The importance of rest for our children

Adoptive mum Lucy reflects on the value of rest, particularly for our children.

It's mid-January, which means that many of us might be struggling through our new year's resolutions – or, if you don't call them that, you might be considering the year ahead and wondering how to make it better than the last.

When it comes to our families, we naturally feel a sense of responsibility for managing them well, but when our children have experienced trauma, we can often feel like we're floundering.

I know that at the end of last year I felt like our whole family needed a 're-set' button! We were getting short-tempered and irritable with each other, concerned only for our own needs or desires – and, as a result, my husband and I did not manage situations as well as we could have done.

A little while ago I wrote about the importance of rest for parents or carers. It is vital that we take time to care for ourselves, otherwise we're no use to those who depend on us. If 2019 found you a little worn around the edges, then maybe this post will be a helpful one in considering how this year will be different.

It is also important, though, to know how we can help our children to rest and to wind down. All children need a lot of rest, but especially children who may be in 'survival' mode for much of the day. There is a real necessity for them to have enough space to process their emotions.

This looks different for each child, but I hope that these ideas might help you to think about what you could implement to support them this year.

Sleep

Each child is different, but if you feel that your child isn't getting the sleep they need, the new year is a great opportunity to try and help them rest.

Some parents swear by relaxation or mindfulness techniques to encourage their children to switch off at bedtime. Others use scented oils, plug-ins or nightlights to soothe anxiety. My son is incredibly anxious, and during the periods when this anxiety rears its head at bedtime, we often need to sit outside his door until he's asleep.

We can also help by setting a consistent bedtime routine, and noticing the pattern of when our children get tired, so that we can make sure they're in bed before they're overtired and unable to get to sleep. Trauma-experienced children cannot always cope with late nights, even if they're for a special occasion.

If we're doing all we can, and our children are still struggling to get to sleep or waking too early every morning, there might be an underlying reason for which therapy or medication could be the answer. Contacting your adoption agency, local authority or GP will start the ball rolling.

Wind-down time

There are moments in the day or week when our children need to wind down from a highly structured activity.

For example, my children often struggle to manage the transition from school to home. One of the reasons, I believe, is because their brains have had to work so hard all day – not only academically, but socially, to behave by the rules – they don't have much energy left for considering others' needs.

I try to counteract this by getting ready a calming activity like colouring, craft or sensory play: something which is open ended, and which will absorb them without requiring much thought.

Of course, with work and other commitments this isn't always possible to sort out! But when it is, I notice a huge difference in my children's ability to gradually make the shift from school to home, and in the conversations we are able to have.

Just say 'no'

Sometimes, on behalf of our children, we need to say 'no'. Our children can't be expected to manage their own schedules when they're young, so it's up to us to make sure they don't become over-committed – and to recognise that they may not be able to cope with all the activities their peers engage in.

My sons are in Reception and bring home reading books on Mondays and Wednesdays, but on Wednesdays they also have a swimming lesson, which both delights and exhausts them! We therefore decided to read on Thursdays instead – a decision which we communicated to school and in which we were supported.

There may also be expectations from extended family, friends or church. Other children might cope fine with a family wedding or church social, but if we know that it's likely to stress out our child, then we need to have the confidence to say 'no'.

Just because other children are doing it doesn't mean ours should. Keeping an eye out for activities which are particularly tiring for your child, or days which are particularly busy, ensures that they get the down time they need.

Screen time

Chilling out in front of the TV is a relaxing pursuit for all of us, and something that I know my own children value.

But screen time can be deceptive in its relaxation credentials.

Yes, a small amount helps us to sit, be still, rest our minds and switch off from other problems for a time. But too much in one sitting can result in poor posture, more restless behaviour, unsavoury words or attitudes being repeated, and – if utilised shortly before bedtime – insomnia.

As children get older, and screen time tends to become more individualised with tablets and phones, further problems can start to mount, such as social isolation, online bullying and unhealthy social media pressure.

It's hard to control our children's screen time because we adults need to make the dinner, sort the laundry and tidy up, and our children don't always find it easy to entertain themselves for long periods of time. The screen is an easy way to keep them out of harm's way. Yet when we set boundaries for its usage, we quickly see the benefits.

Brainstorm the things your child can enjoy or play with independently – put all the ideas in a jar if you like, to help them think of something to do when you're not available to play. Involve them in jobs where they’re willing. Set a time when the TV comes on and off – this consistency really helps children in being able to trust us and the boundaries we set.

With owned devices, set sensible boundaries – bring phones into your room at night, limit the time spent on them, keep an eye on what they're doing.

Spiritual rest

We often think of rest as 'doing nothing', but the Biblical model is very different. Jesus called those who were weary to come to him, "and I will give you rest".

This Christmas, I put an age-appropriate daily devotional in my twins' stockings. At 5 years old, I know they're ready to consider what the Bible says in a bit more depth than simply by hearing Bible stories read to them. It is my resolution this new year to create a daily space for them to engage with God's word. I believe this will provide the spiritual rest that they need to help cope with the harder parts of their lives.

Ultimately, the best thing for us and our children is time spent with our heavenly Father. So perhaps the 'rest' they are craving this year is some focused time where they can hear from God and respond to Him. As parents, it is a wonderful privilege to be able to sit alongside our children as we point them to Jesus.

In our busy lives, allowing space for us and our children to rest – both together and independently – is not only necessary for our wellbeing this year, but sets a healthy pattern for our children to follow as they mature into adulthood.

Wishing you and your family a restful new year!

Written by Lucy Rycroft for Home for Good.

Author:
Lucy Rycroft for Home for Good


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