Although for parents it may conjure feelings of frustration and exhaustion, children usually view bedtime as a time to unwind, hear a good story and be treated to the caress of their parents. As adults, many of our warmest memories are the times we sat in pajamas, conversing with mom or dad when there are no stimuli from friends and nothing on the schedule to rush out the door for.
This quality time is perfect for opening up lines of communication with children and developing a deeper relationship with mom and dad. In addition, this is an opportunity to instill values that are imperative to their development in a positive, engaging manner.
Here are some pleasant ways to enrich the last scene of each day.
Stories: A story is worth a thousand lectures. Actually, it is probably more potent. A good book is a pleasurable way to simultaneously relax and relay an important point or instill Jewish pride. Carefully choose books that have meaning and make sure that you agree with their messages, even if they are award winners. There are a plethora of beautiful books with captivating pictures that portray heroes worth dreaming about.
Some of my favorites are:
Stone Soup, By Ann McGovern – A lesson in contributing.
Oh, The Places You’ll Go, By Dr. Seuss – Life is about choices.
Runaway Bunny, By Margaret Wise Brown – A mother’s love is unconditional. So is God’s.
The Carrot Seed, By Ruth Krauss – Firm resolve despite ridicule.
Around the Shabbos Table, Seryl Berman – The most easygoing person can be the happiest.
A little boy named Avraham, By Dena Rosenfeld – Our forefather’s early discovery of God.
Nine Spoons, By Marci Stillerman – A Chanukah story of Jewish perseverance.
Tali’s Slippers, Tova’s Shoes, By Yaffa Ganz – Sacrificing for others has its rewards.
Sometimes, a tale from your head is what the children want to hear. It is always good for adults to wipe the cobwebs off their imagination and get it squeaking once in a while. Kids are sometimes very excited to visualize the pictures in their minds rather than see them on a page in front of them. This also allows you to create a story that addresses an issue that you would like to speak about with your child without directly verbalizing it. If your daughter is having a hard time sharing her games with her friends, you can create a story about a girl who faces the same challenge but learns that sharing gives the receiver so much more.
Picture Albums: Pull out old pictures and show them your childhood, your 7th birthday party and your first bike. Show them your great aunt at the Chanukah get together at your grandparent’s house. Children are fascinated by their parent’s childhood. It makes them feel normal to hear that Dad was once a little boy. Kids will pick up on what is important to you by hearing what your sweetest memories were about. Instead of lecturing them about the importance of family time and tradition, reminisce with them about stealing the Afikomen from Uncle Lou at the Passover Seder with all your cousins. You can use pictures as a springboard for sharing challenges you had when you were little and how you dealt with them, like pointing out the picture at your softball game in which you are sulking. Talk about what was hard for you back then and how you learned to overcome it. Or didn’t!
Songs: Lullaby songs definitely are a way to tuck the day in, and they are also a way to bond between you and your child. Choose songs that have meaning, unlike the classic lullabies that have tragic endings like a baby falling from a tree “cradle and all”. Your children will never forget the songs you sing them on their bed.
Say Shema: One way to make sure your child will never forget the sweetness of bedtime is saying Shema with them every night. The repetition is comforting to them, even if they may not understand the meaning of the words when they are young. But by tucking them into bed, kissing them on the head and then caressing them while you whisper together this heirloom prayer will definitely create positive connotations for them. One day, when they are ready to understand the words and their significance in their lives, they will have a warm homey association with the words. Sign off the day with the stamp of Judaism.
Talk to God : The quiet of a dim bedroom is an ideal time to learn how to open up to God. Explain that He hears them and they can talk to Him about their hopes for tomorrow and their fear of the dark.
Reflect on the day: At age three or four, children can already enjoy reviewing their day together with mom and dad. This is a great opportunity to point out how proud you are of your child for letting his brother use his new bike or for listening so nicely when mom said it was time to come inside. A fun game is “Mitzvah Counting” – together, you can count how many mitzvahs your child did that day, like inviting a guest over, visiting grandma who isn’t feeling well, or putting a nickel in the tzedaka box. Your child will drift off with a positive self image and be pumped to do more great things tomorrow.
However you chose to end your child’s day, make it positive, make it warm and don’t forget the kiss goodnight!