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Establishing Bedtime Rituals For Children

By Linda Ruiz

The fact is well established that children thrive when their lives are run on a schedule. This may evoke images of rigid British nannies and be a foreign concept to modern parents, but research backs this up. A regular routine cuts stress way down for children and promotes domestic tranquility in the home. Bedtime rituals for children are a treasured part of childhood for many people and sometimes are the closest families get to a daily routine.

A ritual is often thought of as religious, but this is not necessarily true. The main thing about a ritual is that it involves repetitive actions, is practiced on a regular basis, and has particular importance attached to it by practitioners. Therefore, any established series of actions can be ritualistic. This concept fits very well into the scheduled life that fosters emotional and physical health in kids.

Sleep deprivation is a health hazard, and many children suffer from this because they don't go to bed early enough or sleep soundly through the night. This puts a strain on all members of the family. An established time for bed can help children settle at night, and it gives parents a much-needed break in the evening. Scheduling this time - if no other - can improve the quality of family life.

Electronic babysitters have come to take up more and more time and attention. However, research has shown that all of us, not just younger people, should stop all screen time at least an hour before bed. The blue light from a television or computer screen sends wake-up signals to the brain. Fortunately, soft yellow electric light does not, and darkness promotes sound sleep.

Getting the kids away from computer games and television is easier if you have quiet activities they like and can look forward to. A time-honored way to do this is to send - or help - the kids to get into their pajamas, brush their teeth, maybe take a warm bath. Then you can read them a story, tell them one you make up yourself, or let them play quietly in their room with favorite toys.

Then the old tradition of reading a story can hardly be bettered. With kids ready to climb in bed and settle down, now is the time for some quality parent-child interaction. Stories can be simply read, but they can also be discussed along with things that happened that day. Children may fall asleep during this time, but even if they don't, they'll be relaxed when it's time to turn off the lights.

Other usual activities that people include in the evening routine are saying prayers, reading scripture, singing lullabies or other songs, listening to music, or reading quietly to oneself. Anything that helps kids relax is good, so roughhousing and noise should be discouraged. For older kids, read a chapter of a long, enthralling story each night. Finally, mom and dad can tuck kids in and kiss them goodnight.

The main problem with scheduled activities is that they require self-discipline on the part of the adults, who seem to be harder and harder to engage. However, studies show that having this sort of regular routine is much more beneficial than most people realize.

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