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How I Tamed the Beast… Calming a Wired, Tired, Stressed, or Sugar-High Child at Bedtime

How I Tamed the Beast… Calming a Wired, Tired, Stressed, or Sugar-High Child at Bedtime

I wish I were the perfect Mother-Ambassador of perfect children’s health (and Mary Poppins, with Elle McPherson’s body, and Einstein’s mind), but for anyone who has read my blog, I think quite possibly the jig is up. I drink coffee, I eat the occasional cupcake (the whole thing, all by myself) after a raw or macrobiotic dinner (my husband tells me that in the business of selling groceries, there’s actually a name and a marketing plan for me, labeled “Indulgent Health Fanatics”), and I know that my child is sensitive to wheat and dairy, and probably does not need extra sugar, ‘sensitive’ or no. And, very much like my five-year-old son, I cannot always spin out the consequences of my decisions beyond the moment.

For example, if my son tells me that one chocolate éclair is not going to keep him awake, and he’ll listen to words, he promises, and yes, he’ll go straight to sleep after brushing his teeth very thoroughly, and he looks up at me with those big blue eyes that haven’t changed one bit since he was a baby, I occasionally leave my years of experience at the door and succumb to the addictive pleasure of being the mommy who makes dreams come true.

Imagine my guilt and shame then as afterwards he jumps off the walls, toothbrush in hand starts playing with his legos, and then, when I try to reason with him at his level, jumps around my neck like a baby baboon and starts writhing his head back and forth in fits of unprovoked, giddy laughter. Basically, I’m in for the long haul tonight.

Kids become restless, hyperactive, unable to concentrate for many complicated reasons. Much of my practice with children has been devoted to understanding the process of sensory integration – which spans a vast spectrum. Even now, I can only scratch the surface. Often it is a complicated ball of yarn to unravel, with environmental, social, nutritional implications. So please do not take these upcoming suggestions as a cure-all or a replacement for what may be a larger and longer pursuit of lasting solutions. However, if your child, like mine, is relatively calm and finds it reasonably easy to listen and make choices (for his age) – and then suddenly can do none of these things, and it’s bedtime!, maybe these tips will help:

1. Brew a cup of herbal tea. Chamomile is really one of nature’s treasures as far as I am concerned. Chamomile contains volatile oils and flavenoids with relaxant (think relax – ahhh) and analgesic (ie pain-relieving) properties. Indicated for fussiness, irritability, whining, it even works to help digestion, and has antimicrobial properties (it can kill viruses and bacteria!). Lemon balm is another safe, effective and popular relaxant for restlessness and anxiety in children (and adults). Popular for centuries now among European herbalists for children who are nervous, excitable, or having digestive upsets due to stress, it has no known interactions or side effects. Chamomile combined with lemon balm can be a mood-busting, calming miracle. Safe for even young children (it can even be used for teething – you can rub chamomile onto teeth like a paste), and slightly sweet, my son will sip at it every time. Just make sure it’s cool enough for your child to drink. On second thought, make that 2 cups of tea – one for mama or papa as well.

2. Draw a warm bath for your little one – and include Epsom salts. The magnesium in the Epsom salts is relaxing to both muscles and the nervous system; the sulfur (Epsom salts are really magnesium sulfate) is mildly detoxifying. Add a couple drops of lavender, chamomile, or rose essential oils for additional relaxation.

3. Give your child gentle massage. The trick to this is to get my son to sit still long enough to allow it, but now if I even mention back or head massage, he lies down right away. My favorite technique is to massage alongside the child’s spine, or use ’spinal rolling’ which many clients of mine also report works like a light switch for their children. Head and scalp massage can work wonders as well. Massage between and on their eyebrows, at their temples, and work the tips of your fingers on their scalp gently, as though shampooing their hair. Massaging at the wrist on the inside of the arm is another great spot (there are acupressure points in all of the areas I’ve mentioned that induce relaxation.) Best yet, rub a little Rescue Remedy at the wrists and temples along with the massaging. These, and many other techniques are demonstrated on the Mommy’s ER DVDs; one segment on DVD 2 is dedicated to disturbed sleep.

