When trying to wind down from a long day, kids' anxiety and energy often amp up. As adults, we know the importance of getting a good night's sleep in building up our immunity, stabilizing mood and giving us a fighting chance at having a successful next day. Parents are like the conductors at a busy train station. All-day long, you're directing and redirecting meltdowns, sibling squabbles and now, digital learning disasters. Bedtime is when that racing train of thoughts might threaten to keep kids up, tossing and turning (and heading into your bed when they can't sleep!)
Kids often let their guard down at night and tell you how they are really feeling as a result of what transpired during their day. Never fear: Meditation is here!
Here are five ways to calm your energetic child before bedtime:
1. Yoga poses
Many of us combine yoga with a focus on the breath. Stretching and holding a pose can be very meditative, especially in tandem with long inhalation and exhalation. For kids, animal poses like cat/cow, cobra, turtle and downward dog are a fun way to integrate movement with mindfulness.
Becoming more aware of our bodies, where we feel tightness or tension, and releasing it is a form of mindfulness. Yoga poses like tree also help with balance and agility. Help your child set an intention for the next day. For example, "I want to take brain breaks throughout the day." You'll find your kid's mind calmer once their body is properly in tune.
2. Swing breaths
Everyone loves the feeling of flying in the air on a swing. Tell your child to picture their breath like that: the inhale of a rough count of 4 seconds is the upswing, pause for 1 or 2 seconds mid-breath, then exhale for 5 or 6 counts. You can move your hands, palms facing together, back and forth to mimic a swing. It's important to have a longer exhale than inhale.
Often, people take a big deep breath which feels good. But, research shows that taking a longer exhale lowers your heart rate and leads to more deep relaxation than an extended inhale. So, have your kid focus on the exhale during their swing breaths.
3. Train station meditation
Who doesn't love trains? In my book, Meditation Station (Bala Kids/Shambhala, 2020), I teach kids how to stay with their breath, and in their body, so they don't get whisked away by their racing train of thoughts.
Tell your child to picture their thoughts and feelings—be they worry, excitement or any host of emotional tugs—and watch them go down the tracks. Practice focusing on breathing in and out and letting the train of thoughts go. Watch. Observe. Notice. Even name the thought or feeling, but don't let it pull you away from your breath. Wave to the train (i.e. thought) but don't go with it.
4. Belly breathing
Have your child place their hands on their belly and feel it rise and expand as they fill it with air, like a balloon. Pause. Then have them feel their belly deflate as they exhale loud and long. They can even make a deep "HU" sound as they do that. Model it for them so they know you're belly breathing too. Tell them that they can always come back to their belly breathing, no matter where they are. If it's the middle of the night, mid-game or in class, they can quietly place their hand on their belly and breath to bring themselves back to the present moment. Belly breathing is very grounding, decreasing anxiety and avoiding temper tantrums or fights.
5. Loving-kindness meditation
Many families incorporate bedtime prayers into their routine; this is more of a well-wishing practice that uplifts the heart and ties us together, even when we're far apart.
Start by wishing yourself well. "May I be happy. May I be healthy. May I be safe. May I be calm." Perhaps even more accessible…you can sing it to the tune of the Happy Birthday song—per my meditation teacher of 20 years, Sylvia Boorstein's, recommendation: "May I be protected and safe. May I feel contented and pleased. May my body be healthy and may I live with ease."
The next step is to sing (or chant) these same wishes for each of the people who are closest to you—your family, friends, one by one—and onto local community members, neighbors, acquaintances, etc.
Then comes the hard part—try wishing those things to someone with whom they're having a conflict or towards whom they have less than positive feelings. It is not easy but it makes them feel better than sending their "frenemie" anger or malice.
If you want to cultivate a calm childhood for your little one, bedtime is the perfect moment to integrate some mindfulness, yoga and meditation. Given all the stressors we experienced last year, teaching your little one to tune into their breath and stay present in their body is a gift that will last a lifetime.
For more help with a calming bedtime, here is Susan's book, plus a few of our favorite bedtime things!
Help your child calm their racing train of thoughts with this beautiful and thoughtful meditation guide by author Susan B. Katz. Meant for children aged 4 through 8, Meditation Station helps kids learn coping skills to get through difficult feelings... and get to sleep!
Bedtime is so much more fun (and therefore easy) with a super crazy and magical bed to dive into. We are obsessed with the bedding by Rookie Humans. The high quality sateen sheets wash like a dream and feel even better on sensitive skin, making them an instant favorite with parents and kids alike.
Having a special little friend to cuddle can help children wind down and feel safe—especially when that special little friend is as sweet as this fawn. She is as soft as could be and machine washable. Bedtime perfection.
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