfulness för children.
Smiling Mind app - created by a non-profit in Australia, with breathing meditations and music.
Headspace - guided meditation for adults and recently for children as well, with five themes: Calm, Focus, Kindness, Sleep, and Wake Up.
There are also lots of apps with so-called 'white noise' for babies and children. 'White noise' is a monotonous sound which covers other irritating or distracting sounds in our surroundings. An example of white noise is the sound of air conditioning or a fan. These can help children sleep and are also available in app form. Search for 'white noise baby' wherever you download your apps.
Spotify has stories and music to help children fall asleep. Search for 'bedtime stories for children' and 'bedtime music for children'.
Here is a playlist for meditation and relaxation for children:
For many children, having their favourite cuddly toy or security blanket with them in bed is important at bedtime.
These blankets and teddy bears are called 'transitional objects' in psychology, as children get the same kind of feelings from the stuffed animals that they get from their parents, namely security and closeness. In this way they're a transition between the child, their parents and the outside world. They give the child a feeling of security when they have to leave their parent in the evening to go to sleep. Children who become attached to a cuddly toy or blanket usually do so from 6 to 12 months old. For children who are one to two years old, these physical objects help to remind them of the feelings of security they get from their parent. When children get a bit older, around three to four years old, they learn to calm themselves by thinking about their parent and are not as dependent on their cuddly toy any more.
Here is an exercise you can do with your child in the evening, before bedtime.
You can also find good relaxation exercises that include releasing tension in one body part at a time.
If your child finds it hard to fall asleep in the evenings, talk to them about why that is. Remind them that it isn't strange not to be able to sleep sometimes, and that they can still relax when they're in bed. It can be helpful to chat with the child and let them tell you what happened that day. You can also talk to your child about the coming day and go through what's going to happen, so the child feels well-prepared.
Lots of children have nightmares or suffer from night terrors. If your child is afraid of having nightmares, it can be helpful to talk together about the nightmares, and then try to think about something fun and talk about that instead. Lots of people have grown up hearing the same prayer, song or rhyme every night, which can be soothing for your child too. You can also think of some words you want to say to your child every night, and repeat them. For example, "I'm so glad you're here", or "You're the light of my life.”
A lot of people suffer from bad sleep when it's too warm in the bedroom, or the duvet is too thick. Lower the temperature in the bedroom in the winter, and keep the window open a little at night in the summer, with a thin, cool blanket. Put a sock filled with rice in the freezer for a few hours, and then use it to keep the bed cold. You can also use frozen water bottles to cool down your bed.
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