Bedtime rituals are incredibly important. We treasure our memories of reading to our children, getting snuggles and kisses, and carefully tucking them into bed. Yet, in many households, these rituals end up by the wayside in the rush to get the kids asleep so the adults can do all of the necessary things that keep a household running before they crash for the evening.
Bedtime, though, can be a powerful moment to connect with a child. You can learn more about what is going on in their lives. It’s a time where you can connect one on one. You can build their resilience in a safe space.
Rituals are important because they can provide a sense of comfort and predictability in an uncertain world. Research has shown that rituals can be highly effective in dealing with anxiety and other negative emotions. For some young children, bedtime can bring on their fear of missing out (they seem to imagine that our evenings are much more exciting than they really are). For others, the dark elicits primal fears that need to be addressed or the quiet allows for previously suppressed anxieties to emerge.
Beyond the basics of getting into pajamas and brushing teeth, bedtime rituals should include the following components:
An Opportunity to Burn Off Excess Energy
You may find your younger children acting a little hyper towards bedtime or older children saying that they don’t feel tired. Physical activity at this hour shouldn’t be as active as a late night pickup basketball game, but should have children moving their entire bodies. Lately, in our home, this has taken the form of a dance party, but it could be jumping jacks, tossing a ball (carefully) or yoga.
Time to Check in about Feelings and Questions
Evenings are a great time to have short, one-on-one conversations with your children. Knowing that they have this space, can give them peace of mind and can help you learn about the things that might be bothering them. These questions should be more than just the stereotypical “How was your day?” Pick questions that help your child assess the day, their actions, and their relationships. Here are some samples:
How did you help someone today?
When were you bored today?
Tell me something that made you laugh today.
What’s something that you wish you hadn’t done today?
What are you proud of that you did today?
What is something that you want to work on for tomorrow?
Was there something that made you upset?
What is something else you want to share about your day?
You could even try some sentence completion:
Most people don’t know…
If I had a superpower it would be…
Other people often…
You can find more great questions here.
This is also a great time to begin a gratitude practice which is an essential part of developing mindfulness and a source for building resiliency. Ask your child questions about what they might be grateful for. You can use prompts like these to help you.
Space to Engage the Imagination
For many of us, the most memorable portions of our bedtimes as children or even with our own children is sitting down and reading to them. Storytime is a great way to explore the world, build their vocabulary, and stimulate their brains. Depending on your child’s age, you may want to explore picture books of varying lengths with him. Don’t worry about re-reading stories, kids will let you know if they are done with a book. With older children, explore reading a chapter or two of a chapter book. Don’t worry if your child isn’t interested in reading fiction, non-fiction books make great bedtime stories too!
Help with Relaxing the Body and the Brain
Sleep is an incredibly restorative force and you want to make sure that you help your child get ready for it by building healthy sleep habits. Avoid exposing your child to your phone or a tablet at bedtime. While it is tempting to use a screen to augment your bedtime routine, the blue light from the screen can make it harder to fall asleep. Instead, try some mindfulness or relaxation exercises to help build resilience and encourage positive coping mechanisms.
Here are some different techniques that you can try:
Listen to the bell – Play a sound and have your child focus on what they hear. Have them focus on the sound until they can no longer hear it.
Give a personal weather report – This is different than describing what the weather is outside. Instead, have them use the weather to reflect how they are feeling as they are laying in bed.
Use hot cocoa breathing – Pretend that you are holding a cup of hot chocolate (this is for kids!). Slowly breathe in the yummy aroma of chocolate through your nose. Then, slowly breathe out like you are cooling the mug.
As a bonus, you can be your child’s breathing buddy using a technique described by psychologist Dan Goleman in this video. Or you can look for meditation scripts to try out with your child.
It’s important to close your bedtime with physical contact. Touching can reduce pain and build happiness. Neuroscience shows that hugging can help release neurotransmitters that promote happiness and well-being. Basically, hugging your child can reduce stress for both of you. The bedtime hug, snuggle, kiss, or backrub can do this for your children (and for you too!).
Bedtime can be more than just trying to shove your kids into bed. You can recharge them and yourself by putting the right kind of steps in place.