I’m delighted to introduce Clinical Herbalist, Ramona (Mo) Tortorilla to the Aroma Journal this week to shed some light on an evergreen topic in natural wellness for the family – herbal approaches to children’s health, specifically when it comes to calming the child before bedtime. Ramona’s approach to herbalism incorporates Traditional Chinese Medicine, Ayurveda, and Western disciplines. To learn more about Ramona, visit her site, Natural Health, Omaha, here and check out her free community clinic for lower income households, Wild Roots People’s Clinic, here.
EL: In your clinical herbal experience, what are some of the underlying factors that may affect a child’s ability to self-soothe and sleep without much issue?
RT: Sleep problems don’t usually happen by themselves; there are almost always clues that point to a pattern of change that’s been developing for a while. Stress in the family, divorce, changes at school or daycare, illness in a family member, can all disrupt a child’s sense of safety and comfort at bedtime. When these problems are appearing along with digestive changes like constipation or tummy aches, skin problems, new behavior issues or bedwetting, it’s clear that the solution is complex and should be tailored to each child’s needs.
EL: So, to be clear, there is no “one size fits all” approach to a child’s sleep challenge. Each child’s sleep challenge depends on emotions stirred by specific events and/or dietary/elimination issues, correct?
RT: Yes. This is the one thing I wish more people understood. Every child, every person has a unique set of circumstances, emotional challenges, and physical needs. When any one of those is thrown out of balance, it takes some digging to find the root cause(s) and unique solutions.
EL: I’ve noticed from speaking with many parents, challenges with sleep for children are often tied to focus challenges. From a holistic perspective, how might these two issues be connected?
RT: The ability to reach restful sleep and to focus and concentrate are both seen as functions of a ‘calm spirit’ and a nourished Heart, the principles of Traditional Chinese Medicine teach us. Even if your child has a natural tendency to be restless and unfocused, there are herbal and dietary solutions that can support improved behavior over time, with patience and persistence.
EL: What do you find yourself commonly suggesting parents avoid in addressing sleep challenges with their kids?
RT: Since all kids are unique, the answers can range from earlier bedtime to addressing family mental health concerns.
EL: Understanding that each child is unique in their chemistry and lifestyle dynamics, what are some basic ways parents can help create a sense of calm for their children?
RT: Establishing routines and setting expectations are two great ways to encourage calm and peacefulness in children (and adults!). Low lighting, setting reasonable but firm limits on the use of digital devices, playing calming and rhythmic music – all of these can create a therapeutic ‘set and setting’ as bedtime approaches. When it’s time for sleep, a child’s nervous system only needs to shift down slightly to get into a calming headspace.
EL: How might parents adopt or encourage a more herbal approach to create calm for their child?
RT: When my kids were growing up, they saw me drink tea every night before bed. Eventually they took up my ‘habit’, asking for their favorites when we settled in to watch a tv show or share a bowl of popcorn. That habit is still with them as adults, and now my grandkids are tea drinkers. Some of their favorites are sleepy time teas, chamomile with honey, mint, and Throat Coat tea. I think of herbs and food as a gateway to a world of natural practices that promote health and vitality.
EL: Why tea?
RT: Teas are a very gentle way to introduce herbs to children. They contain aromatic oils with rich, healing scents that relax our nervous system. Children love ritual and routine, even when they resist it openly. Keeping to a daily tea ritual becomes a thing they look forward to. Flavors can be complex or simple, blended specifically for each person’s taste and smell preferences.
EL: Which teas are best for:
Tummy aches due to indigestion…
RT: I love fennel and catnip, and even chamomile here. Each relieves gas and tummy pain after meals. Mint will flavor these teas and help uplift the spirit.
RT: Dandelion root is surprisingly tasty and kids enjoy its earthy flavor. If this doesn’t work within a couple of days, consider if the problem is food intolerances. Or try chamomile tea, and brew it longer (20 minutes) for a ‘bitters’ effect. I love ginger in this category, too.
RT: Definitely linden, skullcap, chamomile, lemon balm. Nighty night and sleepy teas all contain these herbs, and many will allow an anxious child to feel calm, not sleepy, in the daytime.
EL: To help calm the mind…
RT: I’d put the same teas for nerves/fear into this category, with the addition of bacopa and passionflower.
EL: Teas best during cold/flu season…
RT: Kids love Gypsy Cold Care tea, and now there’s a version with elderberry and cinnamon. Yum! If you’re making tea at home, mix mint, elder flower, yarrow, along with elderberry and cinnamon.
EL: Finally, to supplement with melatonin or not? What’s best for parents to keep in mind here?
RT: If you can, try many types of teas, homeopathic products, herbal drops, sleep hygiene changes (such as listening to sleep apps) before resorting to over-the-counter products. A visit with an herbalist can help uncover which ones are best for your child’s needs. Melatonin may have a place for short-term support to aid some children in falling asleep.
One last thing from Ramona…
“Tea baths for younger children, too! Simply brew 3-4 cups of the desired tea and pour into the child’s warm bath. It’s a simple form of aromatherapy that’s perfectly safe and healing. This is especially great for skin problems like dryness and eczema, or bug bite therapy. Best herbs here are plantain, calendula flower, yarrow flower and chickweed.”
Many thanks to Ramona Tortorilla for sharing her herbal expertise with us on the Aroma Journal!
Next up in this series, Aromatic Approaches for Children’s Bedtime.