Sometimes younger children can have a tough time after lunch. While an adult may either take a nap after lunch or some stimulants in the form of caffeine, we send our children away from the kitchen table expecting them to show contentment and a good mood. Sometimes it doesn’t work like that. For example, a four-year-old child who is past the age of having a nap after lunch may refuse to lie down for a nap, although they are still tired at the beginning of the afternoon, as suggested by their agitated or frustrated behavior.
Small children do not know how to settle on their own and pointing the finger to the couch demanding with a firm voice that the child is quiet just does not do the trick. In fact, it adds to the distress of a child who has no idea why he does not feel so great. The more agitation your child shows, the more rest he needs.
While taking a nap is the best way to recover from fatigue or stress, it generally increases a young child’s irritation if parents suggest lying down for a nap. Adults understand that it takes some will power to quiet down one’s thoughts and work on relaxing the body in order to sleep. Young children do not understand this and their racing thoughts or anxiety can become overwhelming when their body is inactive. Instead of insisting on a nap, we recommend some multisensory downtime.
Here are some suggestions for downtime after lunch, applicable almost anywhere: in the classroom, the park, or of course even better, at home. It is a multisensory approach that brings pleasure to the brain. This fifteen-minute session of auditory, olfactory and tactile enjoyment is designed to “re-charge” the brain, to prompt it to refill with the essential hormones:
serotonin and dopamine.
Dopamine controls good mood, attention span, memory. pleasure and movement. Serotonin controls just about everything else from learning to coping with stress, digestion, monitoring and understanding the environment.
- Listen to slow, relaxing orchestral music, ideally with headphones. It is very important that the child enjoys the music. You can start with movie scores. They are easier to listen to. If you are not sure what to choose for your child that would qualify as relaxing orchestral music, sit with him at bedtime and listen to short portions of music, then ask him to raise a hand when he something he finds “pretty”. There’s no need for the child to talk and give long feedback, he can simply listen and raise his hand.
- Hold a citrus scented tissue to smell and enjoy (or any other simple natural fragrance that he really likes). As with music, it is important for your child to enjoy the smell. If you need to, try a few different fragrances and ask him to tell you which ones he likes.
- Lay him down comfortably, on your lap or next to you, stroking his forehead, his face, his neck, or anything else he enjoys.
This multisensory quiet time should be a time that the child looks forward to and will help the child to feel refreshed and ready for the rest of the day.
If your child is too tense to participate in these activities or if he cannot comprehend the requests you make for quiet time, you may suggest a slow walk to the park. Another idea would be to sit together on a blanket in the backyard and build something simple in order to benefit from some outdoor time. Focus on a real change from your previous activities, aiming to help your child focus his attention on an activity he will enjoy and use this as a downtime activity.