Now that school' s started back no doubt you've noticed a change in your little one's sleeping habits. Either they're sleeping for England (in which case, hooray!) and falling into bed gratefully at the end of each busy or day, or else they are perhaps struggling a little to switch off. Either is completely normal- school is tiring at the best of times, but never more so than when you've just had almost two months off. Add to that the fact that the days are becoming shorter and the weather colder, making getting up a lot more difficult too. For children just starting school especially, the first time can be exhausting. That's why a good night's sleep is essential, right? But what if your little one is finding it hard to switch off with so many new faces and exciting challenges presented to them every day? Fear not. Here we are with some tips for helping kids to relax and unwind at the end of the school day!
First to focus on is, naturally, sleep. Is your child getting enough? There are average age recommendations of how many hours your child will need, but as a parent it's more likely that you have a better idea of that. If your child does not want to get up in the morning, it doesn't necessarily mean that they haven't had enough sleep. Let's face it, when it's cold and dark, not many of us leap from bed in a joyous fashion! But if your little one remains tired and fatigued once they're up and about, there's a good chance that they didn't get as much as sleep as they could have. One way to tackle this is by taking another look at your bedtime routine.
All children respond well to a routine that works well for the whole family, so spend some time reading a quiet book, or talking together after bath time in order to prepare your child for sleep. Set bedtime at a reasonable hour and make sure your child knows what time they are expected to be in bed and quiet. Some children need more wind down time than others- again, only you know best how much time is needed for your child.
The child that cannot sleep
Some children, like some adults, struggle to switch off at bedtime. They may be worn out after a busy day, but they are just unable to relax and wind down ready for sleep. This is normal when there are big changes occurring (such as starting school) so don't panic. Try the following tips to help your child relax for sleep:
- A warm, milky drink. It's not just an old wive's tale- warm milk contains lots of calcium, which helps you to relax, and tryptophan, which converts into serotonin that helps you sleep. Not only that, but a warm milky drink before bed fills the tummy nicely, and stops it rumbling in the night.
- A warm bath. If your child usually showers before bed, try a bath instead. You can let them soak for a while perhaps with the lights dimmed to help them to relax- but stay on hand as you don't want them falling asleep in there.
- Meditation. Not just for adults! Lots of parents swear by meditation for kids to help their little ones wind down for sleep. There are apps you can try (Smiling Mind is great for children aged 7 and over) and the wonderful Relax Kids has CDs that you can purchase too. Alternatively, dim the lights, and teach your child to take a few minutes each night to clear the mind and breath deeply. Talk gently to your child and encourage mindfulness.
- Quiet reading. Some children need to unwind slowly, by themselves. There is nothing wrong with leaving a book and a bedside lamp for 20 minutes or so, before returning for final lights out and sleep.
- Talk. If your child has things on their mind, or concerns about school etc then sleep will be hard to achieve. Set aside some time each day, before sleep time, to talk everything through.
The child who doesn't want to sleep
Some children may just refuse to unwind and settle for sleep when you want them to! Remember that this is most probably also because there is a lot going through their minds and that they are finding it hard to switch off. It's hard not to feel frustrated when your child calls you for the fifteenth time to bring a drink/ straighten the bed covers/ read one more story... but it's important to stay calm. Some children are just a little more demanding than others! Some tips to deal with this situation include:
- Again, a consistent bedtime routine helps here. If your child knows what to expect each night, it really does help. If your bedtime routine needs tweaking, try to agree some ground rules with your child. For instance, what time lights go off, and what the rules are on coming downstairs after a certain time.
- Limit screen time before bed, and switch off the TV too. Some children can become over stimulated and find it difficult to sleep, so its a good idea to read a book instead.
- If your child gets out of bed after lights out, stay calm. Return your child to bed and explain what you are doing and why. Do listen to your child if they try to tell you something, but beware of stalling! Make sure you are consistent and spend a few moments re-settling before lights out once more.
Of course, it's easier said than done to stay calm when you've been up and down the stairs countless times before 8pm rolls around. Some children are naturally more demanding and will find an excuse for anything when it comes to settling down for bedtime! It doesn't hurt to compromise a little though, so you could try allowing an extra ten minutes reading time for example, if you think this will help your child to unwind. Compensate for this by starting the bedtime routine a little earlier.
In the early weeks of the new school year, it might be a good idea to limit after school activities too, and keep weekend low key if you can. Tiredness can catch up with children very quickly! That said, gentle exercise may actually be beneficial for a child who has trouble sleeping. Yoga is excellent for children as it helps them to focus their minds concentrate on breathing- these techniques can be used at bedtime too.
How do you help your kids to relax and unwind? We'd love to hear from you in the comments!