Ask any parent of an elementary-school-aged child, and he or she will tell you. It’s not only babies and toddlers who fuss at bedtime; 4- to 12-year-olds often fight the end of day mightily as well. A full day of school, though tiring, is also stressful and exciting, neither of which are particularly good formulas for falling asleep, especially for the sensitive child already prone to anxiety.
Of course, certain well-known tactics can help ease a child toward bedtime. Power down the electronic devices at least an hour, and preferably two, before lights out. The blue light from most screens interfere with the production of melatonin, the hormone that regulates sleep, and the stimulation of online games or the stresses of interaction on social media sites (for older preteens) can keep children awake long past bedtime. Also, set up a predictable bedtime routine that unfolds at the same time and in the same way every night.
Make the final step in that ritual an interaction between you and your child. For the younger of the elementary school set, this can involve reading bedtime stories, singing favorite songs, saying prayers or meditating, and the traditional tucking in. Even the older kids will tolerate (and probably even welcome) your presence at their bedside to say good night. And if you start one or all of the following three bedtime rituals early in their childhood, they’ll probably let you continue into their teens.
1. Best and Worst — Starting with you, briefly state the best and worst thing that happened to you that day. You’ll be surprised at what you learn from even the most reticent child. Make sure you don’t judge or try to fix whatever their “worst” is; this is a time to listen while they get their day off their chest. With your participation and honesty, they’ll come to learn that even the all-powerful parent sometimes struggles or is hurt or sad (which gives your child permission to do or be the same). Both parent and child will find a way to discover a “best,” or some good, in even the worst days. This skill is essential for children to learn on their way to growing up to be balanced and joyful adults.
2. Tomorrow’s Agenda — Kids are inclined to be relaxed when they know what their day will bring. A quick rundown of the next day, including any after-school events, pick-up plans, or even the dinner menu, will assure them an adult has the schedule under control. It also gives your child a chance to add the event or costume or required snacks for the class that he or she may have forgotten to mention earlier. Though it will be hard, do not freak out. Figure it out best you can and discuss it in the morning.
3. Mindful Breathing — Basic meditation has been shown to calm the mind and clear the thoughts that often keep children and adults from sleep. Teach your child to breathe with you; 10 inhales and exhales are enough to make a difference. Tell your child to concentrate just on the sound and feel of his or her breath and the sound of yours. Count aloud if you want. Anything to make that moment about the two of you breathing in sync and nothing else. It might be one of the most powerful things you can do to calm your child.
Elementary-school-aged children need a good night’s sleep to be able to perform well in school and stay healthy. A bedtime ritual can help even the most anxious child quell his or her racing thoughts and get to sleep. It also provides a time of quiet sharing and connection for parent and child.