Monthly Archives: September 2016

Bedtime and Other Rituals: Winding Down and Gathering Together

As we begin our series on bedtime routines for Orthodox families, we need to start at the very beginning. We need to consider how and where these evening gatherings take place. In the survey we conducted this summer, we asked what families do to wind down, and where they gather. Here are the responses that we received:

How does your family wind down? What do Orthodox Christian families do to help each other calm down and be still before bedtime? Here are the results of the survey question regarding pre-bedtime wind-down activities (respondents could select more than one answer):
We quietly stand together in our icon corner. (23%)
We do bedtime stretches to wind down. (30%)
We do a quiet exercise routine. (1%)
We sit down together to read. (55%)
We cuddle and hug each other. (57%)
We do not have a regular physical activity to quiet our children down. (18%)

So, most families cuddle and hug, and/or sit down to read. Many also do exercise routines, and a fair number stand quietly in their icon corner. And some do nothing specific. A few respondents offered these additional ideas of ways that they quiet down together as part of their bedtime routine:

  • “We hang out in the bedroom and chat before going to sleep.”
  • “I listen to my Russian orthodox cd.”
  • “Nursing/breastfeeding.”
  • “Being that [the children] are a year old, bath time is the main activity.”
  • “A walk around the block prior to the start of bedtime routine.”
  • “Sometimes a cartoon.”
  • “A ‘no electronics’ rule.”
  • “Getting pajamas, and brushing teeth, drinking water, etc. Occasionally a story.”

Of course there are many other quieting activities to do together as a family to wind down before bedtime, but perhaps these can help us be more cognizant of what we are (or are not) doing to help our children be still and prepare for bed.

Where does your family read together at bedtime? We were curious about where other Orthodox families gather for their evening bedtime routine. In the survey, we asked respondents to tell us where they read if reading together is one of the things that they do in their bedtime routine. Here are the responses for where the reading families gather to read (again, respondents could select more than one answer):

We read in our living room. (30%)
We read in the children’s bedrooms. (69%)
We read at our icon corner. (4%)
We read around the dining room table. (4)
And several people offered additional places where they read:  

  • “In Mom’s bedroom”
  • “In the playroom”
  • “In bed”
  • “Parent’s bed”

Where does your family pray together at bedtime? We asked the respondents whose families who pray evening/bedtime prayers together where they gather to do so. Here are their responses (again, the survey allowed them to select more than one answer):

We pray at our icon corner (53%)

We pray around the dining room table(3%)
We pray in the children’s bedrooms (53%)

We pray in the living/family room (3%)

Other places where Orthodox Christian families gather to pray together in the evening include:

  • “We made a chapel in our house.”
  • “[We pray] in our own bedrooms. [We have] older children.”
  • “[We pray] in the children’s icon corners.”
  • “[It] varies between the chapel or our icon corner.”
  • “[We pray] in front of the icons in the children’s room.”

It is our hope that sharing these results will encourage each reader to press on in what their family already is doing at bedtime, while also gaining new and helpful ideas.

Read more about quieting children down at bedtime here:

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Are you out of ideas of ways to quiet down with the children before bedtime? Here’s a list that may be helpful: http://naturalparentsnetwork.com/66-things-to-do-with-kids-before-bedtime/

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Read several parents’ suggestions of ways to calm toddlers at bedtime here: http://parenting.stackexchange.com/questions/207/how-to-calm-a-toddler-before-bedtime

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“An easy relaxation game like starting at their toes and making each body part still as you say goodnight to them is an easy one for kids to practice on their own after a few goes with adult help.” Find this suggestion to help children still themselves at bedtime and more in this blog post: http://picklebums.com/five-ways-to-help-your-child-wind-down-for-sleep/

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Find some age-level-appropriate quieting activity ideas that could be useful before a family bedtime routine here: http://modernparentsmessykids.com/quiet-time-activities-perfect-getting-kids-settle-bed/

