How to Promote Rest
This summer, I had the privilege to attend a LifeWays Fundamentals training course in Jacksonville. LifeWays is an organization focused on holistically developing children in early childcare settings, both schools and homes. Their belief, and ours, is that “Life is the curriculum.” Learn more about what makes us a LifeWays Representative Program here.
While at my training I was struck by how much time was given to the topic of rest. There is an idea in Waldorf and LifeWays programs that our days are best structured rhythmically. Rhythm is such a great word: less rigid than a tight schedule but more structured than absolute chaos. It also connotes a musical vitality, a robust gait. We strive for a good rhythm at Outside Kids. We believe that it helps the children feel more secure and confident in our program. They know what to expect and they come to see that there is a time for everything. Rhythm implies an undulation, an inhale followed by an exhale. A centering story-time or circle-time followed by exuberant play and exploration.
During the out-breath, the frame of boundaries expands: children are given freedom to run, climb, explore or introspect, collaborate or fly solo! But during the in-breath the frame contracts again and there are narrower boundaries: we sit together at the table for our meals and use our manners or we keep our head on the pillow during resting time.
One of the reasons we love this model so much is that it feels very balanced. It prevents over-stimulation and exhaustion. This is why rest is such an important cornerstone in rhythm, both at home and at school. We all know very well just how quickly our children grow in this early phase of life. That growth is very hard and exhausting work. It uses up a lot of physical and emotional energy. Rest must have a respected place in the rhythms of young children’s lives.
Here are some ideas I took from the LifeWays training about supporting rest and bed-times at school and home:
Begin rest-time with confidence. It is hard for children to let go and relax when they sense adult tension or ambivalence. Our confidence and positivity quells anxieties and reassures them that they are safe to drift off into the dream world.
Hold and Massage. After a big day, young children may continue buzzing with the energy expended and absorbed. Gentle and firm pressure on their limbs brings them back to their bodies. Being tucked in lovingly and calmly gives us the safe feeling of being swaddled as infants. A little foot massage helps them feel bonded, safe, and relaxed.
Keep firm boundaries. Rest is so important. Well-rested children are happier and healthier. They grow at better rates and are sick less often. We have to trust ourselves that we know what’s best for our children. They may disagree in the moment, but let us remain confident that we are giving them something vital.
Set the mood with ritual. Dim and warm light, or horizontal light, are more soothing than bright, cold overhead lighting. A calmly recited rhyme, song, or story will set children at ease before rest. Create a sweet personalized routine for hugging/kissing/tucking in. Don’t let it drag on. Routines simplify the constant asking for one more. Once established, we can respond to requests for "one more hug" with a gentle and confident, "Yes, next time!" And they will come to trust that because it is part of our routine. The more this ritual is honored and repeated, the more they will relax into it.
Remove distractions. A stuffy or security blanket helps us relax but other toys–especially hard surfaced toys or electronics–are too stimulating. TV or podcast noise is also stimulating and distracting. Even if we manage to fall asleep with such background sounds, studies show that it is less restful than sleep in quiet or white-noise conditions. Remember that we can be a distraction too. If we are involved in fast-paced tasking, moving from room to room, in the presence of a resting child, they aren't able to resist the frenetic energy that we are putting out. We should take this time to settle down too. Let's devote ourselves to a sitting task, something quiet and slow, like folding laundry or reading. Or maybe get some rest time in for ourselves!
Be consistent. Prepare to gently reinforce the rest-time rhythm as many times as we must. If they are desperate to know why they must rest now, we might tell them honestly, "Because I love you," "Because I want you to grow strong and healthy," and "So that you can play/eat/go to the store with me later." Rest is an anchor in healthy rhythms. We should avoid skipping it. We won't be at our best moving onto the next thing until we rest.
Be flexible. We all know we can't force sleep. And that trying to force it is counterproductive. But we should set firm boundaries around staying in the bed/couch/hammock and keeping their head on the pillow. Even if children do not fall asleep during rest times, it is important to provide the time for them to go inward. Laying in bed and daydreaming for an hour is often just as rejuvenating as a nap! In fact, allowing for rest and reflection is a vital skill that is in danger of being lost in our fast-paced world. Why else have meditation courses, retreats, and apps become so popular and mainstream in recent years? Let's create the space when they are young so they don’t find themselves in desperate need when they are older.
Gentle waking. When it is time to wake up, we will pull them out of sleep just as gently. More gentle palm-squeezes on their limbs; softly removing their blanket; greeting them in a positive, singsong voice; perhaps even lifting them into our arms for a hug to greet them back into life. A big drink of water upon waking also helps stimulate blood and oxygen flow back to waking levels.
Trust the rhythm. We will write more about rhythm in the future. Establishing one may seem daunting, but the work is mostly front-loaded. Once our home and school environments hum to their own healthy rhythm, everyone knows what to expect. We all have those chaotic emergency days when nothing goes according to plan and wrenches are thrown repeatedly into the gears, but those days are easier to recover from when we have a solid rhythm to fall back on. If we begin to feel discouraged when implementing a new rhythm, remember that it does get easier. Stay with it.