Babies and young children are constantly learning how the world works, new motor skills, social skills, dealing with separation, and so much more. Every day, they encounter something strange and new that are surprising, delightful, scary and sometimes downright confusing. All this new information is stored in their brain, processed and kept in the memory while they sleep.
Sometimes, new experiences that are overwhelming and too scary can interfere with their sleep as they try to process them. If you have a 2.5 year old and above, their imagination gets wilder and so they suddenly become more fearful than ever before.
How do you help them process these scary feelings before sleep?
I’m going to share with you one of my secret sauces to relaxed sleep. It’s a tool, when used consistently over time, will show great results in the way your child gets ready to fall asleep.
It’s simply a tool of Play & Laughter, where it sounds deceptively simple, but it’s very powerful to release some of the fears and tension in your child’s body.
After a good bout of laughter, our body becomes relaxed and to a certain extent feels like there’s some sort of a release. You know that ‘sigh’ we get after laughing? Feels good doesn’t it?
How do I get my child to laugh?
The best place to start is to play the less powerful role. Babies and young children get easily amused when they see grown ups “screw up” when doing simple tasks. Some examples:
– you’re slow to catch up, bumbling and clumsy when you play catch or race,
– you mock surprise when he finds you in your hiding place when you play hide-and-seek,
– you can’t seem to get to him when you want to grab him and give him hugs and kisses, or
– you play the sleep game where your child puts you to sleep coz you’re tired, and then when he leaves, you pretend to be scared and cry.
Another way to get your child to laugh is to play blowing raspberries/bubbles in their belly, rough and tumble coupled with I’ll give you 100 hugs or It’s Love Lotion Time. This reaffirms your child that he is loved.
You may be wondering;
So can I tickle my child? Seems like the easiest way to get him to laugh.
I really wouldn’t suggest tickling as a way to get your child to laugh. The laughter is forced and it puts your child in a powerless position, not a very favourable position to be in. Also, there are things done to their body that they can’t control because we are digging in to tickle them silly.
Who likes to be tickled anyway?
If you’re specifically trying to work out issues and fears around sleep, I suggest you use play & laughter tool before bedtime. Don’t worry about overstimulating your child, especially if your child is already in hyperactivity mode and seems to be inviting play before sleep.
The play & laughter will meet his needs for high energy connection, and makes it easier for sleep to happen after his body is more relaxed.
Just like Present Time, there’s always a limit to play & laughter too. You could use a timer or your own judgement how long you want this to be played. 10-15 minutes is a good start.
At the end of a play & laughter time, you will observe that your child will either be cooperating to go to sleep happily OR it ends up in tears or tantrums. This is a very good thing. Your child is accessing those big scary feelings and he’s using this time to feel things fully and offload all those hurts and fears.
What do I do when my child cries at the end of play & laughter session?
Move in close, acknowledge that he feels sad, scared or upset. Reassure him that you’re going to be right there to listen to those feelings. You don’t need to give any advice, or try to make it better. Give lots of cuddles.
You will find that after the tears are over, a more cooperative calmer behaviour follows. At this point, encourage your child “Shall we lie down on the bed now?” and you will see his readiness to go to sleep.
This might sound too good to be true. Don’t take my word for it. Why don’t you give it a try for a few days?
You’ll hear the sound of your baby or child’s big belly laugh that will in turn make you feel good about sharing that moment together and feel proud of being his mum or dad.