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“Bedtime is a daily opportunity to build and nurture your relationship with your child. There’s something about a quiet darkened room that invites conversation. This is a time to take stock, to snuggle, to talk about some of the important things that your child is thinking about. When children know that bedtime is a time when you give a few minutes of undivided attention, they often save up their most sensitive questions for sharing. Yes, sometimes they’ll use it to hang onto you when you really want to get to your own projects or the newspaper. Calmly set some limits and carry on. This is the real stuff of parenting — building your child’s sense of personal value, answering the big questions, teaching your values through stories and talk.” http://psychcentral.com/lib/the-value-of-a-childs-bedtime-routine/

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“According to the Mayo Clinic, relaxing activities like a bath, reading books and soft music help your child wind down for sleep. Children should spend at least 30 minutes preparing for bed, but one hour is optimal.
“Stay away from electronics an hour or more before bedtime. That means no television, iPads or video games. Children model what their parents do, so it’s ideal if you aren’t watching Breaking Bad before bed. You may find that you sleep better as well.
“Avoid vigorous exercise and adrenaline-producing activities too. That means no talent shows, hide-and-seek or tag. No trampolines. No wrestling. No Daddy Tickle Contests. It’s a fun time of night when the entire family is together, but if the kids are running screaming through the house, that may not bode well for drifting quickly off to dreamland.” Find this and more in this article: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/michelle-howell-miller-/the-ultimate-bedtime-routine-for-young-children_b_5982848.html

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If you find yourself struggling to get your kiddos to go to bed, try including “wind down” time in your nightly routine. Each of these calming activities is great for spending quality time together as a family in the evenings:” https://pathways.org/blog/6-activities-help-child-wind/?gclid=CIfQ9MrXoM8CFcQehgodaSkIHA

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Bedtime and Other Rituals – an Introduction

This fall we will be focusing our attention on bedtime routines and other rituals. Over the summer we posted a survey that many of you took time to answer for us. Those answers will be a significant portion of some of these posts. The first question on the survey invited respondents to rate the importance of a bedtime routine in their family, on a scale of 1 (having no routine at all) to 10 (using the same routine every night). An overwhelming majority (more than 82%) rated routine at bedtime as having an importance level of 7 or higher. We were curious to see if the general public, beyond our Orthodox Christian Parenting community, considers a regular bedtime as truly important or not. We also wondered whether or not it is important to do the same sequence of events in preparing for bedtime every night. We did a little research, and here is what we found:

It seems that a regular bedtime, in and of itself, is of great benefit to children. National Public Radio’s “Morning Edition” featured a report (1) several years ago about the importance of a regular bedtime. The report covered a British survey of 10,000 children studied at ages 3, 5, and 7, assessing the effect that having a regular bedtime had on each child’s daytime behaviors. They took into account differences like family size, income, whether or not the child had breakfast, etc., and still came to the same conclusion across the board: the children with irregular bedtimes had a much more difficult time managing themselves during the day. “If you change their bedtimes, say, 7 o’clock one night, 9 o’clock, the next, 8 o’clock the next, 10 o’clock the next, if we do too much of that switching, we end up inducing this kind of jet-lag effect, which makes it really, really difficult to regulate behavior.” said researcher Yvonne Kelly from University College. The study found that children with irregular bedtime were more likely to act out, be hyperactive, or be withdrawn than their regular-bedtime counterparts.

And what about having a routine at bedtime? Is it necessary to follow a certain schedule every night, or does it not matter as long as everyone ends up in bed with clean teeth? Dr. Marie Hartwell-Walker answers this question in her article “The Value of a Child’s Bedtime Routine,” posted on PsychCentral.com: “Repetition and structure help children feel safe. Bedtime declares that the day is over. When you are loving and firm about when it is time for bed, you are building your children’s confidence in their world. Repetition for young children is comforting — ever wonder why they want the same story over and over? The repetition of the getting ready for bed routine (getting into pajamas, brushing teeth, a drink of water, a story, a hug, goodnight) lets your child know what to expect and helps him or her feel secure.” (2) So while a bedtime routine may not be imperative (even without one, they will still eventually fall asleep!), it seems that a routine at bedtime is more beneficial to a child than having none.

