I'll just come out and say it, bedtime with children can be challenging. For some parents, "challenging" might even be an understatement. I've definitely had my share of difficult times putting my child to bed. Sometimes kids have a hard time unwinding from the busy-ness of their day and falling asleep (many adults can probably relate to having that problem, too!).
Luckily, yoga gives us many powerful tools that can be used to promote calm and relaxation in children and adults. Below are a few of my favorite, time-tested calming bedtime resources and rituals that I've used to help my son calm down and fall asleep more quickly and easily. You can try them out with your child (and even use some for yourself!) and mix and match to find the unique rituals, routines, and resources that are most helpful for you and your child.
Bedtime stories that promote calm minds and open hearts
One of my all-time favorite bedtime book collections is the Buddha at Bedtime series by Dharmachari Nagaraja. I have read the original book in the series, Buddha at Bedtime: Tales of Love and Wisdom for You to Read with Your Child to Enchant, Enlighten and Inspire with my son since he was 5, and he still enjoys reading and re-reading the stories at age 9. All of the stories are short, usually about 2-3 pages, include colorful pictures, playful animal characters and simple, child-friendly plot lines. They focus on a specific teaching such as gratitude, forgiveness, and honesty, and end with a brief aphorism from the Buddha about the lesson in the story. The book also includes instructions on child-friendly meditation and relaxation exercises that you can practice with your child before or after reading the stories. My son, who like many children, finds it difficult to wind down at night says he feels more calm and relaxed after reading these stories.
We recently started reading one of the sequels, The Buddha's Apprentice at Bedtime: Tales of Compassion and Kindness for You to Read with Your Child - to Delight and Inspire, and found that it is just as entertaining and calming as the original. There are additional child-friendly meditation and relaxation exercises in that edition, too. Though I haven't read the rest of the books in the series, I would imagine they are all just as wonderful as the original.
Aromatherapy for a relaxed mind & body
Aromatherapy uses the power of smell to affect our mood, usually with the use of essential oils. One of the most popular essential oils for promoting relaxation is lavender. There are several ways to use aromatherapy to help your child relax at bedtime. The first way is to use a diffuser in your child's room to disperse the scent of lavender throughout the room. I really like the SpaRoom diffusers from Bulk Apothecary because they are small, inexpensive, and effective. However, any diffuser will work - so find your favorite one! Since every diffuser is a litte different, you should follow the instructions for your diffuser for adding essential oils. Plan to start the diffuser at least 10 minutes before bedtime to give it time to fill the room with the smell of lavender.
Another method of using aromatherapy at bedtime is through the use of lavender aromatherapy spray which you can easily make yourself by getting a small spray bottle and adding 5-10 drops of lavender essential oil, then filling the rest of the bottle with water. I use this spray at the end of all of my yoga classes, and most children love it! However, every child is different, so be sure to check in with your individual child's preferences. The spray can be sprayed on pillows or sprayed directly over the child (make sure their eyes are closed!), reminding them to take a deep inhale as you spray to receive the relaxing effects of the spray. When my son was younger, I called it "sleepy spray" as a reminder to him that the spray would help him relax and fall asleep.
Of course, if your child doesn't like lavender, choose another essential oil of their choice - other scents known for their relaxing qualities include ylang ylang, orange, and rose.
One note of caution about essential oils: essential oils should NEVER be ingested. Please keep essential oil and aromatherapy bottles out of the reach of young children.
Guided Imagery & Relaxation Exercises
Guided imagery is the practice of using imaginative stories to promote a quality of relaxation. There are a number of books with child-friendly guided imagery prompts. It is up to you, the parent, to read them aloud in a slow, calm voice as your child closes their eyes and imagines what you are describing. There are a number of books that I think are really wonderful, especially the Imaginations series by Carolyn Clarke and Stress Relief for Kids: Taming Your Dragons by Marti Belknap.
Prior to a guided imagery practice, you may want to start with a practice known as progressive muscle relaxation to help your child's body relax. To do this, tell your child that when you mention a part of their body, they will squeeze it tight when they breathe in, and then make it loose like jello or spaghetti when they breathe out. Start at the toes and work your way up to their face and forehead. Then finish by having them squeeze their whole body tight, and then soft.
The music we listen to affects our brains and can influence us in becoming more energized or calm depending on the quality of the music. While my son would prefer to listen to pop music on the radio at bedtime, he falls asleep 10 times faster when I put on relaxing music like you might hear in a spa. Two of my favorite albums are Steven Halpern's Music for Healing and Chakra Suite.
I started using eye masks for the children in my yoga classes a few months ago, and let me tell you, it made a HUGE difference! Children who had a difficult time relaxing and staying still at the end of class suddenly wanted longer relaxation time, and were able to keep their eyes closed and bodies relaxed longer. The effect of having something over your eyes to keep light out as well as provide a tactile reminder to close your eyes is so powerful. Plus, there's lots of cute ones for kids, including this Pokemon themed eye mask (which I may buy as a birthday present for my son!).
Massage & Oil
Ayurveda, the sister science of yoga, recommends daily use of sesame oil massage to promote relaxation and overall well-being. You don't have to use sesame oil, but massaging your child's feet, lower legs, neck, forehead and temples with lotion or massage oil is a great way to help their little bodies relax at night.
Wishing you and your child a calm, peaceful, and relaxing night's sleep tonight and every night!
- xoxo, Andrea
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Andrea is the founder of Shining Kids Yoga, which began as an after-school program at her son's elementary school in 2014. She has been teaching yoga to all ages since 2005. Andrea completed her 200-hour yoga teacher training & prenatal yoga training at Tranquil Space Yoga in Washington, D.C. In addition, she received specialized training in children’s yoga from the Radiant Child Yoga program, training in postnatal yoga from Baby OM, and training in therapeutic yoga from The Samarya Center.
Andrea is also a Licensed Graduate Social Worker (LGSW) through the State of Maryland, having received her MSW degree from University of Maryland, Baltimore.
She has taught yoga for children at yoga studios throughout the DC area, including Tranquil Space, Budding Yogis, Rock Creek Yoga and Warrior One Yoga. She also teaches classes for adults at Yoga Bliss Studios and Extend Yoga, where she is on the yoga teacher training faculty.
When not teaching or practicing yoga, Andrea enjoys playing board games with her son, Quinn, singing karaoke, and trying out new vegetarian recipes!