Preventing stress and overtiredness
This is pure advise people. I know we’re not perfect, none of us. But there are things to strive for, things making other things easier. And not least preventing over tiredness and the tantrums that come with it…
Stress and anxiety is reduced by a balance between activity and rest. There are other, mental and physiological, health benefits making balance in life so important. To balance activity with rest and refueling of energy, balance thinking with moving and exercise, creating with perceiving. Every day, a little of each.
Even if we, as parents, rarely stand a chance bringing things to balance, we try and create balance for our children. It really makes parenting easier when we succeed.
To make a sort of schedule for every day does help. I tend to use mealtime (including snack time, the healthier kind, twice a day) as breaks for everyone, trying to cut out time for conversation, for helping out with household stuff and maybe reading a story afterwards. For lunch and dinner we try and take a break from friends too. Not always, but generally I find it brings us all down to earth for a while.
This gives us about four periods a day to fill with, preferably:
After breakfast: arts and crafts of some kind, drawing, playing a boardgame or some other calm and creative or kind of educational activity.
After the morning snack: exercise and outdoors activities, playing or going for a walk.
Afternoon: more exercising and playing outdoors
After the afternoon snack: calming down again, reading or playing with toys, doing homework and such.
(When there is school or kindergarden scheduled that’s about all the stimuli they can handle, not needing much more playtime in busy playgrounds. Still, depending on what they’ve been doing, there is probably something you can do to balance it up: engaging in outdoors activities if they have been indoors all day, or some peace and quiet to rest eyes and ears for a while.)
Calming down in time
After dinner is usually a good time to unwind gently. Perhaps a last session of running around before unwinding, if your child is energetic after refueling.
About dinner: try and serve food with low amounts of sugar in the evening. Desert and sweets won’t make calming down any easier! Milk and perhaps a late-night sandwich can help calming down a bit, just before bedtime though. It’s easier to fall asleep with a full stomach.
What’s bedtime anyway? Make bedtime in time for your child’s present needs. You can’t fall asleep if you’re not tired yet! But you shouldn’t be too tired either… it’s hard, finding the balance sometimes.
If you’ll need to get up at 6 AM, a 6 year old should probably be in bed by 7 or 8 PM. A 2 year old, who has had a lunch time rest for an hour and a half, can probably go to bed about the same time. Then there is a troublesome age around 3-4, when the child no longer has a midday nap and falls asleep before dinner, or falls deeply asleep in the afternoon only to be up and alert to midnight. This is the age of the overtired tantrums. But it’s also the age of tired parents trying to put children to bed too early, before they feel tired – if they’ve had the rest they need already.
Try and create the conditions allowing your child a short nap, or at least a calm resting period midday. That’s my best advice. Even adults are better off with a power nap (about 20 minutes), so quite naturally the same goes for kids.
An evening routine makes your child recognize bedtime. It releases you from a lot of debate.
When approaching bedtime things should quiet down all around the child. If stressed up at this stage, when already tired from a hard days work (yes, playing is working for them), we’re right on the overtired train before we know it. Most parents are tired too from their hard days work, and the afternoon is when the TV is usually put on. However, some caution here is advised.
If the children sit still watching TV for an hour or more, they will be mentally tired, but filled with physical energy the moment they rise. So either you’re prepared for that, or you turn the TV on with a familiar, kind and relaxing program for perhaps 20 minutes before bedtime. With the right show, TV can be relaxing.
There are other activities the child can engage in the last hour of the day. Like the ever working building blocks, that can turn from castles to trains in minutes. Of course there can be a doll house, or toy cars, or teddy bears with the very same function: Activities that allow your child to play on it’s own (possibly close to you, because it’s always more comforting), using it’s own imagination. It’s good for processing their thoughts and experiences. It’s a good way to sum up the day for them.
Encourage the child to go to the bathroom, while you’re there anyway brushing teeth and all that. Or you’ll have to carry it there half asleep in a few hours. Some children have small bladders or lack bladder control, so they wet their beds for years. The main way to prevent it is to go with them. Sometimes two- three times a night. Yes, parents are tired, some more than others.
It’s really comforting to read a bedtime story. A soft closure of the day. Having your child close, gently resting against your shoulder, is a moment to cherish. Choose well, choosing the story. Nothing too dramatic, complicated or scary. A language that is correct, still understandable to children will help develop their own language and storytelling skills. Beautiful pictures can add their own value, and the story can be nutrition for the imagination.
Maybe you like to sing a lullaby, or you have a music box playing a soft melody to your child. Familiar noises are also quite calming, like the dishwashing machine or the sound from the TV, if not too loud or dramatic noises.
A soft night-light source is a good idea to prevent some nightmares, or finding your way to the bathroom.
Maybe you stay with your child until it falls asleep, or maybe you’ll kiss it good night and promise to see to it soon.
– Just don’t leave it crying it’s heart out without responding to it! That’s just cruel – and also stressful, making it harder to fall asleep. Prove to your child you are trustworthy, you will not leave it. You can say reassuring things from the next room or you can come see to it after the shortest of bathroom breaks, leave for another fast errand, and come back again and again until the child feels safe knowing you are there, really. Or stay a little every time. And if the crying doesn’t stop maybe there is something wrong? Hunger? A cold? Pain somewhere, like ears or teeth?
If you need to see to your child, comfort it, just do so! Your heart is way more important than any principles. I promise you, your child will learn to sleep well, all in good time, no matter what principles you hold on to. But it will feel safer and more secure if it knows you are close by. No wonder.