Puttering rituals for children and tired parents

Putteritualer for børn og trætte forældre
What do you do when the tumbler doesn't want to sleep?
You know he's tired, but he refuses to surrender to sleep.

"I am thirsty. One more book. Where is my teddy bear?”

Sound like something you've heard before? If you have small children, you probably know what I mean. The putter ritual can drag on endlessly with a child pushing all the buttons before giving up and settling down.

Karen Kildahl, who is a midwife and sleep counselor at The Baby Institute, compares the putting ritual to a stewardess on an airplane. It sounds crazy, but with two preschool-aged boys, I'm sure Karen knows what she's talking about. 

Putter rituals with loving clarity

Karen tells with large arm movements about the time she had to go out on a flight and the flight attendant refused to let her go to the toilet because the plane was about to take off. No matter how many times she pressed the button on the ceiling and tried to reason herself into a quick trip to the bathroom, the answer was the same. So when the plane took off, it was with Karen in her seat. With braided legs. 

Of course, it's not about us denying our children to go to the toilet. But the experience on the plane nevertheless inspired Karen to come up with a metaphor: 

“When you go out to fly, there are a lot of rules that must be complied with before the plane can take off. You must sit in your seat. The seat must be upright and you must wear a seat belt. That's just how it is. 

If you challenge the rules, you will be met by a friendly but firm flight attendant who will repeat the rules for you. The flight attendant does not discuss with you, but gives you a coordinated standard message. She is calm and welcoming throughout, even when she informs about insanely dangerous things such as the risk of pressure drop in the cabin and possible emergency landing in the sea. 

If you have flown many times, you begin to lean into the stewardess's calmness and relax. 

But when a 3-year-old needs to sleep, he presses every button he can get near, even if he's actually tired. Are any of the buttons working? Can I have something to drink? May I be allowed to stand up? Can I bring another teddy bear to bed?”

Can you see where the story is going? Through her work as a midwife and sleep counselor, Karen Kildahl has spoken to thousands of families who struggle with sleep in one way or another. With that experience in her backpack, she mentions clarity as a key word when it comes to putter rituals:

“The greatest favor you can do your child is to be clear. It is not a fight or a show of force. It is loving clarity.”

Rituals help choose sleep for

It's not just the kids who need pampering rituals. We adults also benefit from rituals before we retire. We let the chickens in, lock the front door, brush our teeth and turn off the lights. The brain is being prepared for the fact that now we are gearing down and settling down.

As adults, we know that we should lie down and wait for sleep. Lie still, keep quiet, close your eyes and let rest land in your body. These are precisely the words we often hear ourselves say to the children when they are going to sleep. "Lie down. Close your eyes. Try to fall asleep.”

One it can be difficult to choose sleep for. The brain will not calm down. Karen explains that it takes qualities to sleep:

“You have to accept that you have to sleep. And then you must be able to be with yourself, without outside input. Even many adults find it difficult to find out.”

The brain prepares for sleep

There are three processes in the brain in particular that are important for our sleep. This applies to both children and adults.

The first is the hunger hormone ghrelin, which keeps the brain awake when we are hungry. We can do something about that.

The other is dopamine. An addictive neurotransmitter we produce when we see something exciting or learn something new. This is exactly why it can make good sense to read the same book to your child every night. The question then is how many times you can read De Tre Bukkebruse before you yourself become a pumice stone. But if it helps your child settle down and choose sleep, it might be worth a try.

Use e.g. a bed pocket to store books, teddy bears or other things that you use for exactly your cuddling ritual. Then there is also some recognition in it. 

The third thing that keeps us awake is hypocretin. A complex size that I don't have to get too clever about. For the sake of simplicity, we can call it the hygge hormone. If you want to prevent the hygge hormone from taking over the cuddling, you can advantageously stick to the rituals you have chosen. It can be, for example, one book and two songs. Cozy up in the living room and snuggle up in the bedroom. With the loving clarity of the stewardess.

Ole Lukøje's magic dust releases sleep

Imagine if Ole Lukøje came by and sprinkled sleep hormones and good dreams over our children. We can long for that when we sit there on the edge of the bed with a child who is so tired but does not want to surrender to sleep. 

In fact, there is a sleep hormone that we can help along the way, namely melatonin. Or "Ole Lukøje's magic dust" as Karen calls it. When it has been dark for a while, melatonin is released and sleep is helped along the way. 

If you need some light in the room, you can try to find a night lamp that glows red. The sleep hormone is happy with the warm, red light. We live with the brothel atmosphere. As long as the child falls asleep.

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