Make sure your elementary school–aged child lets you get a good night’s sleep
Dishes—done. Lunch for tomorrow—made. Homework—checked. The kids are in their pj’s and the lights are out, so you settle down in bed, cracking open that book you’ve been reading for the last year.
You hear a rustling noise, and a little person is standing in your doorway, blinking in the light. Not again. Why is this child not asleep? Is there anything you can do?
Be careful not to overreact. It’s hard, especially as a Solo Mom, to not blame circumstances on yourself or see dire implications for every moment that a child exhibits any behavior that worries you. Should you be paying more attention? Is your child exhibiting signs of some deeper neurological issue? Before you go there, try to remember that you are tired, too. And, like your child, you may need a few moments to gather your thoughts. A few nighttime changes could help.
Ban the electronics. Sure it’s nice to unwind with a game, but recent studies link the use of a screen, including smartphones, television, iPads, and e-readers, to disrupted sleep patterns. So ban the electronics at least an hour before bedtime.
Read aloud. Even if your child learned to read in preschool, there is a wonderful calm that descends when you sit down with him to read a story. Although he may have outgrown some of the books, fairy tales and classics are always fun to listen to. There is a distinct relaxation that happens as he listens to you narrate the exploits of all his favorite characters, everyone from the boys of Captain Underpants to Mr. Toad.
If you think a chapter is too long, might I recommend poetry? It’s meant to be read aloud. My children can still recite verses of “Bad Sir Brian Botany” from A. A. Milne, and their favorite Jack Prelutsky poem about a purple pelican. Lewis Carroll and Edward Lear were also much beloved for their silly and enchanting rhymes.
Sometimes these cozy reading sessions can open the door to quiet discussions, which unearth worries and troubles that are worth listening to. It’s as if sharing the adventures from a book with you allows your children to explore their feelings from the schoolyard.
If you don’t have time for a long reading session, then letting your children listen to spoken words in the form of an audio recording is not a bad solution. You can still get CDs of some of the classics, including such genius recordings as Winnie-The-Pooh: The House at Pooh Corner, with Stephen Fry and Judi Dench, published by the Listening Library in 2009. There are also recordings for older children, such as The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, and The Lightning Thief. Turn off the lights, place the player speakers away from their beds, and leave the volume low enough so that your kids have to lie still to listen.
It’s a bit sneaky, I know. But think of it as another way for them to learn. In fact, sometimes you will find your child reading the books that go with these CDs, just to revisit these stories in the daylight, which not such a bad thing.
Try meditation and relaxation. This is something I cribbed from a couple of yoga classes. It’s always been used as a last resort because doing it every night is a lot. You pretend you are a yoga teacher at the end of class, and tell your child to stretch out in bed and relax. You adopt a calm, soft voice. You walk her through a few breathing exercises that include inhaling, holding her breath, and then slowly exhaling. At the same time, you tell your child to relax her toes, letting them sink down into the bed. Then with each breath, you tell her to relax the ankles, the heels, feeling them become heavy.
If you don’t find yourself asleep on the rug by her bed by the time you get to relaxing the elbows, then whisper that she can keep doing this by herself and creep out of the room.
There are also sound machines, ceiling light displays that are positively mesmerizing, and soothing soundtracks to lull even a fourth grader to sleep. But the human voice is a wonderfully comforting instrument. Remember, they may be able to tie their shoes, but you’re still their mom who not so long ago rocked them to sleep. Enjoy it!
Margot Kessler, a screen and television writer living in Los Angeles, is the sporadically witty Solo Mom of two lovely daughters.
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