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How many times have you heard the stomping and stamping and giggling of your child and your partner upstairs right before bedtime and thought to yourself, “Great, now she’s never going to go to sleep”?
Would you believe me if I told you that this rough and tumble play before bed *might* actually allow your child to get a better night’s sleep? (Keep reading to see how this may look in an effective way).
Okay, so now you are probably thinking, how on earth does it make sense to get my child all worked up before bed?
Honestly, I felt the same way before I understood the benefits of rough and tumble play before bed. It just didn’t make sense to get my child to move around and be active and crazy right before it was time to get into bed, where she needed to be calm and relaxed.
What I learned, though, is that this rough and tumble play can actually help many children have a better sleep for a few different reasons:
For many children, especially those who are sensory-seeking (think of those who are very active and need to move their bodies often, like climbing, etc.), this type of activity before bed can actually help them get the sensory input they need before they go to sleep. Some children need that extra bit of movement, touch, and connection to fully relax and get a good night’s sleep.
Rough and tumble play not only provides children with sensory input but can also act as a stress reliever. For many families, no matter what they do, the bedtime routine always seems to end in tears. For many children, these tears are coming out because they have stress that has built up during the day. Rough and tumble play provides them with an opportunity to have some fun and be silly, which can help to let off some steam and ease this stress and tension they may be feeling about their day. Instead of going to bed thinking about the stressors of their day, they are going to bed thinking about how much fun they had running around and laughing before they got ready for bed.
Another reason we might see tears during the bedtime routine is that our children feel like they did not get enough connection time with us during the day. Rough and tumble play can provide them with this extra special time with us. It can also include physical contact – like piggyback rides, for example – that provide our children with that extra physical connection.
Guidelines for rough and tumble play:
Have a clear goal of the play:
Instead of having a free-for-all “fight,” it is better to ensure that the play has a clear start and finish. This will help your child transition out of the play into the rest of their routine. You might play: climb on top of a pile of pillows, try to climb the tower (pretending your bed is the tower), using a twisted sheet for a game of tug-a-war, and so on. Keeping the play intentional will help your children stay on task and transition easier.
A huge part of this playtime before bed is giving your child an enriched connection with you. Put away your phone or other distractions and make this special time with your child really about being together and playing. This will help the rest of your bedtime routine.
Add the play in at the start of the routine (at least 30 minutes before bed)
When introducing rough and tumble play into your child’s bedtime routine, try to do this at the beginning of the routine. This will give your child a chance to calm down as they continue with the rest of their routine: brush their teeth, put on their pyjamas, etc. If you have a child who has a hard time calming down after they are worked up, I would suggest setting a timer. This could be a timer on your phone, a kitchen timer, or even a sand timer. We can let them know that we will have this special time for 5 minutes, and when the timer goes off, it’s going to be time to brush our teeth and continue with the rest of our bedtime routine.
If your little one typically has a difficult time with transitions and you are worried about how they are going to transition between rough and tumble play and the rest of their bedtime routine, it can be helpful to start the bedtime routine early as well as plan ahead. Talk to your child about what the bedtime routine is going to look like:
“Hey buddy, I noticed bedtime has been hard lately. I thought tonight we could try to switch up our routine. Maybe we can go outside and play a game of chase or hide-and-seek before we go for a bath and then brush your teeth and read a story. What do you think?”
Tune in with your child
For some children building in this rough and tumble play and connection time at the start of the bedtime routine can be absolutely life-changing (in a good way)! For other more sensory sensitive children, children who may have sensory processing disorder or others, it can take their nervous system a very long time to calm back down. You are the expert on your child and know what will be most helpful with them!
Do you need more bedtime help? Grab our Solving Bedtime Battles guide and start having easier bedtimes for your kids (ages 2.5 – 12) today!