Updated: Apr 26, 2020
When we are all anxious, sleep is one of the first things to be impacted. Children are no different. When your child comes out of bed for the third glass of water, have a stomach ache or seem to ask you deep philosophical questions, chances are they are anxious or worried about something. So many people have found that during this pandemic their kid's behaviours have regressed and many kids are crawling back into their parent's beds during the night. Regression and sleeplessness is a normal response to stress. It makes sense that in a time that we are all feeling unsafe, that children would want to be with the people that make them feel safest. Which means you may have a child kicking you in the middle of the night after they have snuck in under your blankets.
Often bedtime is difficult because there is nothing to distract them from their thoughts and they are left with all the worries of the day. Sometimes they don't even know what they are anxious about, just that they can't sleep. If they can get to sleep, they can be bombarded with nightmares. They may not have had nightmares for years but all of a sudden they seem to be having them every night. This is just another way for them to try and process all the stress that they are under.
There are lots of things that help with sleep. Having a regular bedtime, no screens for an hour before bed, being able to talk about worries during the day and having a bedtime routine. Adding some relaxation to a bedtime routine will help to calm their bodies and minds so they can be in a space for restful sleep.
Even if you have done some sort of relaxation with your child before, when they really need to use it they can forget. That's why having their relaxation reminders with them when they are in bed can be helpful.
Start with a plain pillowcase, any light colour is fine. You will need fabric markers or crayons. Most craft and art supply stores will have fabric markers, or you can use fabric paint. Make sure you put thick paper or cardboard in the pillowcase so that the markers don't bleed through.
If you read my blog last week, you will know about helping your child find their "special place" for guided imagery relaxation as well as the use of controlled breathing. This activity combines those so that they can have them with them in bed. If you haven't read it, maybe have a quick look, it doesn't take long to read.
Trace their hand on the pillowcase. Ideally you should do the hand that will rest on the pillow when they are sleeping. This is a good reminder of their controlled finger breathing. When they are in bed they can use their finger to trace around their hand. As they go up the finger they breathe in slowly, hold their breath at the top and then breathe out slowly as they trace down their finger.
Fill the pillowcase with all the things that make your child feel happy and safe. You can draw the "the special place" that they have as a relaxing memory. Draw anything that makes them smile. Talk through their 5 senses, what smells do they love, what feelings, what colours, what tastes or sounds.
You can target specific challenges. What are the worries or thoughts that they often have at bedtime. Do they feel alone or unsafe? what reminders could you add that will help them remember that they are okay? Write positive self-talk that they could say to themselves.
Older children might like to add some inspirational quotes or affirmations.
If your child has been having nightmares, what would they like to dream about? Have them draw the dreams the want. It is especially helpful to draw an alternative ending to the nightmare they have had. If they dreamt about snakes, could they turn them into lolly snakes and eat them. If they dreamt about monsters, could they shrink them and blow them away? The funnier the better when it comes to changing dreams.
Have them draw all the people who love them and make them feel safe.
What songs make them feel happy? Are there songs that make them smile or remind them of a great memory?
Every night they will now be able to add relaxation to their bedtime routine. These are all helpful reminders that they are safe and loved.
At bedtime, slowly trace around their fingers. Slowly breathe in as you go up the finger, hold the breath at the stop and slowly breathe out as you go down the finger. Have your child practice doing this themselves. Reassure them that if they wake during the night, that they can do their breathing and remember the drawings on their pillow.
Of course this doesn't mean that you have to kick them out of your bed if they come in. This is a stressful time for everyone and they may need some extra closeness for a time. This will not last forever. Usually as the stress passes so will the broken sleep. However helping your child to relax before they go to bed will increase the changes of deep relaxed sleep for everyone.