Rachel has a lovely, gentle way to help her anxious daughter prepare for sleep:
My first grade daughter has recently begun having anxieties about bedtime. She lays down and remembers all sorts of bad thoughts about the day, which tend to increase her anxiety and make her scared to be alone to sleep.
To get her mind in a more positive frame, we’ve begun having her tell us one thing she’s thankful for about her day for each step up the stairs on the way to bed. She stands on a step and names the thing, while I stand next to her and stroke her head or some other comforting physical thing. The combination of the positive thoughts with the reassuring touch helps her be in a much better frame of mind by the time we get to bed. If then she remembers something negative about her day, I listen, but don’t let her dwell on it. I remind her of all the good things that outnumber the bad thing, and say we’ll talk more about it tomorrow. It’s a simple thing, but doing this on our way up the stairs has greatly lessened her nighttime anxieties, and hopefully it will help any other parents who are also dealing with a similar situation with their children.
This is wonderful. I believe that positive thinking is a trait we’re born with, and those who aren’t must explicitly learn how and be reminded to do it (see my Gather.com "nature vs. nurture" article, Was the slate ever really blank?).
We encourage lots of deep breathing at bedtime. Another trick that helps overcome my kids’ resistance to settle down is to have them "pretend" to go to sleep. They think it’s fun to pull one over on me by closing their eyes and lying still, but after a few minutes, their natural fatigue takes over.