Both routine and rules give children structure that they can rely on when life is challenging. Unfortunately, the last year, has seen much of our routine go out the window.
The necessity of working from home while also homeschooling has required a great deal of flexing on both of these key components in a child’s life, and while life has started to return to normal, children never really resumed their routine of normal bedtimes.
The result for many parents is children with varying levels of anxiety, an increased volume of “treat foods” and inadequate sleep, leading to children who become irritable throughout the day and are less able to cope with the frustrations of daily life.
Sleep is one of the most important elements of maintaining our physical and emotional well-being. This is particularly true for children who don’t naturally link their lack of sleep to their poor concentration levels, behaviour, lack of interest in physical activity, and low mood. Then they rely on treat foods to give them an energy boost – albeit temporary. So how can we as parents support our children to have a better quantity and quality of sleep?
Firstly, we need to consider an appropriate bedtime and work back from there. School age children should be getting between 9-12 hours sleep a night, with younger children at the higher end of the spectrum together with teen children who need more sleep during puberty.
Eating your main meal less than two hours before bedtime will almost certainly impact on your child’s sleep due to the body’s digestive process. If children complain of being hungry before bed, check this cue is not thirst, then if you need to offer a snack, choose sleep-inducing, nutrient-rich foods like turkey, milk, bananas, kiwis, oats or almonds.
It’s important to take into account that the bedtime routine should start around 60 minutes before lights out. Between the inevitable negotiations, changing into pyjamas, bathroom hygiene essentials and reading time, they will need it.
Removing all screens an hour before bed is vital for a restful night’s sleep. The blue light emitted from screens stimulates your child’s brain and will prevent them from being able to switch off and actually go to sleep. The blue wavelengths also suppress the production of the sleep-inducing hormone melatonin.
Studies show that those who read before bedtime go to sleep easier and sleep longer. Reading allows your muscles to relax and slows down your breathing, leaving you feeling calmer. Reading to your children at bedtime also promotes bonding, relaxation and feelings of security, all of which lead to better sleep.
6. Calming Scent
Certain scents can help to relax us and give us a restorative sleep. Lavender pillow sprays and essential oil diffusers are good for children’s bedrooms. Some of the essential oils of plants that are helpful to reduce stress and anxiety and promote calm for sleep are geranium, bergamot, chamomile and, of course, lavender.
7. Weighted Blanket
Described as a hug in a blanket, these can be a very useful tool to calm anxious children. The blanket’s pressure stimulates serotonin, the relaxation hormone, which helps you fall asleep faster, stay asleep longer, and feel more rested in the morning. It also helps to reduce levels of the stress hormone cortisol, helping the body to relax.
8. Soothing Sounds
Audio meditations designed for children to help slow their breath and induce a state of
calm, or simply soothing sounds like that of ocean waves lapping on the beach, can be a useful to help your child drift off to sleep.
9. Sleep Begets Sleep
The more they sleep, the more they will sleep. Your mission is to make going to bed something your children look forward to, like a warm safe hug, and never used as a tool for discipline.
Laura Erskine is a mum of three children and has provided expert parenting advice to online communities and media publishers over the last 10 years through her consultancy.