Category Archives: Parenting

On Sharing Our Love (Beyond Valentine’s Day)

For a few weeks of every year, our culture is inundated with love. Everywhere we go we see hearts, roses, chocolates, Cupid and his arrows, and Valentine’s Day cards. The world is a swirl of pink and red. Then Valentine’s Day comes, and we can definitely feel the love! But what about February 15th? Or the 22nd? Or March 19? Do we still feel the love then? Even more importantly, are we still sharing our love then?

It is easy to focus on making sure our family feels loved on that one special day, Valentine’s Day. It is appropriate for us to celebrate our loved ones and declare our love for them! But why stop at just Valentine’s Day? Our family members should be at the top of our “I want you to know that I love you” list: not just on February 14, but all year long!

The purpose of this blog post is to encourage each of us to continue to let our family members know that we love them, even on “ordinary” days. We searched and found many ideas of ways to do just that. We are sharing a few of the ideas in hopes that some will strike a chord with each of us and ignite in us a new determination to warm our family members with our love. If we do so, even when all the roses have wilted, the chocolates have been eaten, and the Valentine’s Day cards have been read, our family members will get the message: “I love you, and I always will.”

Here are a few of the ideas we found:

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Print some little love cards to tuck in lunches or sock drawers: http://www.bhg.com/holidays/valentines-day/cards/funny-pun-quotes-for-your-valentines-day-card/

or here: https://a.dilcdn.com/bl/wp-content/uploads/sites/8/2016/01/lunchbox-notes.jpg

or here: http://www.faithfilledfoodformoms.com/encouraging-lunch-box-notes-for-kids/

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Love your children by better loving your spouse. Perhaps some of these ideas will inspire you:  http://www.shelivesfree.com/2015/02/26-simple-ways-connect-spouse.html

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Occasionally cut your family’s food in heart shapes to remind them of your love. (see http://www.bhg.com/holidays/valentines-day/cards/valentines-day-gift-ideas/?slideId=18fe1b39-34ce-4f90-9dc4-cf752bcaaa0c)

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Leave loving messages on steamy mirrors or family message boards: http://www.bhg.com/holidays/valentines-day/cards/valentines-day-gift-ideas/?slideId=8ea73eec-1d32-4f1b-9425-1f036d6da0ba

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“I don’t believe you can over-love people. Sometimes it’s quiet and subtle, and other times it’s loud and, in my case, obnoxious.” Read more, and get ideas of ways to “spring a love attack on your family” in this blog: http://www.thehouseofhendrix.com/2015/02/11/50-ways-love-attack-on-family/

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Sticky notes can surprise family members with loving notes almost anywhere! http://www.bhg.com/holidays/valentines-day/cards/valentines-day-gift-ideas/?slideId=ebbb219e-8c3d-49d5-89c8-4914d92cff8d

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Make up a secret “I love you!” handshake or motion with each member of the family. You can send them the message anytime, anywhere with this method! http://www.bhg.com/holidays/valentines-day/cards/valentines-day-gift-ideas/?slideId=e685ce72-4121-43db-97e3-a069d003a538

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Write a secret message on white paper with white crayon (to be revealed with watercolor paint) or on white paper with a lemon-juice-moistened cotton swab (to be revealed with the heat of a light bulb or an iron). http://www.bhg.com/holidays/valentines-day/cards/valentines-ideas/?slideId=4e2cc7e2-f14a-4cf3-af21-1a5271f23024

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Consider creating a stash of “love monsters” that your family can use to surprise each other with a little hide-and-find game. A very small version of these little monsters would work: http://eighteen25.com/2013/01/lil-love-monsters/. Or, if you’re not the crafty type, purchase small toy dinosaurs or plastic animals or some other small-but-sturdy toy, draw a heart on each with a gold permanent marker, and use them instead. Once you have your “love monsters” ready, hide them in your family members’ space: a pocket, a briefcase, a backpack, a drawer. When the “love monster” is found, the next part of the game begins: the finder tries to figure out who put the monster there! He/she is awarded with a hug/lovingwords/high five when they solve the mystery, and then secretly prepares to hide the “love monster” in another family member’s things when they least expect it, and the game begins again. Having several “love monsters” hiding out in your home at the same time makes the guessing more fun.

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Here is a great list of 100 more ways to show your kids that you love them: http://totallythebomb.com/100-ways-show-kids-love

Gleanings from a Book: “Parenting Toward the Kingdom” by Dr. Philip Mamalakis

I was so excited when I learned that this book was in the works! Before reading it, I had great expectations: I anticipated that it would be filled with gentle nudges towards godliness based both on years of education and personal experience. I knew that the wisdom in this book would be presented in a practical way backed by the in-the-trenches research that life with 7 children offers to their parents. And once I received and read the book, I was not at all disappointed!

My expectations for this book were the result of personal experience. Our family had the privilege of meeting the Mamalakis family at Family Camp at the Antiochian Village years ago when they were the featured presenters for the parent sessions. We learned so much from Dr. Mamalakis (and from his lovely wife, Georgia) while we were together. My husband and I could step out of the parent sessions and immediately apply the concepts we had just discussed. Our family is the better for having learned these principles, however imperfectly we have applied them. (An aside: We also benefitted from watching the Mamalakis parents apply the principles they had shared, as they interacted with their children over the course of the family camp sessions. It is a joy to watch these parents lovingly guide their children using the principles! There is an abundance of love in Mamalakis family, and these principles allow them to parent their children in the context of that great love. It is a joy to experience.)
But I digress. Let’s get back to the book. “Parenting Toward the Kingdom” outlines the principles that the Mamalakis family has followed:

  1. Always parent with the end in mind.
  2. Respond, don’t react.
  3. Understand struggles in terms of the values and the virtues of the Kingdom of God.
  4. Separate feelings from behaviors.
  5. Teach the joy of obedience.
  6. Teach the joy of repentance.