Stay tuned in the weeks to come to find some ideas that could answer questions like these: How do Orthodox Christian parents in today’s world guide their children in the Faith at the end of a crazy busy day? What routines and rituals can families do to calm their bodies and their minds so that they can rest? What stories, books, songs, and prayers are helpful? We value your input, so please add your own ideas in comments along the way. If you do so, we can all benefit from your family’s experience! And once again, thank you to all who filled out the survey. We look forward to sharing you are doing with the rest of the community!

Sources:
(1) “Why a Regular Bedtime is Important for Children,” NPR’s “Morning Edition,” Dec. 16, 2013, found here: http://www.npr.org/2013/12/16/251462015/why-a-regular-bedtime-is-important-for-children

(2) “The Value of a Child’s Bedtime Routine,” by Dr. Marie Hartwell-Walker, PsychCentral.com, May 17, 2016, found here:  http://psychcentral.com/lib/the-value-of-a-childs-bedtime-routine/

Read more here:

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“Regardless of age, regular schedules and bedtime rituals help us get the sleep we need and to function at peak levels. When it comes to children, this is especially true. Establishing and maintaining good sleep habits helps your child fall asleep, stay asleep, and wake up rested and refreshed.” Read this and more about bedtime routines here: http://www.webmd.com/parenting/childs-bedtime#1

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“Enforcing a bedtime can seem impossible at times, but it is well worth it.  Doing so makes things easier when it’s time for the kids to get up in the morning, it enhances their performance at school, and it keeps them healthy.  It’s never too late to start a soothing bedtime routine that will help your child get the rest she needs.” Read this article on the importance of bedtime and sleep, including suggestions for how much sleep children of different ages need, here: http://www.celestialhealing.net/childrens_health/Childhood_Sleep_Routine.htm

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“Establishing a bedtime routine helps you create an environment and situation conducive to sleep for your child. Before your child is able to express him or herself verbally, it’s creating signals for the conscious and subconscious that now is the time to settle down… Used consistently, routines help children (and you) set expectations and get into rest mode more quickly.” Find ideas for setting bedtime routines in his article: http://www.sheknows.com/parenting/articles/825711/the-importance-of-bedtime-routines

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Responses varied when we asked what families do together as a bedtime routine. Here are a few:
“Our routine varies but we always do reading and prayers.”
“We cross ourselves before bedtime”
“We do a special blessing for each child”
“At the end of night prayers, my husband always says, ‘If I have offended or sinned against you in any way, please forgive me.’ And all the kids say the same to us and to each other.”
“We read something — sometimes Scripture, sometimes book, sometimes Saint’s life… but not all 3.”
“Kisses and hugs for each child after they’re in bed.”
“Venerate the icons.”
“Dinner, pajamas, teeth, compline (or preparation for Communion).”
“Read or watch TV together before prayers.”

Parents with babies who are looking for ideas of how to establish a bedtime routine may benefit from watching this short video: http://www.parents.com/baby/care/american-baby-how-tos/how-to-establish-a-bedtime-routine/

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“Scientists found that as children switched from having an irregular bedtime to a regular bedtime their behaviors improved. Hope dawns anew with each morning, so remember to set aside that nightly time to read, sing, pray, share highs and lows, or whatever lovely routine you and your kids have established together.” Read this article, complete with five suggestions of things to do (or not to do) as part of your children’s bedtime routine: http://www.thedcmoms.com/2014/11/sponsored-the-importance-of-strong-bedtime-routines/

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On the Feast of the Elevation of the Holy Cross (Sept. 14 or 27)

