Stress, Anxiety, and Sleep

As parents, when we think about stress and anxiety, we often think about ourselves or other adults having it. But what if I told you that your kids can have just as much or even more stress than you?! It’s true! Kids experience stress every day… moving to a new grade/school, making friends, worrying about tests/projects/grades, playing sports well, potty training, eating healthy, doing chores, having new siblings, experiencing a death in the family, witnessing thunderstorms/hurricanes/tornadoes, sleeping well, and the list goes on and on. My point is that our kids are stressed out and feeling anxious, and it’s time we helped them deal with those feelings.

If you’re both stressed about sleep, then I highly encourage you to work on fixing that first (for both of your sakes). In fact, whenever you have the ability to resolve the issue that’s giving your child stress, then that’s the way to go. You always want to get to the root causes of a person’s stress and anxiety, whenever possible. However, you’re not always going to be able to resolve the stress at the source. So how can you help your child feel calm, cool, and collected?

There are several things you can do to help them (and you) learn how to deal with their stress or fears as they come up. Let’s take a look at each of these…

1. Deep Breathing – Taking several slow, deep breaths can be very relaxing! It provides oxygen to all the major organs in our children’s bodies, stimulates the lymphatic system, increases their cardiovascular capacity, helps to detoxify the body, and relieve pain. It can make them feel calmer, happier, and improve their posture. This is good for ages 3 on up.

~When my twins were about 6 years old, I started doing deep breathing. My one twin would often have anxious feelings right before bed. Things didn’t seem to bother her all day, but they would at bedtime. For a long time I thought she was just trying to stall, but I eventually realized that it wasn’t intentional. After that we started doing deep breathing and guided imagery (#5 below). To explain deep breathing to them, I would have them envision that they had a yummy birthday cake in front of them. I would ask them to take a deep breath in so that they could smell the cake. Then I would ask them to hold their breath until I couldn’t to 3, and then I wanted them to blow out all of the candles. It was a great way for them to understand how to do what I was asking!

2. Quiet Meditation – Listening to soft music or environmental sounds (ex: rain, crashing waves, birds tweeting) can relax their mind and body, as well as calm down nervous, angry, or sad feelings. Relaxing music or sounds can be played for newborns on up!

3. Guided Meditation – Someone talks to your child over soft music, asking them to “feel” or recognize different parts of their body. This allows them to focus their mind on what’s being talked about and not what happened earlier that day or what’s happening tomorrow. It should allow them to fall asleep before it’s over! This is likely going to be more helpful for teens.

4. Guided Imagery (electronic) – Instead of having a person talking to them about “feeling” individual parts of their body, there’s a person telling them a story (each one has a theme or story line). The idea is for them to either fall asleep listening or get very sleepy, calm, and relaxed. This is good for preschoolers on up.

5. Guided Imagery (storytelling) – Instead of using an app or web to provide the story, you can give them some things to think about before bed by telling your own story.

~For my twin daughters, I will often say things like “Pretend you’re fairies in Fairytopia and it’s the night of the ball. You still have to design your gown. What will it look like? Will it be long or short? What color will be it? Think about all of these things as you go to sleep tonight.” The idea is NOT for them to tell you the answers to your questions, but for you to be able to leave them with some nice thoughts instead of the not-so-good ones that might be floating around in their little minds. Of course you would adapt this for boys. This can be especially useful with school-aged children.

6. Yoga – Stretching and holding poses in a classroom or home setting. Your child can do traditional yoga or you can allow them to be creative with it. Not only is yoga calming but it is also exercising. Exercise at any time in the day can help kids sleep better at night. This is something that you can do right along with them, too! There are mommy and me and kids’ yoga classes, so this one is good for ages baby and up.

You can find examples of these methods for free on YouTube, some websites, or apps (and yes, there are paid-for versions too). I encourage you to try one or two with your child. You may find that one thing works better than the others, or that one method works better for one of your children than the others. While deep breathing and guided imagery works wonderful for my 8 year old girls, my 5 year old son can only tolerate my storytelling, and my 17 year old daughter chooses to listen to storytelling on her phone. I will often come in her room, hear a man telling a story, and see that she’s passed out, so it clearly works for her!

My point is that you might have to experiment a bit to find out what works best for your child. While they’re younger the best thing you can do to help calm down your child is to be there for them. Having parents close by during stressful times can turn a toxic stress situation into a tolerable one, so don’t underestimate your power! Just  snuggle, hug, kiss, listen to, and love your child each day!

 

**For more information on helping your child, teen, or yourself with sleep issues, please visit my Services Page. I also offer free 15min phone assessments, if you’d like to learn more.

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