Let’s face it. Kids are ridiculously creative. I have found that their ingenuity tends to shine brightest at bedtime.
The requests just. keep. coming.
But how are we as parents supposed to know when our children have a genuine need and when they’re just desperately trying to delay the inevitable? When and where should we draw the line?
Here are just a sampling of the requests I have heard coming from my boys’ rooms as the sun is setting: (Can you relate?)
“Where is my stuffed animal?” (That I haven’t thought about in months but now can’t live without.)
“Can you tuck me in?”
“Can I have a glass of water?”
(Inevitably followed by) “I have to go potty!”
“I heard a scary noise!”
“My pj’s are itchy.”
“Can you pile the blankets on top of me?”
And the refreshingly honest,” I just don’t WANT to go to bed.”
Sometimes these pleas break your heart, other times they’re infuriating. But mostly, they’re exhausting. What’s a parent to do???
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Remember that We ALL have (Sensory) Needs
Quick quiz. How many senses do we have?
Five right? Nope. Try seven! What did you miss? Most likely the vestibular and proprioceptive senses.
Now don’t let your eyes glaze over when you see those big words. These two senses are often overlooked and misunderstood, but EVERYONE uses them constantly and would be lost without them. And most importantly for our discussion, they have a profound effect on behavior IN ALL KIDS.
The most common senses that can get out of whack are tactile (touch), vestibular (motion and balance), and proprioceptive (body awareness from joints and ligaments).
Ok, stick with me. This is all going to click soon. Promise.
Some kids are overly sensitive and avoid these sensations. Other kids are under sensitive to these sensations and seek them out. And these can come in all sorts of combinations and severity. Remember, we all have sensory needs.
When these preferences trigger fight or flight responses that interfere with everyday life, you’re little one may be experiencing Sensory Processing Disorder.
There are children that hate certain textures but absolutely crave spinning, climbing and other daredevil pursuits. They’re tactile avoiders/vestibular seekers.There are children who love getting ridiculously messy. They’re tactile seekers.Then there are children who are fearful of certain movements and heights (vestibular avoider) yet can’t get enough roughhousing and firm touch (proprioceptive seeker).
My son is a vestibular avoider, auditory avoider, and proprioceptive seeker. You can read the tale of how we came to that realization and how much life has since improved.
So how does this relate to YOUR KID???
What are your child’s sensory needs? Well, that’s going to depend on the individual kid and the individual moment. Here’s what to look for.
Common Sensory Needs that Show Up at Bedtime
Ask yourself, “What might my child be seeking or avoiding?” (beside bedtime of course!)
- Are they complaining about scratchy blankets or poking clothes? This is tactile avoidance.
- Do they insist on a particular stuffed animal to rub against their cheek? This is tactile seeking.
- Would they rather sleep on the floor than in the top bunk? This is vestibular avoidance.
- Do they want to be rocked to sleep or love hanging upside down off the bed? This is vestibular seeking.
- Does every little noise cause a panic? This is auditory avoidance.
- Must they be tucked in tightly or have objects piled on top of them? This is proprioceptive seeking.
So is there any hope of getting a little shut eye?!? Of course! The first step is to…
Include Sensory Input in Your Child’s Bedtime Routine
The goal is to be calming. Almost all kids are calmed by proprioceptive input. Bear hugs, firm back rubs, and brushing are great ways to get your child comfortable in their own body right before bed. If your child is a tactile seeker, let them feel up their favorite texture. If they love movement (vestibular), let them gently swing, or maybe hang upside down. Give them what their brain craves without winding them up.
But how should you handle the problems that still arise???
Be Prepared with Sensory Tools
Some fixes are obvious. Get your child pj’s that they find soothing. Let them sleep on the bunk that causes the least fear. Others you may not have thought of. Heavy pressure is soothing to most people, but especially kids who seek proprioceptive input. Consider having them wear a Weighted Compression Vest or Weighted Blanket instead of being piled high with pillows. These tools are miracle workers for so many kids because proprioceptive input is calming to ALL people! It helps them feel secure in their own body. If noise is an issue, why not try some White Noise or Noise Canceling Headphones. My son seeks strong proprioceptive touch so much that he chomps on his fingers till they bleed. Chomping on his “Chewy” Necklace gives him the input he longs for.
(Here’s our favorite ways to reduce anxiety at bedtime!)
Another resource is this post about tools for sensory therapy at home.
But to really cease the bedtime battle in your family they’ll need to…
Get Sensory Input During the Day
The longer term solution to sensory bedtime woes is to get the input the kids want during the day! If your child seeks a certain sensory input, give them healthy doses of that throughout the day. One of our favorites is doing the “wheelbarrel” from one activity to the next. It gives him both proprioceptive and vestibular feedback. (Feel free to check out other posts I’ve written about SPD that might give you more ideas.)
Looking for a simple reminder to get more sensory input into your every day life? Here’s a list of easy things to do that make sensory life a no-brainer. Why not print this out and join our October Sensory Challenge!
Interested in finding out more about SPD? I’d be thrilled if you followed me on Pinterest!
Set Limits and Stick with Them
Now of course not all requests are sensory related. Most kids are not fans of bedtime and will find any excuse to delay. So once you are sure you have met their sensory needs within reason, you have to do the hard work of parenting; setting limits and being consistent. Yeah, I’m not good at it either.
One thing that has helped is telling our boys that there will be one last call for requests and then dialogue is over for the night. There’s often some tears, but we stay in the room to help them calm down. However, we stay firm in our resolve to answer no more demands. Bedtime can be a circus, and I’m no expert. But be encouraged, when we started meeting our sons’ sensory needs, their demands decreased significantly.
I hope this article reminds you that your child was made with complexity and beauty. Getting good sensory input is not going to solve all your problems. It’s not going to turn your child into an angel. But it may be one piece of the puzzle that you’ve been missing.
October is Sensory Processing Awareness Month. Interested in learning more about common sensory needs in ALL kids? This post is part of the series Decoding Everyday Kid Behaviors which hopes to bring to light the sensory needs of ALL children from typical to severe. Over 30 other bloggers have written posts about classic childhood quirks and how sensory needs may play into them. Go check out the list to understand your child better!