Here are 5 simple and creative ways to manage worries at bedtime:
1. Feed worries to a worry monster
Help young children to let go of their worries before they go to sleep by feeding them to a worry monster. You can create a friendly worry monster with your child by using an old tissue box. Paint or cover the tissue box with your child’s choice of colours and patterns and turn the opening into a mouth by adding some paper teeth.
Once you’ve created the monster you can encourage your child to feed their written or drawn worries through its mouth (e.g., making friends at kinder, going swimming etc.). If your child struggles with writing or drawing, parents can help with the process.
The monster likes to eat worries so your child can let them go from their mind. If the idea of a “friendly monster” might prompt some discomfort - you can choose your child’s favourite animal or character instead.
Encourage children to learn how to relax their minds and body by teaching meditation skills at bedtime. There are many relaxation scripts written especially for children that encourage positive imagery, breathing and muscle relaxation techniques. Relaxation techniques can help calm busy minds and help get children ready for sleep. A helpful book to use is Mini Relax by Debbie Wildi (can be purchased from http://www.bookdepositry.com).
Debbie’s book of calming stories helps children imagine themselves sliding on rainbows, walking through the fairy forest and see the world from a red air balloon. Each story introduces children to breathing and muscle relaxing techniques in a creative story format. Alternatively, you can google “child relaxation scripts” to source some free stories to read. You might even like to write your own!
Teach older children to identify and let go of worrying thoughts with the help of balloons and a Sharpie (permanent marker). Encourage your child to blow up a balloon (you can help of course) and hold the end tight in one hand. Use a black or dark coloured Sharpie to write or draw the worry on the balloon. It could be a word or a sentence or a picture of whatever is on their mind.
If your child has difficulty putting their worry into words you can help model what a worry might sound like in your head by writing your own worry. Using the phrase “what if…” can often help get your child started. Once your child has written or drawn the worry, tell your child to let it go and watch it fly around the room. When you retrieve the balloon your child will find that their written worry has shrunk and the writing is very tiny on the balloon – almost as if the worry is not so big anymore.
Help your child take control of a scary image in their head by teaching them to change what they see. Some children find that bedtime prompts them to think about the scary stories they have seen on TV, read in books or heard from other kids. Children might close their eyes and see an image in their head that is hard to shake (e.g., monster, ghost, zombie etc,). Encourage your child to draw what they see on a piece of paper. Children often find this hard to do as it asks them to face their fear directly.
Once the image is drawn tell your child to change the image so they find it funny or silly. For example, one child kept picturing a zombie in her head when she closed her eyes at bedtime. Using the drawing technique she was able to turn the image into a zombie dancing gangnam style and she no longer found it so scary. With repetition, every time the zombie entered her head she thought about him doing gangnam style and it stopped keeping her awake.
Read more on supporting your child through nighttime fears
5. Schedule worry time
Help older children manage their worries at bedtime by encouraging them to schedule “worry time” into their day. Just like many adults, bedtime can be a time when the mind gets busy. Encourage your child to engage in a scheduled “worry time” earlier in the evening (instead of just before sleep). Your child can write down or say their worries at a scheduled time (e.g., just before dinner, after school or before the bedtime routine starts).
Technology can be helpful here – your child can use a tablet or phone to record themselves (e.g., on apps like voice notes) saying their worries. Your child can then listen back to their spoken worries and then switch them off. Switching off a device is much easier than switching off a busy mind!
Worries at bedtime are common for children. Teaching your child different ways of managing their worries can help them to relax as they go to sleep and teach important skills for self-regulation.
If you are concerned about your child’s worries please seek professional advice. At Hopscotch and Harmony we have child psychologists who can help children and parents learn to manage worry. To book an appointment at our Werribee practice please contact us on 9741 5222.
.Dr Chaille Breuer is a Hopscotch & Harmony Clinical Psychologist who sees children and their families around issues including: parenting concerns, behavioural difficulties, anxiety, depression, grief and loss, social skills development, coping with separation, bullying, and school anxiety. Chaille is facilitating an upcoming parenting program Tuning into Kids