When it comes to bedtime, most advice centres on getting children to wind down and relax. It’s all about slowing everything down. No screen-time, having a relaxing warm bath, a lavender candle or a meditation CD.
This can be helpful but one of the problems with most sleep advice out there is it doesn’t focus on the major cause of sleep issues : the emotional struggles that our children go through. Upset feelings often bubble up to the surface in the evening or in the middle of the night. Feelings are often what makes it hard for babies, children (and adults too!) to fall asleep, wake in the night or wake too early in the morning.
Listening to children’s upsets whenever they occur while giving lots of warmth and connection, can help them to release the feelings that cause sleep problems. Laughter can also help too.
Contrary to popular belief we should actually wind our children up before sleep! Roughhousing, and lots of giggles, can help children release any stress or remaining tension from the day. It also helps to build the connection that children need to feel safe to separate from us and fall asleep.
So bring on the laughter! If your child runs a mile when you suggest it’s bedtime, then perhaps have a fun game of chase, letting them escape so they take on the more powerful role. Or try to dress them in their pyjamas but ‘dress’ the pillow. Read their bedtime stories in a silly language, or have the book upside down, and wonder why the words are coming out all wrong. Put yourself to bed instead of your child. Each time you make a ‘mistake’ exclaim to your child about your confusion at how you just can’t seem to get it right. Repeat as long as you have the time, (or energy!) Laughter has been clinically proven to induce melatonin, the sleep hormone, so with every giggle your child will be closer to sleep.
Don’t be afraid for things to get a little wild! Connection breeds co-operation so play and laughter can actually help to dissolve the power struggles we may get into at bedtime. The best kind of laughter at bedtime is where children are in the more powerful role (what Hand in Hand Parenting calls Playlistening) so no tickling is allowed! Tickling can make children feel powerless, and causes involuntarily laughter, rather than the natural- tension releasing laughter that helps sleep. You can read more about why we don’t recommend tickling here.
So add a little laughter into your bedroom routine, and see the difference it makes!
Need more help?
Check out Hand in Hand Parenting’s online course Helping Young Children Sleep