The Feast of the Elevation of the Holy Cross celebrates not one, but two important (but very much related) events in the history of the Church. In this feast, we celebrate both the finding of the Cross by St. Helena in 326 and the return of the Cross to Constantinople (and then on to Jerusalem) in 628. Here is a short synopsis to refresh your memory:

Although the empress Helena was 79 years old, she left on a journey to Jerusalem to find the precious Cross in the year 325. She had never seen a basil plant before this time. Just outside of Jerusalem, she noticed this unusual plant (the basil) that was growing all over the ground. The unfamiliar plant’s appearance and its location caused her to suspect that this was a special place. She decided to have her men dig at that spot in search of the Cross. It turned out that she was right! Three crosses were found in the ground under the growing basil. All three were tested on a sick woman (and/or a dead man – traditions vary), who had no response to the two other crosses, but became immediately well after touching the Cross of Christ. Many, many people came into Jerusalem when they heard that the Cross had been found. The leaders of the Church held the Cross up high for all to see. The people responded by saying, “Lord have mercy!” again and again.

Soon thereafter, St. Helena had a church built at the site, and most of the Cross stayed in that church, with a small piece going back to Constantinople. And so it remained for many years. In 614, however, the Persians conquered Palestine and stole the Cross. A few years later, in 628, Emperor Heraclius and his men were able to recover the Cross after defeating the Persians. At that point, the Cross was returned to Jerusalem, to the Church of the Holy Resurrection.

We celebrate both the initial finding of the Cross and its recovery with this fasting feast. It may seem odd to celebrate a feast day by fasting. But we celebrate the Feast of the Elevation of the Cross with fasting because of what we are commemorating: the Cross on which our Lord suffered and died. A fast is the most appropriate celebration of that. As we celebrate, we should also be renewing our own determination to follow Him and live our Faith to the best of our ability, even though doing so may cause us to suffer. In this way, our fasting feast can help us to become the kind of Christian we are meant to be.

Oh Lord, save Thy people and bless Thine inheritance,

Granting to Thy people victory over all their enemies.

And by the power of Thy Cross

Preserving Thy Kingdom!

Blessed Feast of the Elevation of the Holy Cross!

 

Here are a few ideas of ways to learn about this feast and to celebrate it together as a family:

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For more background on the Feast of the Elevation of the Holy Cross, listen to Fr. Thomas Hopko (of blessed memory)’s podcast: http://www.ancientfaith.com/podcasts/hopko/the_universal_exaltation_of_the_precious_and_life-giving_cross

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Another excellent resource is this article on the Feast of the Elevation of the Holy Cross, complete with details of the reason for the feast, here: http://www.antiochian.org/feast-of-the-holy-cross

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Read this blog post with your children to help them understand the feast of the Elevation of the Holy Cross: https://raisingorthodoxchristians.com/2015/08/24/elevation-of-the-holy-cross-september-14-part-1/

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Create your own set of clothespin people and small props to tell (and let your children retell) the story of the finding of the Precious Cross with this detailed tutorial: https://raisingorthodoxchristians.com/2015/09/04/elevation-of-the-cross-peg-dolls/

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Tuck this idea away for next spring, so you can be ready with your own fresh basil at next year’s Feast of the Elevation of the Holy Cross: http://illumination-learning.com/main/2015/04/20/traditions-planting-basil-for-the-elevation-of-the-holy-cross/

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Next time the feast occurs, you may want to print this pop-up centerpiece to help decorate your table for the Feast of the Elevation of the Holy Cross: http://www.antiochian.org/sites/default/files/assets/asset_manager/804f8cedc57699833cfee4824634a4b5.pdf

On the Feast of the Nativity of the Theotokos (Sept. 8 or 21)

The very first feast of the new Church year is the Feast of the Nativity of the Theotokos, and it is a very good place to start! After all, the birth of the Theotokos is where many of the other feasts begin. In this feast, we celebrate the miracle which God worked in the lives of Sts. Joachim and Anna, who were His faithful servants, but were never blessed with a child. Childlessness was a hardship for them. They had reached old age and had borne no children! In those days, barrenness was considered punishment from God for sins, and thus everywhere they went, people could look at them and judge them as sinners simply because they had no child. In fact, when Joachim went to the Temple to make an offering, he was turned away by the High Priest because of his childlessness (remember, at that time it meant “apparent sinfulness”). It was at this point that Joachim went off to the hills to earnestly pray for a child.

