I’ve had great results putting our five year-old to sleep with a body scan meditation. He’s always been a difficult sleeper, and it’s been amazing how he can sleep so well throughout the night falling asleep this way. I also believe that this technique has helped him develop more somatosensory awareness, or awareness of his body in relation to objects around him.
As always, any meditation technique you try with others works best if you have tried it yourself first. For a five year-old, there are a couple of things to keep in mind. First off, the general rule of thumb is to use one minute per year of life prior to adolescence for the duration of a meditation. For instance, a five year-old’s meditation should probably be no longer than five minutes, a seven year-old, seven minutes, etc.
Second, have a couple of variations to suit his or her personality. With our five year-old, I’ve used two techniques. He definitely prefers one to the other. You can combine them, too, if you wish. I do this after his bath, after the story, and once he already has his pajamas on.
To begin this as part of your routine, you can tell your child that you’ll now be starting a new bedtime routine which will help their body to rest and grow, and help them to have good dreams.
1) “Wiggles”: Begin with the right foot. Ask your child to wiggle their right foot. Then, the left foot. Move up to the right heels, the left heels, ankles, knees, thighs, hips, private parts. Ask him or her to wiggle all these parts one at a time. It might mean that they just move these parts from side to side. Move up to the backbone, the back, the tummy, the chest. Then, the right fingers, thumbs, and hands, then the left fingers, thumbs, and hands. The wrists, forearms, elbows, arms, and shoulders. All the body scans get extremely relaxing when you spend a lot of time detailing the head; begin with the neck, the chin, jaw, mouth, tongue, cheeks, ears, nose, eyes, eyelids, eyebrows, forehead, top of head, and the brain, to sleep as much as it can.
Your child may talk at points about it; they are a child. Not even adults can maintain a meditation session, so don’t expect more of your child. Just re-direct him or her back to the body part. Once the wiggles are done, you can sing them a lullaby and tuck them in for the night.
2) The second technique is the “goodnight suit”. You start with the same body parts as the “wiggles”, but instead of asking your child to wiggle the body part, you say “feel your right toes getting heavy, they relax, and go to sleep”. Say “good night right toes”. Ask them to say good night to each body part this way. Go in the same order, but asking them to say “good night” either out loud or silently in their mind. At some point, don’t be surprised if they stop talking. Once you get to the top of their head and brain, you can tell them that the goodnight suit is on, and they’re ready for bed. Sing them a lullaby and it’s time for a good night.
The other things that make the body scans work better is to limit the amount of television they watch before bedtime. Recent studies have shown that each half-hour of television exponentially increases their risk of having attention deficit. I believe it also infects their visual imagination to make it harder to self-soothe themselves to sleep. You definitely don’t want to have them watching television right before bed, and most definitely not before a body-scan meditation.
Finally, make sure you’ve had your child exercise for at least 20-30 minutes during the day. Regular exercise, limited television, and the body scan meditation can help your child develop a healthy body, mind, and spirit.