Dinner and baths are over, and it’s time for the kids to head to dreamland. Or is it?! Without fail, at that very moment, they’ll get a second wind, and calming them down enough to fall asleep will seem like an impossible task. It’s almost like they know they’ll be out of commission for at least 10 hours and are determined to get every ounce of bounce out before their heads hit the pillow. While they may have an extra burst of excitement or curiosity, we parents are hanging on by a thread—so how can we make the bedtime transition easier and avoid feeling like we’ve run a marathon every. single. night?
Mom and pediatric occupational therapist Courtney English recently shared a few of her favorite sensory activities that help kids calm down before bed, and they’re simple but effective. Her TikTok video shows what parents can do:
Sensory strategies to calm your child’s body before bed! #momsoftiktok #toddlersoftiktok #preschoolmom #sensoryactivities #sensoryprocessing #sensoryplay #pediatricot #pediatricoccupationaltherapy #occupationaltherapy♬ original sound – Courtney | Pediatric OT
1. Rock yourself with your kiddo in your arms.
In the video, English explains that self-body rocking allows for linear vestibule input—a form of vestibular stimulation—which is a self-soothing tool that helps focus attention. Science Daily explains: “If the person is agitated and hyperaroused, sensory inhibition can be used to diminish arousal, especially in the evening before bedtime or at other times when the person is restless and agitated.” English demonstrates the moves in her video: Gently squeeze your child close to your body for 10 seconds, five seconds on and five seconds off. Count with your child and stay engaged.
2. Squish their legs.
Move your child’s legs in and out, and shake. Be animated and use silly voices. Similar to what Mental Health Center Kids calls progressive muscle relaxation, this will help kids calm their bodies.
3. Make drumming sounds on the carpet.
This activity allows for repetitive proprioceptive input, which is one of the eight sensory systems and “plays a role in body awareness, self-regulation, coordination, posture, and the ability to focus,” according to Neurodivergent Insights. It also allows for repetitive auditory input, which can help kids deal with auditory overload.
4. Do the Clock Move.
This one is a lot of fun. Turn your child upside down and move them slowly from side to side, like a pendulum. Afterward, English recommends following up with heavy work—activities that require the use of our muscles—things like wall push-ups, rolling a medicine ball down the hall, pulling a wagon, or doing an animal walk (think crab walk or bear crawl) Heavy work “creates resistance input to the muscles and this feedback is ultimately what calms and regulates the sensory system,” per OT Toolbox.
5. Toss around a weighted animal.
This one is self-explanatory, but English recommends making silly faces and noises to engage even more with your child. Why the weighted animal? As explained in Healthline, the added weight offers deep pressure touch, which is thought to calm the nervous system and trigger serotonin and dopamine releases.
English posted a second video with even more sensory activities for bedtime, and one idea includes bubbles!
Most of these sensory activities are frequently used by occupational therapists, and we’re all about trying a few the next time we have to wrestle our little monkeys into bed.