When you’ve got a little one, Christmas isn’t so much a time of Peace on Earth, more Ding Dong Merrily on High! 😬
‘The festive season is wonderful for kids,’ says baby sleep expert Lucy Wolfe. ‘But there’s so much going on that even the most placid youngster will probably have a moment when he becomes overstimulated by everything going on around him.’ And that spells trouble for bedtime!
Here are 10 tips on helping your little one settle at night!
‘The very first thing you should do when your youngster has hit overstimulation is to take him away from the bright lights and bustle,’ says Lucy. ‘Aim to reduce the sensory input that he’s battling to process, so go into a dimly lit, quiet bedroom.
1) Find sensory peace
Going outdoors, where it’s dark and cold, works really well as the change in temperature and light levels is soothing, plus your little one will want to stay cuddled up to you, which is reassuring and relaxing. There are lots of “undemanding” things for your little one to look at with you – point up at the stars or watch the trees blowing in the wind.’
This doesn’t mean telling your baby he’s not allowed out for two weeks! It involves getting down to ground-level with him, to cuddle and comfort him. ‘When your tot can feel the floor under his feet or his bottom, he feels grounded,’ says Lucy.
2) Ground them
‘And that sense of solidity and pressure helps to calm his nervous system. If you lift him into the air for a hug, he feels more vulnerable and out-of-control, so he won’t calm down as easily.’
‘Stress tends to make blood pressure rise and bodies get hotter,’ says Lucy. ‘And overstimulated youngsters are experiencing acute stress. Running tepid water over his wrists is a really easy and effective way to cool your tot down, and the sight and sound of water has a calming effect, which will help settle his ruffled nerves.’
3) Cool their body
‘Not all youngsters find baths soothing,’ says Lucy. ‘But if yours tends to relax in the bath, then a dip will give him time-out, help him to cool down and give him one-to-one time with you, all of which will help the cortisol to fade away.’
4) Have a bath
‘Once your tot has become overstimulated, it takes a while for the stress hormones to subside,’ says Lucy. ‘That means it will take longer to feel ready for sleep.’
5) Extend their routine
Adding a period of quiet play into his bedtime routine – upstairs with the lights dimmed – where you do a relaxing age-appropriate activity together, will give him the time he needs for this to happen. ‘Read an extra story, get out the shape sorter as long it doesn’t have lights or sounds, or do a simple jigsaw puzzle,’ suggests Lucy.
‘Tension-release exercises are really useful tools to settle older toddlers,’ says Lucy. ‘Once your little one is calm enough to listen, get him to imagine that he is holding an orange in each hand.
6) Release the tension
Ask him to squeeeeeeze the oranges so the juice ooooozes out. Now ask him to relax or shake his hands. Carry on getting him to clench and relax his hands until he’s squeezed himself a delicious glass of orange juice – or you detect a sense of calmness!’
Another useful exercise to stretch out and relax his body is to play furry kittens together.
‘Show him how Mummy Cat reaches up above her head and stretches, then quickly drops down, and encourage your little kitten to do the same,’ says Lucy. ‘Reach up again – even higher this time – and quickly drop down… and tell him he’s a clever kitten!’ To finish, you need to squeeze through the cat flap. ‘Pull your tummy in and squeeeeeeeze,’ says Lucy. ‘You’re through! And now you can relax your tummy.’
‘Visualisation can help a pre-schooler daydream about something he’ll find relaxing,’ says Lucy. ‘Choose a place that he knows and likes, and start by asking him to imagine himself there.’
8) Go to the beach
If it’s a beach, ask him how the sand feels under his toes. What sound is the sea making as it washes in and out? Can he see any pretty shells? He’ll build a picture in his mind and that, plus the calm sound of your voice, will help him to feel reassured and peaceful. And the more you do it, the better he’ll get at it.
If he’s not old enough to manage visualisation yet, looking at picture books is a good alternative. Choose books with big images with lots of details to search out. Chat about what you can see, and ask him to find them himself.
9) Share non-fiction books
‘Baby massage, cuddles or any form of touch will help to calm your tot,’ says Lucy.
10) Massage his feet
Warm physical connection releases the feel-good hormone oxytocin, which lowers blood pressure, reduces cortisol and helps to relieve stress.
‘There’s a point on the sole of your baby’s foot that, if you gently massage it with your thumb, will help his body relax. It’s a third of the way down his foot, directly below the gap between his second and third toes.’
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