We have examined so many different aspects of an Orthodox Christian family’s bedtime routine. We discussed winding down together; reasons to read books (as well as suggestions of what books to read); scriptures to share together; learning about the saints together; singing together; and praying together before bed. If you have missed any in the series, you can find it in its entirety on our blog at https://orthodoxchristianparenting.wordpress.com/category/bedtime/.
We have come to the end of the series, but before we conclude, we wish to once more thank those of you who participated in our survey over the summer! Your myriad of ideas and suggestions were indispensable to us in this project. We are sure that your responses have been helpful to the rest of the community as well. Thank you for taking the time to share them!
To conclude our series, we will begin by offering the following meditation called “the Liturgy of Bedtime.” It reaffirms some of the things that we have discussed in prior posts. We also know from experience that nighttime can be a fearful time for children, so occasionally “the liturgy of bedtime” is still followed by children feeling afraid. Thus, we will also offer links to ideas of ways to help children face their nighttime fears. Speaking to our children about God and leading them to Him on their way to bed during the “bedtime liturgy” is the best way to begin to address nighttime fears.
May God grant you wisdom to know exactly what your children need at bedtime to help them relax and rest in the safety of God’s protection and the Theotokos’ watchful prayers. May He bless you as you then create and carry out that bedtime routine. May He grant peace to your children and great joy to you in the process. And may He have mercy on us all and save us. Amen.
“The Liturgy of Bedtime,” an excerpt from “Talking to Children About God”
By Dr. Albert Rossi, Ph.D.
Published originally in Orthodox Family Life, Vol 2 Iss 3,
reprinted with permission (entire article can be found here: http://www.theologic.com/oflweb/inchurch/talkgod.htm)
One of the more regular times of “Letting the children come” to God is bedtime. Often stories and prayers at bedtime can be relaxed, non-competitive time with children. When everything is right, bedtime can be a time when the unconditional love of parent for child is almost tangible. Children are usually tired and sometimes less frenetic. It also goes without saying that some nights seem more like thinly veiled chaos. But, hopefully, most nights are more peaceful.
Going to sleep for children happens gracefully only within an elaborate ritual. This is the liturgy of going to sleep and is not totally unlike other liturgies. Father Alexander Schmemann spoke of the Eucharist beginning with the long ritual of getting dressed for Church and continuing through the trip to Church and all the beautiful liturgy preceding Communion. In a similar way, children go to sleep after intricate ceremony. This usually includes taking a bath, putting on pajamas, brushing their teeth, kissing everyone in the household goodnight, hearing a story, saying prayers, getting tucked in, and for little ones, a Linus blanket and Teddy for special security. This is the liturgy of bedtime. It’s a tender time, a loving time. It’s a rare and precious time. It’s a time to be close to each other and to God.
There are many ways to talk to children about God at bedtime. As was said, we do this primarily by the way we put them to bed. We do this by mustering patience as our own busy day comes to an end. We do it with a tender kiss and an “I love you” as we leave the room. But, we can also do it with stories.
Children love stories, stories, stories. In our family there is one type of story which is the regular, nightly request. It takes the form of “Daddy (or Mommy), tell me a story about when you were a little boy.” This has been going on so long that I am running dry of stories, or so it seems. Rather than forego a story, Beth will beg for a re-run of some oft-told story. I have overheard her telling these stories to her little friends as they played in her room. As I get older I am beginning to appreciate this form of story more. It tells of heritage, of lineage, of roots. Inevitably, these stories involve grandparents, moments of virtue, of relatives, humor, tales of Church events. All this is a remembrance of God’s activity in one’s personal history, and can occasionally be explained as such. Grandparents can have a incalculable value in strengthening the faith of a child with stories about “When Baba [grandmother] was a little girl.”
Here are some ideas of ways to help children face fears at bedtime. (Note: Not all are Orthodox, but there is enough that is helpful in each that we are sharing them anyway.)
This blog post is written in the context of Halloween, but the Orthodox Christian suggestions of what to do when your child is scared suggest very practical steps that every Orthodox parent should “have in their back pocket” and be able to offer to their child anytime he/she is afraid. http://www.theorthodoxmama.com/what-to-do-when-your-child-is-scared/
Here is a concrete way to show our children how prayer helps us to face fear. This piece is not Orthodox, but is a very helpful visual for our kids. (We should also be sure to remind our children that we have the added peace-giving knowledge of the prayers of the saints as an additional, much stronger protection for our little “flame” than just our own prayers can offer!) http://www.playeatgrow.com/2013/02/grow-helping-your-child-deal-with-fear.html/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed:+PlayEatGrow+(Play+Eat+Grow)
Here are two blog posts related to bedtime prayer by Fr. Stephen Freeman. We are including them here because of his son’s personal bedtime prayer (in the first blog) which he wrote when he was 4 years old. His sweet prayer includes a sound answer to what to do with bedtime fears: ask the saints to extinguish them! https://blogs.ancientfaith.com/glory2godforallthings/2009/10/14/what-do-you-say-when-you-turn-out-the-light/ And this post is an interesting look at a non-Orthodox children’s bedtime prayer: http://blogs.ancientfaith.com/glory2godforallthings/2007/11/05/now-i-lay-me-down-to-sleep/
The comments after each blog are both interesting and helpful, should you have time, read them as well! (Comments include some practical suggestions such as sprinkling the bed with holy water before going to sleep.)
This blog post recommends praying the Jesus Prayer if you (or your child) are having trouble sleeping: http://simplyorthodox.tumblr.com/post/32070899950
When our family was in the process of converting into the Orthodox Faith, my young children found that having the “new-to-us” opportunity to make the sign of the cross to be helpful to them when they had bad dreams or felt afraid at nighttime. This book can help children learn how and why to make the sign of the cross: http://www.theorthodoxchildrenspress.com/our-books/on-our-shelf-every-time-i-do-my-cross/
Find ideas for helping your child with bedtime fears/sleeplessness in the “When a Child Sleeps Poorly” section of this Orthodox Christian psychotherapist’s booklet: http://www.fatheralexander.org/booklets/english/orthodox_psychotherapy_d_avdeev_e.htm
This non-Orthodox post offers practical Christian solutions for parents to extend comfort to their children after bad dreams: http://www.faithgateway.com/praying-through-bedtime-fears/#.WBDN31QrLIU
In previous blog posts, we talked about sharing the scriptures at bedtime. Here are some suggestions of specific scripture verses that we can share with our children for them to think about instead of focusing on their fears at bedtime: