Now that my kids are back in school, our Summer sleep habits are starting to have an effect. I struggle to keep my kids in bed, they struggle to get to sleep and change their habits. So the other night I reached for my copy of Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child. I read the chapter on seven to fourteen year-olds and realized that the chronic tummy aches and morning whining were symptoms of sleep deprivation. With the days getting shorter, bedtime can be earlier.
Now the problem is how to help them get to sleep. We have bedtime routines and rituals that vary from child to child. My five-year-old listens to music, my four-year-old has his favorite bear and blanket. My older girls struggle to settle for the night, especially my oldest. She has an imagination that never slows, so rather than fighting it we try to work with it. Some of the things we have tried in the past are:
Magic pillow spray, we spray it on her pillow playing up the magic effects of the spray. I don't use it often but instead try to keep it as a treat. I also emphasize that the spray won't work if they get up, the have to be lay down and most importantly, believe that it will work.
Massage. I started baby massage with all four of my kids (not always successfully.) My son does not like his eyes or feet touched, but he loves having his cheeks stroked. When my daughter was in the hospital, understanding baby touch really helped. Sometimes an IV would prevent me from holding her hand, but I knew from experience some of the other forms of touch she might respond to, such as her eyebrows or jawline. I know this may sound weird, but touch is important to all of us and can have an especially calming effect. Think of how many kids ask to have their backs tickled.
Dream fairies, this is a sensory relaxation technique using mental focus to relax. First, I ask for a place they would like to go in their dreams. Then with a light touch on their nose, mouth, cheeks, eyes, ears, and forehead, I tell them the things they will smell, taste, feel, see, hear, and experience there. For example, if they wanted to go to the beach, with their eyes closed I would describe that smell of the ocean, the taste of salt in the air, the sounds of the waves crashing on the shore. I might describe the way the sun feels on their face, the sand beneath their feet, the sound of the gulls flying overhead, etc. You have to use your imagination.
Progressive muscle relaxation. There are many methods, but what works best for us is, I tell my daughter to imagine her body increasing in weight. It is growing heavier as she sinks deeper into the bed. It starts in her tummy, as her core slowly sinks into the bed, then I move to her hips and shoulders, legs and arms, and finally head, hands, and feet. I keep my voice slow and soft.