My seven-year-old son has had trouble falling asleep recently. Sometimes it’s because he’s been sitting around too much and hasn’t expended enough energy. Other times his anxious brain is thinking about something that worries him. Still other times his energetic brain is just too excited or distracted to fall asleep.
Maybe it’s genetic. I have vivid memories of wandering down to the kitchen and telling my own parents, “I just can’t fall asleep.”
This kind of trouble with falling asleep is normal for many kids, but it’s different from a crying baby or the toddler who throws a temper tantrum. “Sleep training” takes on new meaning at this stage and becomes a bit more about mental training.
The good news is there are simple strategies you can use and teach, which can help your kids get through the night with minimal yelling, crying, or frustration.
The strategies I draw on come from my own training and practice in mindful meditation. While more advanced silent meditation sessions are appropriate and incredibly useful for parents (read my perspective on meditation for mama here), kids benefit from shorter, simpler, guided mindfulness exercises.
Hint: before you get started, consider talking to your child about how the brain works using these helpful tips from Mindful.org.
For each of the bedtime exercises below, I encourage you to have your child start by taking three to five mindful breaths, in through the nose and out through the mouth (“smell the flowers, blow out the candles”). Encourage them to try to slow down a little bit with each breath.When they are calmed and ready, have them try one of the following exercises, presented in order of simplicity and as a script that you can use to coach your child:
One of the benefits of doing these exercises with your child is that you are teaching them to be aware of how their brain works and how they can gain some control over their “monkey brain.” This type of knowledge is transferable to all sorts of situations, and frankly serves adults just as much as it serves kids.
And what better place to teach it then curled up in bed with them at the end of a busy day?