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By Jennifer Brunton
Healthy sleep habits are super-important for mental and physical health at any age. Helping your children develop them is a gift that will serve them well throughout their lives.
Chances are you’ll benefit, too.
The following methods can help a family with kids downshift out of a busy day. Try them all together or experiment with any combo that fits your family’s needs.
First, be sure to allow adequate time for your family’s nighttime routine.
Tonja Bizor, a certified sleep consultant and owner of Tonja B’s Sleep Consulting, says it’s worth the effort for parents to make room for a half-hour or so of sleep-promoting activities each evening.
This doesn’t just help kids get into the mood for sleep, Bizor says. It’s also quality time and creates lasting memories.
Dr. Edward Kulich, owner of KidsHousecalls.com, a pediatric concierge practice in the New York City area, notes that it’s important to begin creating a quiet, restful atmosphere well before bedtime.
“I always recommend parents start winding babies and small children down 30 to 60 minutes before their bedtime,” he says. “And limit screen time in proximity to bedtime.”
Wind-down time is key to effectively transitioning kids—and grown-ups—from daytime schedules to the peaceful rhythms of bed.
A calming ritual to mark the beginning of “cozy time” can be an effective part of a bedtime routine.
Calm means being at peace in the moment. A good way to achieve that is by paying close attention to all five senses. Explore together by talking about what you smell, taste, feel, hear and see.
You can have everybody close their eyes as you address the first four of those senses. That will allow you to concentrate better. It will also keep you from seeing stimulating images, a plus when you’re getting ready to sleep.
A warm bath is another classic soothing method. Bizor recommends one every night.
Stretching can ease bodily tension and calm the mind. Doing it with children sometimes leads to the giggles, but it can still contribute to a good night’s sleep.
A gentle family stretch session in the evening doesn’t have to involve anything fancy. A few basic yoga moves or toe-touches will do the trick. Just try to keep things on the slow, gentle side.
As you stretch together, encourage everyone to pay attention to where they might feel a little stiff or achy. Those parts of the body could require a bit of extra stretching—carefully, of course.
Your emotions can fluctuate throughout the day. Taking time to sift through your feelings in the evening can go a long way toward freeing you up for a peaceful night’s sleep.
Some families share a daily “rose and thorn” each evening. A “rose” is something that made you happy during the day. A “thorn” is something you found challenging. Suggest to the kids that they let their “thorns” go, maybe by letting out big sighs.
Putting together an oral or written family gratitude list is another wonderful way to process your day. This can be as simple as asking your kids what they are thankful for and offering a few “gratitudes” of your own.
Children adore a little something to sip on before bedtime. A small cup of warm golden milk (any type of milk with turmeric and other mild spices) or chamomile tea with honey serves as both a wholesome treat and a slumber-friendly elixir.
You can nourish the mind, too—with storytime. Choose a beloved family favorite or a book written especially for reading at bedtime.
Don’t be surprised if your child wants to hear a book over and over—or if your teen actually agrees to be read to. Reading together is a strong contender for the coziest activity ever.
A guided bedtime visualization can help your kids cultivate optimism and resilience while encouraging a peaceful frame of mind. Once again, you won’t need any special tools.
Have your children close their eyes. Then talk to them softly, describing an inspiring imaginary voyage that ends in something positive and comforting.
Use images and motifs that will help your child relax into sleep. You might want to lead them on a journey through a magical forest to a flowing waterfall, for example. Or else have them fly up high and nestle into a cloud.
Incorporate episodes that give your child a sense of agency. That might mean having your child use a magic wand to turn monsters into fluffy baby animals. Feel free to work in a toy, pet or loved one for extra joy.
If you’d like some guidance, there are plenty of resources out there, including books and recorded visualizations.
Physical contact is key. A bedtime cuddle or a big hug stimulates relaxing hormones and soothes the nervous system. Holding hands during storytime is another way to make kids feel safe.
Both Kulich and Bizor stress that having a consistent nighttime routine is the most important aspect of sleep hygiene, especially for children. So whichever approaches you choose, be sure to use them regularly to promote restful sleep for the whole family.
A former academic turned freelance writer and editor, Jennifer Brunton lives and works in Vermont.
This article is for educational purposes only, and is not intended to provide medical or legal advice, or to indicate the availability or suitability of any product or service for your unique circumstances.