Kids Can’t Sleep? Try This Mindful Bedtime Sensory Exercise

Oh, Mr. Sandman?

Bring my kid a dream.  Really.  Please?

I’m a mom who likes to have a plan.  But try as I might, there is something about bedtime – after bath and brushed teeth and books – that drifts over into the vague.  Not my favorite time of night.  

If those eyes are wide open and the head keeps popping off the pillow, do I read him another story? Sing another song? Let him play on his own with the lights on?  Negotiations of “one more snack” or   

It was late one night in the depths of a Brooklyn winter and we had just read The Seashore Book by Charlotte Zolotow.  A son asks his mother what the ocean is like since they live in the mountains and he has never been to the seashore.  She describes a simple day at the beach filled with details about the seagulls the would see, the picnic lunch they would eat, the waves they would hear, the nap on the blanket and the sunset over the ocean.  It was so simple and yet so transporting.  

Around this time, I started riding the “mindfulness” wave all around me.  Nightly meditations and “staying present” and “getting out of your head” and “remembering to breathe” were things that I as an adult had been working on.  Although I wasn’t sure how was I going to pass these ideas along to Nathaniel at all.   

As an actor, the senses are a huge way into characters: how do you see and feel the world?  Listen in character so you can have a breakthrough in rehearsal.   I’m no stranger to the magic of the sensory work in the artistic process.  I just never applied it as a mom in order to get my kid to bed.

Here’s the breakthrough: Relaxing Location (ie beach) + Sensory Work  = Mindful Bedtime and Snoring Kid.

Your Bedtime Meditation Gameplan

Pick A Location.  

Choose somewhere to imagine yourself to be (ideally somewhere in nature).

It could be specific (your favorite vacation spot) or made up. Let there be enough details in the environment you can recall so you don’t have to struggle to come up with words.  If you and your child are reading a story and the location is very vivid you can help your child imagine themselves inside that book (we did this with the “jungle” of the Magic Treehouse books).  No need for too much variety though.  Pretty much every night, we do “ocean”.

Let the Senses do the Work.

 Sight, sound, smell, taste, touch – remember those? (I think I have a B+ poster-board about them somewhere in my parent’s garage.) Ask your child to concentrate on one sense at a time.  The senses will ground kids in the present and get them out of their heads. It is also helpful for you since it essentially gives you an outline of what to cover!

Numbers give you an Exit Strategy!  

Start with describing 3 things per sense that your child can imagine.  If you get on a roll with a sense, (like sight or smell) you can do more with that.  I find consistency is key.  Agree on a number beforehand with your child: “I’m going to do 15 Ocean Senses and then kiss you goodnight.”  I like to say the number that I’m on so that there is a sense of winding down.

Here is a sample of how this goes in our house (this also works great with soothing touches on the back!).


Number One: You can hear the sound of the waves lapping against the shore.

Number Two: You can hear the sound of the seagulls cawing overhead.

Number Three: You can hear the sound of the sea lions barking on a rock.

Number Four: You can smell the sea breeze, briney and wild.

Number Five: You can smell the yummy food in the picnic lunch.

Number Six: You can smell the coconut in the sunscreen lotion that we put on your body.

Number Seven: You can see the crabs scuttling along the beach.

Number Eight: You can see the sailboats far out at sea.

Number Nine: You can see the dolphins leaping and diving.

Number Ten: You can taste the saltwater on your lips

Number Ten: You can taste the popcorn and apples we bring to the beach

Number Ten: You can taste the refreshing lemonade you drink from a straw, tart and sweet

Number Eleven: You can feel the soft sea anemone of the tidepools

Number Twelve: You can feel the seashells on the beach as you collect them in your pail

Number Thirteen: You can feel the soft blanket that you lie on as the warm sun heats your body and you drift off to sleep.



Thanks, Sandman – turns out we got this!

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