Meanwhile, Anna was in Jerusalem at their home wondering where he was, while also praying for a child. While they were praying one day, the Archangel Gabriel appeared to each of them, telling them that their prayers had been heard, and they would be given a daughter whose name would be known through all the world. He told Joachim to go back to Jerusalem, and he told Anna to wait for Joachim at the Golden Gate. They both believed the angel and obeyed him. So when Joachim arrived back at Jerusalem, there was Anna, waiting for him at the Golden Gate! God kept His promise to them by allowing them to conceive the Theotokos.

So, why do we celebrate this feast? The Kontakion of the feast tells us why:
“By your nativity, most pure Virgin, Joachim and Anna are freed from barrenness, Adam and Eve from the corruption of death. And we, your people, freed from the guilt of sin, celebrate and sing to you: ‘The barren woman gives birth to the Theotokos, the nourisher of our Life.’” In other words, we are not just celebrating the miracle of Sts. Joachim and Anna’s release from barrenness. Through Mary, the child given to them, Christ was born. And through His birth, death, and resurrection, Adam and Eve were released from Hades; and we ourselves are set free from the guilt of our sin. So, why would we NOT celebrate this feast?!?

Below are some links that can help us learn more about the Feast of the Nativity of the Theotokos. Other links will help us teach our children about the feast so that we can better celebrate together.

Blessed Feast of the Nativity of the Theotokos!

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“The icon and the feast… acknowledge a transition from barrenness to life. This was but another foreshadowing of what would be offered through Christ, the transformation from death to eternal life.” Read more about the Feast of the Nativity of the Theotokos, including a brief explanation of the icon, here: http://www.goarch.org/special/listen_learn_share/vmnativity/index_html

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Find an explanation of the icon of the Nativity of the Theotokos, as well as a gallery of this icon as written by different iconographers, here: https://iconreader.wordpress.com/2011/09/08/the-nativity-of-the-theotokos-icon/
Together as a family, look at the different icons. In each, seek every detail mentioned in the explanation, and note how it is written in that icon. What can your family conclude about the consistency of icons written by different iconographers? What aspects of the Feast of the Nativity of the Theotokos are the most important, as demonstrated in all the icons? Talk together about how those aspects apply to your family: how do they change your life?

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Celebrate the birth of the Mother of God with lots of blue, the Theotokos’ color! On the Feast day, dress in blue; decorate the house with blue; eat a “blue” meal (including as many blue things as possible: maybe a salad with blue cheese, fruit salad or fruit pizza decorated with blueberries, blue jello, etc.); you get the idea! Find this and other fun ideas, as well as a printable wheel for all of the feast days here: http://orthodoxsundayschool.org/epistles-feasts-and-sacraments/3-5-years-old/nativity-theotokos-0

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Find a list of books to read together as well as a variety of activities to consider doing with the family, in celebration of the Feast of the Nativity of the Theotokos, here: http://www.charmingthebirdsfromthetrees.com/2011/09/festal-learning-basket-nativity-of.html

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Families with very young children will want to take a look at the ideas of ways to celebrate the Nativity of the Theotokos mentioned in these blog posts: http://churchyearforchildren.blogspot.com/search/label/Nativity%20of%20the%20Theotokos

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Find a plethora of information, as well as thought provoking and inspirational encouragement related to the Nativity of the Theotokos in this wonderful book: http://store.ancientfaith.com/heaven-meets-earth