While decreasing your child’s anxiety is definitely something you can start during the day (see Part 1), how you approach bedtime is extremely important in promoting healthy sleep. Not only can reducing anxiety before bed help your child get to sleep more quickly, but it can also help him or her to remain asleep throughout the night. Getting ready for bed should really start an hour before bedtime, especially for the anxious child. Allowing enough wind-down time before bed may mean reducing extra activities and working on homework right away. But as crucial as healthy sleep is, it’s worth the sacrifice.
For those anxious about a presentation at school the next day, laying out clothes can trigger anxiety that’s counter-productive to getting to sleep. You can help avoid anxiety at bedtime by preparing for the next day before dinner, and perhaps placing the next day’s clothing in the closet, out of sight. If your child had a rough day, talking about it or even praying about it at bed time can cause intense feelings to flood back, as if the situation is occurring again.
Instead of encouraging anxiety to arise at bed time, you can help your child focus on calm, positive moments of the day or simply on nature or the good stuff in his or her world. The hour before bedtime is time to leave left-brained activities such as studying and number-crunching behind and focus on right-brained stimuli like images, music, and narratives.
Sometimes, anxieties can plague a child and chase him into his bed. Far more destructive than mythological monsters, these very real fears know no boundaries. Generalized anxieties can cause heightened sensory awareness, too, making it important to promote both the reduction of sensory input and intentional choices of input that evoke a sense of calm, especially at bedtime. Tidy the bedroom, dim the lights, use quiet tones, play soft music, speak in whisper voices, give warm baths, spray lavender, snuggle in soft blankets.
From reading an imaginative story that truly takes his mind off his own troubles to reviewing calming images and thoughts in an anxiety notebook like this one, you can equip your older child to self sooth, too. Even necessary tasks such as bathing and changing clothes can be helpful elements of bedtime rituals when they’re done in a way that contributes to a sense of calm. In order to do so, they cannot be rushed. For some children, marking each task off a daily responsibility chart may be helpful.
While a half hour one way or the other won’t make a significant difference, keeping the same general sleep/wake schedule throughout the week is ideal — especially for young children, ages 6 and under. A person can’t really “catch up” on sleep over the weekend, and the less we alter the regular sleep routine, the better.
When you’re away from home, have new activities or even traumatic events, the comfort of a bedtime routine can be even more significant in soothing an anxious child’s worries and helping him feel a sense of stability and calm.
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