One important factor in helping your children, especially young ones, sleep well is by creating pleasant, memorable experiences at bedtime. One of the values of bedtime rituals is that they create a bond between children and parents. Such rituals also facilitate better sleep. They provide a sense of security and love, and these must surely be the greatest sedatives of all.
Here are a few suggestions for creating a bedtime ritual for your children that will leave a lasting impression:
- Set clear bedtime rules, and be consistent about when it is time for bed. Use a whistle or other signaling device to announce the start of their bedtime ritual. It can come to serve as an important conditioned cue for sleep.
- Set aside priority time for your children's ritual, say 20 or more minutes each evening, and be consistent. In these days of stress and work pressures, parents need to give this time the highest priority.
- Allow your children to tell you about their day or talk about whatever is on their minds. This helps to identify any bad experiences and gives you an opportunity to do some therapy. (Yes, moms and dads have to be therapists as well!)
- The actual ritual may vary depending on the child's age. For young children, you could start by reading a short story or Bible verse and explaining what it means, or tell them stories from your own childhood, as my father did when I was a child. Near the end, say something encouraging to each of your children. A great game you can create is to try and come up with something special each of your children did that day, and tell them how proud you are of them. Maybe Billy helped Mrs. Jones next door sweep her driveway; or Sarah, without being asked, volunteered to peel the potatoes. Find something your children did that day for which you are grateful and tell them so. Assure them that they are special. Rumor has it that the famous Dr. Phil used to whisper to his sons when they were small, "How do you suppose, out of all the little boys in the world, I got the best ones?"
- If your child is very young, rock him or her to sleep with a lullaby. You might let an older sibling rock the baby as well; this helps build family bonds. As your children get older, these rituals will take on a special significance to each of them.
- Remember, bedtime is separation time for children. It can be made easier by providing a transitional object, such as a Teddy bear, doll, or blanket. Sometimes boys like to take something of their dad's to bed with them, like a scarf, handkerchief, hat or book. It provides a symbolic bond that fosters security during the period of separation.
- Close with a short prayer. It helps to pray the same way each night so it becomes a regular experience. Not only does this teach them the value of prayer, but it will also help you bond with your children.