4. I am not a homeopath by trade, but it has not escaped my notice that many wonderful remedies for children can be found within this arena. My favorite part about homeopathy is that, like acupressure, it is designed to stimulate the body’s own ability to balance itself – with a hint or two from mother nature. It is completely safe, and I would love to hear your own anecdotal stories of its effectiveness. I will limit my suggestions to Calms Forte, a wonderful homeopathic blend (which includes the now oft-mentioned camomilla, among other things) from Hyland’s; they suggest 2 pills every 15 minutes until desired result (hopefully, calm) is achieved. It usually takes us just 2 pills. You can also try coffea cruda at 12x or 6c (these are dosages that measure the number of dilutions – the higher the number the more dilutions – in other words, you are not giving your child coffee, but a very diluted essence of it). This is for occasional use only – as in, I only occasionally lose my mind and give my son chocolate and sugar right before bed. However, a word to the wise on the Calms Forte – my latest bottle has a picture of Curious George on it, so my son now begs for these ‘sleeping pills’ nightly. (A little troubling, no doubt, to any visitors or casual listeners in our abode.)

5. If your child is hungry – (we all know this was not the case with my overfed child; in fact, the opposite – heavy or late dinners– can also cause disturbed sleep, as we’ll soon discuss) — consider a snack containing oats. Oats are high in silicon and phosphorus, which promote healthy connective tissues, brain and nerve growth. Oats are also high in tryptophan – the building block of happy, sleep-inspiring brain chemicals melatonin and serotonin. In the tradition of eastern medicine, oats also have the reputation for calming the nervous system. My father had a great recipe for naturally-sweetened oatmeal cookies that we used to call ‘Super Cookies’ (super for me because they were ‘cookies’, super for him because they contained lots of bran and were a calming, happy snack). I will post this recipe as soon as I am able to finagle it out of him. Try also foods high in tryptophan – oats are one of them; others include dairy products and poultry. We don’t do chicken or turkey much as a before-bed snack and my son is sensitive to dairy, so I’ll tell you another favorite: warm almond milk with a little honey. Almonds contain both magnesium and tryptophan, a powerful relaxing combination. And while the honey may be counter-intuitive (too much sugar, and we get more excited, at least initially), a little bit can actually give your brain the message to stop producing orexin, a neurotransmitter that keeps us alert.

6. Check for digestive upset. A meal that has been too heavy, too late, included stimulating foods or foods to which your child is sensitive can also cause anxiety and sleeplessness. (Sounds like a minefield, doesn’t it?) Once the damage is done, however, is there anything the now-beleaguered parent can do? Number one: ask your child if their tummy is upset. If your child has a tummy ache or feels overly full, you can try foods high in natural enzymes such as papaya, pineapple, or even apple slices. You can also try a digestive enzyme supplement – ask at your favorite grocery or healthfood store. If your child has more extreme gas or indigestion, 1 to 2 tablets of charcoal can provide immediate relief. So can tummy rubbing – check out some of my favorite digestive acupressure points and belly rubbing techniques. Finally, a cup of peppermint tea can provide a safe and effective boost for easier digestion.

All of the remedies I have listed here are great in a pinch – the occasional sleepless night or restless evening – or for nights you suspect may have bedtime difficulties in the near offings. You can feel free to explore the remedies I’ve listed here for ongoing sleep problems, and check out my Mommy’s ER segment on hyperactive, overtired or overstimulated kids. I’ve included a segment on healthy sleep as well — what it looks like, and how to encourage it. Please also include a visit to your primary care giver: ongoing sleep dilemmas can be a symptom of other imbalances and ailments, which are great to rule out. There are also some stronger herbal and nutritional solutions than the ones I’ve listed here – because I firmly believe that strong solutions should be saved for when all else fails, and under the guidance of a practitioner. But, if, like me, you really are looking for gentle, occasional relief for a minor dilemma, then I hope that these remedies provide your family the relief that they’ve provided me. Because frankly I don’t think my son considers sleeplessness a malady, but a wonderful glimpse into the late-night world of adults – and he does not connect sleep with the quality of our next morning, as I do (and can’t imagine I’d want to spend even a moment of my own night without his radiant company.:)) . I must be stealth in my determination to calm and soothe – it better taste good, feel good, or have Curious George involved in some way. I’ll continue to keep you posted as I search relentlessly for the remedy that combines all three.


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