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An Evening Ritual for Children

A simple way to wrap up the day and prepare them for sleep.

As a parent to a 7-year-old boy, I know the feeling of just wanting to get my son to bed so that I can finally relax, catch up on work, speak to my husband, or just simply zone out!

When he finally falls asleep, it’s as if I get a permission slip to go have a few hours of my own life.

At the same time, I have often forgotten that he too might have had a full day, may want to process something with me, may want to share a story instead of me just reading him one, or he may have some emotions in his body that he has no way of easily clearing.

We all forget that children don’t have good "coping strategies" and that those they do have, like tantrums and outbursts, are not exactly welcome or rewarded.

Yes, getting them to sleep helps with recovery, but what about the emotional journey our children go on every day that we aren’t aware of, especially once they are in school?

Emotions can feel big and overwhelming to a young child. Our children's emotions can feel big and overwhelming to us as parents. I know I am guilty of wanting to get to the end of an emotional meltdown, my own or my child’s, without giving it the love and attention it deserves. Too often it reappears in some other form in the hours or days to come.

Emotions are like a filled up balloon. As parents, we often choose to stop the air in the balloon from being emptied out before it is really completely done, just in the name of getting back to peace and sanity. And yet, a half-empty balloon means the other half of the emotion will come out just a little bit later.

I have often heard psychologists tell couples, "Don’t go to bed angry." I would like to suggest that we don’t let our children go to bed angry, or sad, or scared, or whatever their little bodies are feeling.

With my son, we have created a simple Evening Clearing Routine, called The Body Scan. We do it every night and the results have been tremendous. Here are the steps:

  1. The child lays down comfortably in their bed the way they normally do. Let them know you are going to do "A Body Scan" and explain the steps below before proceeding.
  2. You then take your hand and just above their body, move it slowly down from above their head, to their forehead, to their throat, down to their heart, their solar plexus, navel, down their legs, to below their feet. While doing this you pretend to be a "feelings detector" (think like a metal detector) that beeps when something is found. Your child does the beeping when he/she feels an emotion is stuck there.
  3. Ask your child what is stuck there — often it will be "scaredness" or "angerness" (to use my son’s words), or frustration or sadness.
  4. Ask your child if the emotion wants to speak…sometimes it will, sometimes it will say no. There is no need to get into a big story about what happened at this time either.
  5. Ask your child if they are ready to let it go. Nearly always, they say yes. If they say no, that’s totally fine too. They may need more time.
  6. Place your hand on where the emotion is stuck in the body and ask your child to take three deep breaths into that part of their body. While they do that, you pretend to be pulling the emotion out, like glue sometimes if it's very stuck, and say the following: “We send this back to the light." Pull the emotion out and make a gesture upwards, sending it back towards the sky.
  7. Finally, do the same body scan and see if there is anything else stuck. Usually, the feelings detector will not go off, no beeps will be heard!
  8. On the off chance that there are more emotions there, you simply repeat the process.

And yes, there will be plenty of days when there are no feelings to process and no "beeps" will go off.

The good news is, this usually takes three minutes or so, and relieves the child from having to carry this heaviness with them throughout the night and often silently into the next day.

It also allows you to create a deeper connection with your child’s inner world. Their emotions and the reasons for them are your invitation to an intimacy that is often ignored as parents are simply dealing with the outbursts and behaviors that go along with those emotions.

It also allows your child not to fear their emotions. They learn emotions are not personal; they are not permanent and do eventually leave. The Body Scan allows them to see their role in moving them through, and that they can face and feel the emotion and not run away from it.

Emotional well-being is one of the core pillars of a happy child in my humble opinion. I speak more about this in my TED talk: The 3 Skills We Need to Teach Our Kids.

I invite you to try the Body Scan with your child. I can also tell you that the quality of their sleep (and therefore yours) is also another reason to give this a shot.

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