Getting children to sleep is challenging any time of the year. That said, during the summer months when the sun itself doesn’t go to bed until 8:30, it can be especially difficult!
Playful routines, that make winding down pleasurable and especially predictable, can help with bedtime. Kids may even look forward to each step of your personal process since it represents quality time with you.
Winding down for sleep is half-the battle, but it doesn’t have to be. Build in little benchmarks of play along the way. Additionally, since the concept of time is so hard to grasp, the activities you do closer, closest and then AT bedtime will help establish a rhythm so that kids feel in charge of – and aware of their own bedtime schedule.
In my training as an actor, relaxation was the name of the game. In graduate school, we had classes in Alexander Technique and Yoga and even deep relaxation! I was taught that I needed to be calm – in body and brain – enough to listen, focus and do really good work.
Now, more than ever, I rely on those methods when I’m putting my kid to sleep!
Talk About the Science of Sleep
It is more clear than ever that a healthy amount of sleep yields more productive, intelligent and thriving humans. Conversely, a lack of sleep can lead to bad moods and takes a toll on your Emotional Intelligence. After reading Ariana Huffington’s The Sleep Revolution I changed my own bedtime habits and started talking to my son about how important sleep was. I now believe it is essential to educate kids about the benefits of sleep. “Sleep is as important as nutrition and exercise. It’s when the body repackages neurotransmitters, chemicals that enable brain cells to communicate. And experts have recently been able to demonstrate that sleep allows brain cells to “take out the trash” each night, flushing out disease-causing toxins.” (Parents, October 2014) Help your children understand some of this science. In this way bedtime takes on more meaning and it doesn’t just feel like a frustrating end to playing.
Use the Bath as a Sleep Aid
Whether you use a bubble bath, a shower, or even just a fun foot bath, cleansing the day off is a time-honored bedtime ritual that works.
Drop in some essential oils
Oils like lavender or cedarwood are noted for calming properties. Amazingly scents are so powerful that they can immediately impact our bodies’ nervous system. You can put them in a diffuser or place them directly into the water. Experiment with different ones until your child finds one that they love.
Play music in the tub
Get all the senses activated. Put on a relaxing playlist that you curate with your child based on the melodies, lullabies and even ballads that they love. Make sure they know that these tunes are to help them get to sleep (so, in other words the Trolls soundtrack – much beloved though it may be – should wind up on a different playlist!).
Talk about your day and connect
Our family has found that “tub time” (as we call it!) is a great moment to unwind and talk about our day with each other. Sometimes I even facetime with grandparents since the contained nature of the tub is helpful in controlling my kids’ energy and keeping him in one place for the phone call!
Whether it is in the bath, or after, I like to encourage 10 minutes of screen-free, parent-free, stimulation-lite playing. Provide your kids with some simple tools for a “last playtime”. Lately, my son is into silly putty, animal figurines, and of course empty cardboard boxes. Check out other toys you already have around the house that are great for a last wind-down. Just make sure you set a timer since limits on this last relaxing playtime are essential.
Lullabies that Matter
Singing to your kid is such a meaningful, even intimate, activity, so you’ll want to get personal with the songs that you choose for lullabies. Especially given that most of us don’t make music professionally, it can feel vulnerable to open your mouth and let out some notes. But rest assured, that our kids don’t care if we are a little “pitchy” or don’t remember all the words. Rather, they will feel a connection to us as we share music and our voices with them. Beyond even the music itself, I believe it is that connection that will make them feel cosy and ready for sleep.
So, whether your tastes lean towards 90s grunge, hip-hop or show tunes, look for the songs you enjoy, and turn them into lullabies. Slow down the tempo, sing it quietly, even make up your own lyrics. I remember as a new mama being gifted a series of CDs from Rockabye Baby that turned music from Marley to Metallica into bedtime songs. Listening to that music gave me permission to use the songs I loved and turn them into a bedtime songs. After all, there are only so many times one can sing Twinkle Twinkle.
My favorite Lullaby these days is sung by the New York folk duo, 5J Barrow that also happen to be amazing teachers for Child’s Play NY. Eryn Murman, was the first teacher that I ever hired back in 2010 and she has helmed classes at our partner schools and camps for the past decade. We had a blast recording songs from our classes and some of their own. Below you can enjoy the lullaby-worthy ballad of theirs filmed at the beautiful Brooklyn Schoolhouse.
Get Great Kids Lit
Make Up A Story
Use tools like one-word-story or story clap to let your kids make up their own story before sleep. Sometimes unexpected topics surface right at bedtime. Use these storytelling games as a means to find out about their day or just have a last moment of creative expression. This is a lovely way to soothe kids and usher in sweet sleep.
Mindfulness Sensory Exercise
I love to pick a location (like the beach, forest or even a setting from a book we are reading) and describe the sights, sounds and smells of the world. For more info on how to do this check this out.
Breathing for Relaxation
Doing calming breaths together is a great way to connect and calm the brain and the body. You can play follow the leader with breath or pick a yogic breath that works for you
Have a Meaningful Conversation
I love to have a last moment before bed where we talk about something positive and calming. Here are some things to try:
Play a Game of Body Phone
Dial into your feelings with this silly game. Kids will express unexpected things and it is the perfect way to release feelings and connect before bed. Here’s how to play.
Have your kid pick a moment from her day, where she was her best self, and talk about it. I like to share about one too so my son knows I’m working on being a better person all the time as well. Kids can point out times where they shared toys, worked hard on something or toughed it out through a challenging time. Maybe they share with you a moment that you did not witness at school. What I love about this routine is that it is so pleasurable to recount. The anticipation of getting to share (and get praised for) these best self moments, actually lead to more of them. It creates warm happy feelings before going to sleep.
Something to Look Forward To
Encourage your kid to name something that they are looking forward to. It is a sweet bedtime ritual and can be as simple as anticipating Show and Tell or a playdate on the weekend.
People you Love
Making a list of people you love, family, friends, classmates can be a great way to feel warm and fuzzy before sleep.
Final Tips for Sleep
- Play soothing sensory games like Test Your Touch or Sculpture
- Before you brush teeth, drink a tea like Sleepytime or camomile. The herbs in the tea, as well as the ritual of drinking a warm beverage can certainly help your child get a good night’s sleep.
- Invest in cosy kid sleepwear, even a robe and slippers. Make those nighttime clothes fun to dress up in!
- Make lighting soothing. Lava lamps, twinkle lights, glow-in-the-dark stars and simple night lights are fun tools to set the relaxing mood.
- Start the bedtime process early, especially if you are involving games. Whatever combination of pre-sleep activities you hit upon, everything takes longer than you think! Make sure you don’t have to rush and you can model calmness too.
- Set time limits on all these activities. The timer itself is a great tool – make sure you communicate with your kid about how many minutes they get for each step, and then keep your word!
- Set limits in general. Certainly cap the amount of stories you read, songs you sing and even “best self moments” you share. Most importantly, keep that number consistent. Kids will understand the routine and will relax knowing that you are in control of the bedtime process.
So now I’d love to hear from you – what are your favorite rituals to help your kids sleep?
Thanks for watching and reading!