How to Calm the Worries That Keep Kids Awake at Night
Photo Credit: Amanda Barrick/Shutterstock
It started a week after school shut down due to COVID-19, and I hadn’t had a good night’s sleep since. Night after night, one kid after another would find their way into my room. The excuses ranged from inability to fall asleep, bad dreams, tummy aches.
One particular night, after my 10-year-old daughter came into my room crying, complaining of her third or fourth tummy ache that week, mother’s intuition hit. I asked her how she was feeling mentally. That got us to the root of the problem.
The next few hours were spent holding her as she told me her fears of grandparents dying without being able to say goodbye, missing her friends, and all of the sudden changes that didn’t make sense. I held her, rubbed her back, validated her feelings, and eventually got her into a state of sleep.
I, on the other hand, spent a fair portion of that night thinking about what we needed to adjust to help her, and all my kids, sleep better. My first step was to reach out to our school social worker. She knew my daughter already and would be able to provide resources I may not be aware of. The following steps are what I took to help ease my children into restful sleep patterns.
There is nothing I feel we can do more for our kids than to help them create good routines. From chores around the house to a bedtime routine, these are basic skills that will help kids for the rest of their lives.
Creating a bedtime routine will look different for every family, but stick to the basics. Start it at the same time every night. Getting kids to brush their teeth (better yet, teach them by example!), putting on pajamas, and then cuddling up with a bedtime book is one of my favorite routines. The key is to create something that kids can expect to happen every single day at the same time. This gives them one thing to feel in control of when the worries creep in.
The school social worker referred us to a counselor who worked with our insurance and had a contract with the school, so when school started up again, my daughter wouldn’t miss school for any appointments. Together with the counselor, we made goals to help my daughter learn how to calm her anxieties and get better sleep.
Having someone to talk to who is unbiased can help kids ease into sharing feelings that they may otherwise hide. Why do kids hide feelings? Well, lots of reasons — worry that they won’t be listened to, that they might be made fun of, or they just don’t know how to express them. Counselors are trained to help kids talk about their feelings in a safe environment.
We can create that same environment at home by always listening to our kids and being present with them in their emotions. My favorite thing to tell my kids is, “That’s an emotion, and it is okay to feel.”
Over the past year, I experienced my own bout of insomnia due to anxiety over things out of my control. During that time, I discovered some meditation apps that encouraged calm before bed and helped me sleep deeper.
After my own success with meditation, I figured it was worth a shot with the kids. Every single night that we use meditation, all the kids are asleep in no time. There are many apps out there you can use, or you can download some guided meditation that you can talk your kids through. If you don’t find something you want to try, just walking your kids through some deep breathing can also help.
When my 3-year-old is particularly upset, I have him lay his head on my chest, and together we breathe. After two to three breaths, he’s ready to wipe away the tears and get back to his activity.
Sing to Them
My absolute favorite thing to do with my children at bedtime is to sing to them. This works the best with my little boys, but sometimes the older girls will indulge my voice. For the most part, I stick to songs that reinforce our faith and come from our church hymn book for children. These songs remind them of their divine nature and to make good choices in their lives, and every one of them has a message of love.
I stick to songs that reinforce our faith and come from our church hymn book for children.
It is incredibly hard to be filled with worries when our minds are being filled with love. It doesn’t take away the worry, but it strengthens their minds and reminds them of who they are.
When it comes to helping ease our children’s minds to get better sleep, there is no one way that will work for every child. Children come in all different emotional states, and you have to find what works for yours. However, if we keep these key ideas in mind, our children can get restful sleep without all the worries of the world. Create a loving environment where they know without a doubt they are loved, allow them to feel their emotions, and establish healthy routines that promote full-body health.