5 Ways To Reduce Your Child's Sunday Night Anxiety

by Sarah Poirier
Originally Published: 
A mother reading a book with her two kids in bed to reduce their Sunday night anxiety

Many people relate to this feeling on some level: It’s Sunday afternoon, the day is winding down, you’re getting dinner on, and you get that feeling…

…it’s Sunday night. The weekend is over. The week is about to start again.

It reminds me of that scene in the movie National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation when the grandparents first arrive. It shows Chevy Chase and his family peacefully going about their activities, and then the doorbell chimes. Then you hear it chime again, and deeper “bong” this time…and then again…deeper and deeper…as the arguing on the other side of the door gets louder and louder…the deeper bongs signifying the dread that accompanies their arrival, just like the arrival of Sunday night.

When I was growing up, Sunday night felt like DOOMSDAY. I absolutely hated it. I tended to be a bit of an anxious child to begin with, and when I knew I had whole week ahead of me of social interactions, challenging school work, assignments, and anything else I was facing, my anxiety would ramp up into overdrive, making for a stressful, anxiety-ridden Sunday evening.

As an adult now, I can cope with these “Sunday blues” a lot easier, just as I’ve learned (and am continuing to learn) to manage my anxiety in different ways. I still feel it on some level, that old familiar anxiety about the upcoming week, but not at all like when I was a child.

On those dreaded Sunday evenings as a child, I always had such a terrible time falling asleep, which would make me feel even more anxious, and I just couldn’t settle, repeating the cycle throughout the evening and sometimes well into the night. My mom had a few tricks up her sleeve though, and I remember things she used to do when I was a child that would help me fall asleep and feel more relaxed and comforted.

When my son started school a few years ago, I started to see the same Sunday night anxiety with him. As a more sensitive child who experiences strong, heartfelt emotions, he tends to struggle with similar anxieties and worries as I did as a child. He would sometimes start to get edgy in the late afternoon or would start talking about school being the next day, and what would be going on during the day, etc. By bedtime he was usually pretty anxious and had a hard time settling down for bedtime and falling asleep.

Over the few years that he’s been in school, we’ve used a few different strategies that have really helped him to feel more settled on Sunday evenings and able to fall asleep peacefully at night. These are our top 5 ways to reduce Sunday night anxiety in our home.

1. One-on-one time or family fun time before bed.

Having a bit of time to connect with our son during the day or in the evening really helps him to feel calmer and more at peace. The more he feels connected to us, as a family unit, the more secure he feels about facing any potential worries. He knows we’re behind him. It might be going for a short bike ride together in nice weather (the benefit of exercise also helps to diminish the worries), playing a game, having a dance party, making the school lunches together with a little treat thrown in to look forward to, having a family game of floor hockey or soccer, etc. Regardless of what the activity might be, or whether it is just one-on-one time or time with the whole family, having some fun together does wonders to help reduce my son’s Sunday night anxiety (and mine!).

2. Physical contact.

My son is a real cuddler, and even though at 7 years old he’s already starting to get embarrassed by cuddles (break my heart), he still thrives on physical contact. On those nights when I know he’s a little more anxious or unsettled, I lie with him for a few minutes at bedtime. We chat about the day, he’ll ask any questions he’s wondering about, but we lie side by side. Sometimes he wraps his arm around my arm and snuggles his head against me. I’m so going to miss these days where he still wants his cuddles. He settles right down and heads off to sleep peacefully when I spend those few minutes. And it’s literally 5-10 minutes, but it brings him that bit of comfort he needs. Some other ideas to incorporate that physical contact might be to sit and read a book together, go for a walk holding hands, watch some TV sitting together, or just work in some extra hugs throughout the evening when you can.

3. Warm milk and honey.

I don’t have much to say about this except that it works! Although people debate the actual effectiveness of drinking warm milk as a sleep aid, and whether or not it is actually caused from the tryptophan in the milk, I have always compared it to the relaxation of having a warm bath. Anytime I had a really hard time sleeping as a kid (and that was often!), my mom would always make me a little mug of warm milk with a spoonful of honey stirred in. I would drink that in bed, and 9 times out of 10, it did the trick.

4. A warm bath.

Speaking of warm baths helping you to relax, my children always have a bath on Sundays! Partly to wash all the weekend dirt and grime off them, but also because it calms them down and gets them ready for sleep. The warmth of the bath soothes muscles (even little ones get achy sometimes!) and calms the body. When I know the anxiety is ramping up in our house, I run a nice warm bubble bath for my kids, and I let them soak and play with their bath toys a little longer than usual. Add a few drops of lavender essential oil to the bath to really add to the relaxation.

5. Sleepy-time snack.

This is something that I started with my son a few years ago, when he was about 5 years old, during a period of intense nightmares and a real fear of the dark. He had a very hard time falling asleep at night, and he often woke with nightmares during the night. One evening when he was particularly anxious, I decided to give him a snack. I told him that’s what I did when I couldn’t sleep, and I made up a little story about these crackers I used to eat that always helped me to fall asleep. I would also nibble on them during the night if I woke up after a bad dream and felt scared.

I went downstairs and brought him up four saltine crackers (because he’s four years old…#kidlogic). He was so excited to try “Mommy’s special crackers,” and I told him he could munch on those until he felt sleepy, and then he was to lie down and try going to sleep. He was asleep after two bites of the first cracker! When I went back to check on him a little while later, I saw the dish of crackers with only the one cracker partly eaten, and my son sleeping peacefully at last. It was just enough to take his mind off his worries, and make him feel that he had a solution if he were to wake up and feel scared. That he was in control. He also felt like such a Big Boy, being trusted to eat his snack and go off to bed and he was ready to. All that from a few little crackers!

For a while during that difficult time, we gave him those crackers almost every evening, and he went right off to sleep and slept so soundly. Now that he’s older, we usually only give them to him on Sunday evenings, but they still seem to help.

These are the top five strategies that we found most effective in helping to lessen Sunday night anxiety in our house. They don’t always work, and not every Sunday is a walk in the park with our kids going right off to sleep. But for the most part, these little tricks do help to increase feelings of comfort and relaxation, foster connectedness between us and our children, and help our children to manage any worries they might have. They are not exclusive to Sunday evenings either! I just find that that’s when we seem to need them the most.

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