Disclaimer- I don't have kids to put to sleep at night. But, over the years I have babysat my fair share, so I am familiar with the struggle of getting a child to go to sleep. The little pitter patter of feet coming down the hall when you think they are finally fast asleep... The feeling that you would do anything to be able to take a nap yourself, so why wouldn't they want to???
My recommendations come from watching children arrive to my yoga classes revved up, and then seeing them afterwards calm and relaxed, saying they could go to sleep. The techniques that I use in yoga class are geared toward helping them use up and burn off their excess energy and transition into being calm and relaxed.
Here's how I apply what I know from teaching kids yoga (in italics) to helping kids go to sleep:
1. Burn it Off -
What I know: Do active poses first to help burn off energy.
Bedtime advice: Help kids sleep at night by keeping them active earlier in the day. If they aren't involved in afterschool activities like sports or yoga classes (hint hint), encourage games of catch, bike rides, frisbee, putting on music and dancing, jumping on the trampoline etc. Anything to get them moving. Lead by example getting exercise yourself, or better yet, play with them!
2. Winding Down -
What I know: In order to bring the energy level of the kids down, environment is important.
Bedtime Advice: As adults, it is hard for us to run around doing a million things during the day and then flop right into bed and go to sleep. We might need to take a shower or a bath, read a book, and listen to some jazz to bring our energy level down. The same applies to kids. Think of the evening as a time to bring the energy level down. Don't have a tickle fight in the living room and then march the kids off to bed. Instead, choose quiet evening activities- coloring, reading books, writing or drawing in a journal, etc. Also, set a time-limit on screen time before bed. Experts have recommended powering off anywhere from 30 minutes to 2 hours before bedtime. Experiment to see what works for your family. Use soft, quiet voices and dim the lights. Think of this time as a transition time from a hectic day to a calm night.
3. Yoga Poses -
What I know: Certain yoga poses help calm the body and are particularly relaxing.
Bedtime advice: Yoga is a great way to wind the body down at night. However, not all yoga poses are created equal at nighttime, especially yoga geared towards children that tends to be more active and playful. Use poses that are calming, balancing, and restful. (Tree and child's pose instead of Sun Salutations.) Balance poses clear and focus the mind, and forward bends help quiet the body. Also, any poses lying on the back are particularly restful (Happy Baby/Dead Bug, Knees to Chest, Legs on the Wall or Legs Up in the Air).
4. Guided Imagery -
What I know: Guided imagery helps give active minds something to focus on.
Bedtime advice: Reading a bedtime story is well-known as a nighttime activity. But sometimes the stories really get your mind going! I suggest reading a guided visualization afterwards that helps replace busy thoughts in a child's mind with calm, peaceful images. You can read them a relaxation story (Imaginations: Fun Relaxation Stories and Meditations for Kids has 18 to choose from) or make up your own using a theme or place that you know your child enjoys. Remember, always use a slow and soft voice.
5. Essential Oils -
What I know: Good smelling essential oils have powerful effects.
Bedtime advice: Lavender, ylang ylang, and chamomile oil are all essential oils that are known to help bring about sleep. Experiment with different oil scents to find the one that works best with your child (what works for one, might not be the same for another). Remember, always look for pure essential oils (not synthetic fragrance oils), especially when using them with kids. When using essential oils with kids, you only need a tiny little drop, and you can even dilute that drop in a carrier oil (like coconut or almond oil). Try a bedtime foot massage or using a drop in the bath. Try them for yourself too... I can't sleep without lavender or ylang ylang, and I always travel with them.
6. Eye Pillows -
What I know: Eye pillows can make the most fidgety child calm and content during relaxation.
Bedtime advice: Eye pillows are a fun bedtime "prop" that really help with sleep. When you put the pillow over your child's eyes, the weight of the pillow helps relax the muscles of the eyes and face. Have your child use one while you are massaging his or her feet with essential oils, and your child might start asking to go to bed early!
7. Can't Force It -
What I know: You can't force a child to relax. You can only guide them there and create a relaxing environment.
Bedtime Advice: You can't force your child to sleep at night, just as I can't force a child to relax in yoga. As Rachel Rainbolt says in her book , Sage Parenting, "It is your job to offer your child sleep, not to make her sleep. In other words, it is your job to provide the conditions for sleep. It is ultimately up to your child whether or not she chooses to walk through the door to dreamland, and you should grant her that respect and control over her own body."
So, together, let's keep creating relaxing experiences for the children in our lives, whether through yoga or a calming bedtime routine or both, so that children not only choose to drift off to sleep but that they look forward to it.
Have suggestions or comments - please leave them below!