Bedtime can be a notoriously challenging time for many families. Experienced yogis with a solid home practice are not immune. Jennifer Vondracek, a long-time yoga practitioner and mother of three girls, notes one of their challenges is “curtain calls.” The girls want to get up again and again—for more water, one more run to the potty, something “important” mother must see, a forgotten assignment, and on and on.
Another mother struggles to get her kids into bed in the first place. The making of excuses, the dragging of feet, and the pitching of fits are all regular occurrences.
Is there anything from the yoga tradition that can help?
Of course, as a parent, the best practice for your child is your own. The steadiness and equanimity you radiate have a powerful influence on your children. The discipline and self-study you develop in your own practice are the best tools to be fully present for the needs of your child, whatever they may be.
Of course, as a parent, the best practice for your child is your own.
In addition, try these simple strategies to get the kids to bed with less fuss.
Children crave and thrive on ritual. For bedtime, the last full hour of the day can be a set routine that lulls the children into slumber. Just as a consistent sitting practice trains the mind to drop into a meditative state, children’s minds and bodies can be trained to fall quickly to sleep. Include the children in structuring this routine and stick to it. At first, it can be easy to leave something out or rush through it, but once the children see there is wiggle room it can be difficult to get back on track. Even though they may resist, they will come to love it. Not having to make choices about what is next is soothing in and of itself.
It takes 40 days to make a habit.
It takes 40 days to make a habit. Then it is set in the neural pathways. It’s like triggering a cascade of events in the brain that will most assuredly lead to sleep. Of course, a full hour each night isn’t practical for some families, but whatever kind of structure you can create will be helpful. It’s important that this time is screen free (even for parents). The light and stimulus coming from electronic screens revs up the system and creates the opposite effect of preparing for sleep. Technology is a convenience only when it doesn’t disrupt our lives. If reading a book is part of your ritual, make sure it is a paper book and not an electronic one.
Rubbing warm sesame oil on your child’s feet before bed not only calms the nervous system but is also a wonderful time for connection and affection. You can simply warm a few drops in your own hands before applying. A drop of essential oil may be added as well. Lavender is a relaxing scent. Add it to the sesame oil, put a drop on the pillow, or have some dried lavender in a stuffed animal that sleeps next to your child.
Kids are bombarded by sensory input all day. They may experience big emotions and challenging social situations that may not be fully processed by bedtime. It can be difficult to fall into a peaceful sleep when thoughts are racing. Review the day with your child. Start with the activities right before bed and then move back in short increments until you arrive at the time when they woke up in the morning. Talk about what was eaten, what was said. What were the highlights and the lowlights? If your child is struggling with a difficult situation, rework it. Our thoughts create our reality, so thinking about how a situation could have turned out better is actually laying the foundation for it to be so. This practice also has the added benefit of improving memory and concentration. You can review the day while massaging your child’s feet with sesame oil.
It shifts the mind from racing and recalling to full presence.
This is a practice of bringing attention to each part of the body in a specific order. It comes from the traditional practice of yoga nidra (yogic sleep). Kids love it. One 9-year-old boy said to me once after rolling up from a yoga nidra session, “Wow! I was so relaxed because my mind couldn’t think of anything besides the body part you were naming.” Therein lies the benefit. It shifts the mind from racing and recalling to full presence. With children, add in imagery. You can pretend a special star comes down from the sky and touches each part of their body. They can feel the warm glow of starlight in that area. Or, a butterfly comes to gently rest on their shoulder, elbow, wrist, and each finger, etc. They want to be still and quiet so as not to disturb the butterfly. The butterfly may even whisper something in their ear when it lands there.
Download a free "Shining Star" guided relaxation from Global Family Yoga here.
Sama vritti, or even wave of breath, sends a powerful message to the nervous system to shift from sympathetic dominance (fight or flight, where we tend to hang out most of the day) to parasympathetic dominance (rest and digest). Make a paper boat using simple origami techniques and then your child can place this boat on her belly while lying in bed. Invite her to let the boat sail on her even wave of breath. Breathing in, the boat rises high on the wave; breathing out, the boat sinks down into a trough. We make these boats in our children’s yoga classes and I tell the children they can place them on their nightstand next to the bed and use them anytime they want to relax, especially before bed. We paint them with watercolors, too. You can also use a stuffed bean toy—sea themed is ideal!
Having been a part of creating their own unique bedtime ritual, your children will begin to ask for these practices, allowing you to respond to their request instead of having to initiate the routine. Over time, children can also do many of these practices for themselves—but by then, you may want to continue sharing this special end-of-the-day connection.
As with all new practices, just choose one that you can begin to incorporate into the bedtime ritual. Then, slowly add more. Soon this bedtime ritual can become a soothing part of the day for the whole family to unwind, connect, and drift off to peaceful sleep.