Have you ever noticed how giggly and playful your children get in the evening? That at the moment you want to get them to wind down they start winding up?
Sleep advice often centers on getting children to calm down and relax at the end of the day. Sleep experts recommend everything from bedtime yoga, lavender candles or soothing meditation music. While relaxation is definitely key, most sleep advice is missing a key element: Laughter!
As parents, we’ve probably all battled with sleep problems at some point, and as a Hand in Hand Parenting instructor I’ve come to realize that a lot of our problems are due to a misunderstanding about how children’s emotions work, and how they affect sleep.
There are two main ways that children naturally process and release their emotions. One is crying. Tears contain cortisol, the stress hormone, so when children cry they are literally releasing stress from their body. As Dr. Deborah Macnamara says, “Crying is not the hurt, but the process of becoming unhurt.” Children often cry when they feel safe and connected to us, and want to let go of emotions from the times they weren’t feeling so great.
The other way children release emotions is through play and laughter! When children get to cry, laugh and play freely, with lots of warmth and attention from the adults around them, they tend to sleep very well.
However, sometimes children’s emotions get stuck. Difficult or traumatic experiences can be hard to process. A busy day at daycare or preschool means your child may need extra time to wind down. When children take a long time to fall asleep at night, wake regularly in the night, or too early in the morning, it’s often a sign that they have emotions to process. When they get giggly in the evening, they are naturally doing what they need to do in order to sleep well.
Studies have shown that laughter lowers blood pressure, triggers the release of endorphins, and contributes to lowering stress hormones. Just like adults, children’s sleep problems can be related to stress. So having a giggle-filled bedtime helps them de-stress and sleep well.
Laughter also builds connection. As comedian Victor Borges says, “Laughter is the shortest distance between two people.” When we laugh and play with our children before sleep they feel closer to us. Children experience sleep as a separation from us, even if they co-sleep, so laughter helps them to internalize a sense of us close to them,…
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