It’s funny (funny strange, not funny ha ha…it can be a bit too annoying to be funny ha ha) how bedtime seems to be the one time the children ACTUALLY want to talk to us annoying, weird, boring, embarrassing, bossy mums.

By day, our conversation is barely bearable, but as soon as bedtime beckons, and the threat of being left alone in their rooms becomes ever more real, there’s not a conversation they don’t want to cover with us suddenly not so annoying, weird, boring, embarrassing, bossy mums!

I think I remember being the same though when I was younger, not wanting Mum to go downstairs as then I’d be left alone in my room with nothing but my thoughts. Most of the time the thoughts that hang around in the head, especially at night, are the not-so-good ones. Anything good that happened during the day would immediately be forgotten, and anything not so good would be firmly planted at the forefront of my mind. It’s as if bad is stronger than good when it comes to thoughts.

I remember SO vividly dropping a huge packet of jellybeans that I had just won in Pass the Parcel down a drain as I climbed into the car when I was picked up from a party. That memory is SO clear in my mind, I remember the complete heart sinking despair I felt (OK, a bit of a drama queen back then…maybe still now) but do I remember how chuffed I was to have won the sweets in the first place? Nope. No recollection of that whatsoever. The bad memory prevails over the good one.

As well as focussing on the negative, another habit that we get into at bedtime that can keep us awake, is letting our mind play tricks on us. 

I’m going to tell you a short story now to show you what I mean, but I’m only going to write it one line at a time (there are only 3 lines in total!) 

Story line 1:

Susie was travelling on the bus.

OK, who do you think Susie is? What is she like? How old do you think she is?

Story line 2:

She has a teddy on her lap.

Now think again, have you changed your mind a bit and do you imagine her to be a bit younger as she has a teddy? 

Story line 3:

She can’t wait to see her granddaughter.

Humph. But we thought she was younger because she had a teddy, but now we know she’s actually a grandmother who is just carrying a teddy for her granddaughter.

As I told you that story, did you find that your mind filled in the gaps, and guessed some of the information about Susie, and then took these guesses to be true?

Often when our mind fills the gaps, or joins the dots like this, it does get things wrong. So, we can end up thinking things that might not be true. This is a really valuable lesson to teach (ourselves and our) children. To spot when they are worrying about something fictional or factual. And for them to understand that we shouldn’t necessarily believe everything we think.

In the same way we don’t have to believe all the thoughts we have, nor do we have to listen to them all the time. Thoughts are like little voices in your head that never shut up!  

You can’t simply stop thoughts, and there is no need to. But when these thoughts start to overwhelm children, especially at bedtime, we can learn to stop listening to the noise by moving our attention out of our busy heads for a while…but we need to give it somewhere else to go, so we focus instead on what’s happening in our bodies, especially our breathing.

Mindfulness and Meditation teach us these skills...we learn to pay attention to what’s happening in our body rather than the thoughts that are racing round in our mind. By focussing on any feelings or sensations we find in our body (like breathing), we’re taking our attention away from the thoughts that are keeping us awake. Thoughts can’t get to us when we’re not noticing them.

Now, I am not suggesting that we try to STOP our thoughts, we cannot do that, and we should not try. But when our head is filled with them and they stop us from sleeping, then we can learn to simply stop listening to them for a while, by simply shifting our attention out of the head and lowering it down into our bodies. There are no thoughts here, just feelings and sensations. It’s a very calm place for our minds to be, and it’s a very calming thing for our attention to do.

Belly Breathing is a great way of holding our attention in our bodies…it’s a bit like an ‘off switch’ for the mind. And it’s so easy: just breathe slowly and deeply all the way down into your tummy, noticing how it rises as you breathe in and falls as you breathe out. Try breathing in for the count of 7 and out for the count of 11. Every time the mind starts to wonder again, just bring it back to the counting and the breathing…

…worth giving it a go? What have you got to lose?