I was considering titling this month’s column, “How can I get my kids to bed without screaming (me) and crying (them)?” but that wouldn’t fit in the title space. You see, by the time bedtime rolls around, I am done. I enjoy the books and the songs and the prayers—as long as my kids cooperate. And let’s be honest. It’s bedtime. They’re done too. So most nights are not idyllic.
If you’re still working on finding the right bedtime routine, consider the ideas shared by our authors this month. And don’t be afraid to keep adjusting the routine. What works at one point in your family’s life may not work at another. With that in mind, I’m going back to the drawing board.
When our oldest child was a baby, we established a bedtime routine of stories, prayers, and hymns.
We have a set of four prayers that we speak or sing each night. We speak “Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep,” sing stanzas two and three of “Now the Light Has Gone Away,” sing a bedtime prayer that has been used by at least two generations in my family, and close with the Lord’s Prayer. This was my childhood bedtime routine, and I’m happy that it is being passed down to my own children.
After these nightly prayers, everyone gives goodnight hugs and kisses to one another, and then my husband or I tuck our two littlest children into their beds and sing them a hymn. Some favorites have been “Jesus, Shepherd of the Sheep,” “Children of the Heavenly Father,” and “I Am Jesus’ Little Lamb.”
Sometimes we sing songs that match the seasons of the church year. Last fall, we often sang all four stanzas of “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God.” The kids quickly memorized the entire hymn, and they joyfully sang along at the Reformation services we attended. At Christmastime, we often sing “Away in a Manger.” Our three-year-old daughter loves “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing,” while our five-year-old son’s favorite is “I Know that My Redeemer Lives.” Now they request those hymns all year long!
As our children have gotten older, we’ve added a new tradition after our nightly bedtime prayers. We help the kids to create their own prayers. We ask them to share things for which they’re thankful and think of people for whom to pray. Then we put their thanks and requests into a prayer. As the children have gotten older, we encourage them to think of and speak their own prayers. Then, my husband and I also add our own prayers.
Sometimes the kids’ prayers reflect their age. After a Christmas of Frozen-themed gifts, our youngest daughter thanked Jesus for her Frozen castle, water bottle, and suitcase—for three months! But as they’ve grown, we have seen them learn to recognize that people around them need prayers. Our children pray for family members or friends who are hurting and people affected by disasters in the world. They also thank God for blessings big and small.
Busy family schedules sometimes keep all of us from participating in bedtime routines every night. So, we try to find a little time to connect with them every evening on a meaningful level before they go to bed. It doesn’t always work, but it is our goal. We hope that the habits we’ve established with our bedtime routine will last throughout our children’s lives, and they will create a bedtime routine for their children that helps them to pass on the faith too.
Emily Gresens Strey
“Organized chaos” may be the best way to describe our family’s bedtime routine. With six kids ages 2-11 (two girls and four boys), there’s bound to be noise. But we have a consistent routine that works for us.
When we finish supper around 6:15, the kids are dismissed to do their evening jobs. Depending on their age, they tidy the playroom, wash bathroom counters, load the dishwasher, or start a load of laundry. Meanwhile, I clean up the kitchen while nagging—ahem—encouraging kids to finish their chores.
Around 6:30, my husband gets our toddler ready for bed and reads him a Bible story from My First Bible* by Kenneth N. Taylor. After goodnight songs and a prayer, our toddler goes to bed.
After the older kids finish their jobs, they change into pajamas, brush their teeth, and gather in the living room for an evening devotion.
We pile on our two couches, and my husband reads the Bible story. Currently we’re re-reading the excellent book Family Time.* After the reading we discuss the story, sing our goodnight hymns, say our goodnight prayer, and give hugs and kisses. The kids head upstairs.
By this time it’s around 7 or 7:15 p.m. Our 4-year-old goes right to bed. The big kids (ages 6 and up) are allowed to read or play quietly in their rooms until 8. After that, it’s lights out.
I suppose the big kids could stay downstairs and read or play until 8. But to both preserve my sanity and give me quiet time to work on my at-home business, the early bedtime is a good fit for our family.
- On Saturdays, we go around the room as each family member offers a personal prayer.
- When we have a nursing baby, I feed him/her while my husband handles the evening routine himself. Unless he’s at a meeting—then it’s pure chaos while I try to juggle it all.
- At different periods, we’ve had two separate Bible story times—one for the big kids and one for the littles. We have found that our 2- and 3-year-olds don’t do as well with the whole family Bible story because they need more focused attention and a story written at their level.
- When we’re out late at an evening event, we do our Bible story and songs in the car on the way home. Then the kids can go right to bed when we arrive home.
- Currently, instead of singing our regular goodnight hymns, the kids take turns choosing from a songbook that I typed and printed. It includes familiar hymns as well as all the hymns they’ll be expected to memorize at school.
Our routine is great on paper, but real life often intrudes. As the kids get ready for bed, the toddler has a meltdown, siblings squabble in the bathroom, or someone remembers that there’s a paper for me to sign for school the next day. During their quiet time, kids argue about whose turn it is with a book, our kindergartner is upset because his older siblings won’t play a game with him, or the older kids come downstairs to tattle . . . one right after the other.
Even in the rough moments, I’m learning to remember that it’s a blessing and privilege to serve the little souls right in my house—to forgive them, love them, and exercise patience with them. I thank God for the joy and privilege of raising his lambs!
Anna is the creator of The Measured Mom, an education website for parents and teachers. She recommends her family’s favorite Bible story books at themeasuredmom.com/favorite-childrens-bible-story-books/.
*Available at nph.net
Author: Multiple Authors
Volume 105, Number 07
Issue: July 2018