Whether your child never sits still, like mine, or is naturally calm and quiet, it can be difficult to teach rest. Sometimes it seems that little ones only rest when they sleep. However, with some experimentation and creativity, there are things you can do to encourage your child to embrace rest.
Provide predictable routines.
Talk with your child about your family’s routines and give warnings before those routines change. If your child is not a big talker, make an illustrated timeline of your daily routines and post it on the refrigerator as a visual cue. Why it works: Children are calmed and reassured by routine.
Make a weighted blanket.
Simply stitch up the sides of a medium-sized fleece blanket. Leave a small hole at the top. Fill the blanket with two pounds of rice or beans and carefully sew the hole shut to keep the filling safely inside the blanket. Why it works: The pressure and confinement relaxes children in the same way babies are soothed by swaddling.
Teach your child to breathe into his or her abdomen by putting your hand on your stomach and having your child watch your hand move in and out with your breaths. Then have your child lie on his or her back, put a light toy on his or her belly, and tell your child to give the toy a “belly ride” by breathing. Once your child breathes properly, slow the rate of breathing by counting to five with each inhale and exhale. Why it works: The most relaxing way to breathe is to take slow, deep breaths that fully expand your lungs.
Spark your child’s imagination.
Pick a time when your child seems relaxed and ask him or her to help you think of a calm, safe and peaceful place. Both of you can close your eyes and then ask your child questions to help develop an image of the safe place. For example, you might ask, “Where is it?” “Is the sun out?” or “Can you hear waves?” Encourage your child to pretend to go to this imaginary place often and eventually you will be able to suggest a “visit” to this safe place when a situation is upsetting or overwhelming. Why it works: Children process the world through play, so imagining restful places can be powerful.
Engage your senses.
Take turns identifying things that you hear, feel, smell and see. For example, your child might say, “I hear a car driving by,” and you might reply, “I feel the chair holding my back.” See how many different things you can each identify with your senses. Why it works: As children focus on sensory information, they regain an awareness of their bodies and surroundings.
Scents like lavender and rose promote relaxation, while peppermint encourages rejuvenation. You can use child-safe creams that contain these scents while giving your child a gentle massage. Alternatively, you can purchase the essential oils at a health food store and add a few drops to a bowl full of Epsom salts. Mix them together and you have homemade bath salts! Why it works: The sense of smell links directly to the emotional and memory centers of the brain making smell a powerful tool for relaxation.
Pay attention to what type of music your child responds to and then make sure to play that music in the car or during quiet activities at home. It doesn’t matter if you play worship music, country songs, or Mozart as long as it transports your child to a quiet place. Why it works: Music helps signal to children that it is time to escape and rest.
You might not choose to enroll in a yoga class, but consider incorporating some gentle yoga stretches and breathing into your daily routine. If you have never done yoga yourself, you can get started by finding instructional videos on YouTube or checking out a yoga book from the library. To engage your child, make yoga a game! For example, ask your child to turn his or her body into a tall mountain, a tree or a cobra. Why it works: Yoga’s combination of deep breathing and peaceful movements helps children quiet their bodies.
Take a walk.
If your child needs some encouragement, make walking an adventure. Go for a scavenger hunt in the city or a nature walk in the country. Look for interesting things like firetrucks, street musicians, changing leaf colors, animal tracks or seed pods. Why it works: Walking uses up energy, provides a chance to explore and offers fresh air, all at the same time!
Ariane Sroubek is blessed to be a wife and the mother of a vivacious 3-year-old girl. She is also a school psychologist and the founder of cheapallergies.com, a free website that provides allergy-friendly recipes that costs less than $1.50/serving.
This article originally appeared in the Spring 2016 issue of Hello, Dearest. If you didn’t get a copy and would like your own, you can subscribe to get Hello, Dearest in your mailbox every season. If you subscribe, forward your receipt to firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll shoot a copy of the current issue in the mail to you for free … just because we like you.