When Kids and Tweens Struggle to Sleep: anxiety and mindfulness for bedtime

teenage girl appearing distressed or distraught. This article provides tools for handling your child or tween's anxiety at bedtime.

Sleep disturbances are on the rise across the age span, and our children and pre-teens are no exception. Children have a lot on their plates these days, and can often struggle to unwind and decompress at the end of the day. The calm, quiet of the bedroom can leave the door to the mind wide open and without the skills to reign in their thoughts, children’s minds can go wild with worries at the end of the day. So how can you help your pre-teen who is struggling with sleep? 

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Wind Down with Mindfulness

Mindfulness meditation is a practice that teaches how to slow your thoughts, calm your anxiety and let go of unhelpful thoughts. It takes time and practice but can be a very effective calming tool for adults and children! Mindfulness isn’t about ridding your brain of thoughts, it’s about noticing the thoughts as they come and go, acknowledging them and letting them go. Mindfulness can help children regulate their emotions and calm themselves in stressful situations. If your child or pre-teen experiences bedtime anxiety then learning mindfulness could be a powerful tool to help them find calm and stillness at night. There is a beautiful book called “I Am Peace” by Susan Verde. It walks children through a mindfulness practice and helps them find calm within themselves. The more children practice mindfulness, the easier it will come, and the more accessible it will be when they need it!

Practice Breathing for Calm

There are many ways that your child can use breathing to calm their body and their brain. Focusing on deep breathing can shift their focus away from worries at bedtime. It can also slow the heart rate, calm the body and help them drift into sleep. Some great breathing activities are:

  • take a deep breath in and imagine breathing out your favourite colour
  • breathe in slowly through your nose for 3 counts, and breathe out slowly for 3 counts
  • as you breathe in say to yourself ‘breathe in’ and as you breathe out say ‘breathe out’ 

It can take some time to get used to practicing breathing for calm, but it can be a very effective tool for helping children (and adults!) manage anxiety in any situation, particularly at bedtime. 

Journaling for Mental Health

Journaling is a very popular tool for managing emotions and regulating thoughts. It helps to put what we think and feel down on paper and separate it from ourselves. Encouraging your child to journal if they are anxious at bedtime is a wonderful tool that they can practice! Start by having your child journal 30 minutes before bed as a wind-down routine (don’t force them if they aren’t interested; keep it light and free of pressure). You can offer some journal prompts such as:

  • What was the best part of your day?
  • What are you excited to do tomorrow?
  • What is your favourite memory?
  • What are you grateful for?
  • What makes you feel calm?
  • What makes you feel happy?
  • What makes you feel safe?
  • What makes you feel loved?
  • What makes you laugh?

Your child can write freely with one of these prompts as a jumping-off point and it will help to guide their thoughts towards a place of calm and gratitude, rather than a place of worry and anxiety at the end of the day. 

All of these recommendations take some time and practice before they become second-nature, but have fun with them and enjoy working them into your child’s bedtime routine! 

For more information about anxiety in children visit www.anxietycanada.com 

Sleep Consultant Kayla Ginsler
Sleep Consultant Kayla Ginsler
Kayla Ginsler is a Family Sleep Institute certified Child Sleep Consultant and a Registered Social Worker. KAYLA’S SLEEP STORY Kayla’s first son was a terrible sleeper! She sought out a sleep consultant when his sleep felt more challenging than she and her husband could manage. Kayla knew that she needed someone to hold her accountable, walk through the sleep training process with her, and guide her through the steps to improve her son’s sleep. Kayla’s sleep consultant helped them get his sleep on track and his struggles resolved faster than they could have imagined! When her son was sleeping better Kayla’s own mood was much improved, and she was better equipped to cope with the demands of raising an active baby. PAYING IT FORWARD By this time Kayla had been working as a Social Worker for almost a decade, after completing her Master of Social Work degree at the University of Toronto. Kayla supports parents of children with special needs or mental health concerns, and loves to witness the happiness and pride parents feel when they see the changes they are hoping for. Her personal experience with a sleep consultant piqued her professional interest in the field. Kayla was born and raised in Kitchener-Waterloo and has lived in Waterloo Region for most of her life. She is thrilled to be offering sleep consulting in Waterloo Region and beyond! Kayla’s second son, much to her dismay, was also a bad sleeper, and she felt so strongly about getting him the sleep he needed that she decided to pursue education in sleep consulting so she could help other parents solve their sleep struggles. BETTER SLEEP, BETTER DAYS Kayla believes in empowering families to feel confident in helping their baby or child achieve better sleep. When a child is sleeping poorly, it can affect the entire tone of the family – there is stress and tension and anxiety and fatigue. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Bedtime can be a quiet, beautiful time with your children and Kayla feels privileged to have the opportunity to help you find the calm for your family.

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