Each principle has a chapter (or four!) of the book dedicated to it. Every chapter takes an in-depth look at the principle and cites personal experiences or related stories. The stories and examples make this book very accessible to its readers. The principles can be immediately applied, just as my husband and I experienced when we sat under the Mamalakis’ teachings at Family Camp. I would highly recommend this book to any parent or educator who wants to lovingly guide the children in their care in a godly manner. The book would be a great Adult Sunday Church School curriculum, parish book study, or parenting class text.

“Parenting Toward the Kingdom” is easy read. However, its principles will take a lifetime to apply. May God help (and forgive!) all of us as we parent, grandparent, godparent, and otherwise raise His children towards His Kingdom!

Here are a few quotes from the book, to give you a taste of its contents. Purchase your own copy at http://store.ancientfaith.com/parenting-toward-the-kingdom/.

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“Parenting cannot be reduced to a series of steps, techniques, or strategies. The goal of this book is to help parents understand how the daily challenges of parenting relate to our journey in Christ and  our child’s journey in Christ, intimately connected to the life of the Church, and how that connection can inform our responses. Understanding this, we can put all the techniques and strategies in this book in their proper context. Using this book requires that you take a genuine interest in your child and reflect on your own personal spiritual journey. Understanding this, we can put this book in its proper place.” (pp. 12-13)

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“Thinking long-term means thinking about how  you want your children to conduct themselves when they are on their own, away at college, or married with children of their own. What type of adults do you want them to become… As parents… we want our children to be successful in life. As Christian parents, we need to be clear about what we mean by successful. That’s where God’s perspective on success becomes important.” (p. 19)

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“Parenting is not about stopping misbehaviors or getting children to listen to us. It is the process of shaping and guiding our children’s souls in and toward God’s love through the tasks that need to be accomplished and the struggles of daily life. We are teaching them about the spiritual life and the path of holiness as we break up sibling fights or get them to clean their rooms. We are walking with them on that path, on the journey, of growing closer to God in daily life.” (p. 24)

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“We would never deface an icon, yet when we get angry, attack, criticize, or mock our children, we vandalize the icon of Christ. We don’t worship icons, either, yet when we are lenient or indulge our children’s desires, giving in to their demands, we are worshipping our kids, not Christ—which is equally destructive.” (p. 36-37)

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“Learning how to parent is not about learning how to get our children to behave; it’s about learning how to get ourselves to behave. Remember, modeling is the most effective way to teach our children. The goal of this parenting book is to invite parents how to learn to act like adults, no matter what childish behaviors our kids present to us.” (p. 51)

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“While some children act up because they want everyone to look at them, I’d like to suggest that most often our kids are looking for a connection with their parents, not for mere attention… Connection is central to our human nature, and children are wired to seek it.” (p. 66)

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“If we correct, command, direct, or react to our children before connecting with them, it communicates that we are more concerned about where cleats and balls go than about who they are.” (p.165)

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“Time-outs are most often misused as consequences by parents… A time-out is not a consequence, just a good idea. It is, in fact, exactly what a child might need at that moment… Sports teams don’t take time-outs as punishment but as an opportunity to slow down, regroup, and make a plan for going forward… Kids need time-outs when they cannot control themselves or their behaviors. In fact, taking a time-out is something we all need to learn to do when we feel out of control.” (p. 210)

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“Never make decisions for your children or tell them what to do when they can figure things out by themselves. Letting children experience the effects of their decisions respects their intelligence, their ability to learn, and their developing judgment and autonomy. Kids learn better from firsthand experience than from our telling them what to do, anyway.” (p. 227)

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“We teach the joy of obedience by helping our children see that obedience is not something just for children. Obedience to God’s commandments is the path for all, parents and children alike… When children feel connected to their parents and see their parents living in obedience to God, they internalize obedience to God as the path of life.” (p. 264)

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“If we are trying to love our children and grow in Christ, then our mistakes become just another opportunity to teach. Remember, our children will learn ore from how we live than from what we say. Children learn how to handle their mistakes by watching how we handle our own… When we repent we show our children both the right path and how to get back on the path when we fall off.” (p. 288)

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“To parent toward the Kingdom requires us to improve the way we interact with our children in every situation and to connect our hearts and homes to Christ and His Church. In this way our children experience the love of God in the home and encounter Christ and His Church in the center of it.” (p. 317)

Gleanings from a Book: “Orthodox Christian Parenting Cultivating God’s Creation” By Marie Eliades

We recently discovered the book Orthodox Christian Parenting – Cultivating God’s Creation by Marie L. Eliades, published by Zoe Press in 2012. This book is a compilation of quotes and writings about raising and educating Orthodox Christian children. The text is gathered both from Church fathers and contemporary Orthodox Christians, and is presented by theme. (An important note: the introduction to the book tells more about the project and encourages readers to discuss what they read with their spiritual father to see what is best for their own family.)

Themes include:

“The Bigger Picture” (addresses why the book’s content is important)

“Marriage and New Beginnings” (sets the foundation for a new Orthodox family, and offers Orthodox perspectives on infertility/pregnancy/childbirth/adoption/loss of a child)

“Raising our Children” (speaks to childrearing from early childhood through youth)

“In the House of the Lord” (offers the basics of Orthodox family life at Church and at home)

“Adolescence and Growing Up” (talks about the issues and challenges that older children and their related adults face)

“So, They’re Leaving Home” (suggestions for launching a young adult)

We found many encouraging and challenging quotes throughout the book, and will share a few of them with you. This book will be of great benefit to any Orthodox Christians who marry, raise children, and/or teach children about the Faith. We recommend that people in those categories consider reading the book because of its insights into what the Church has taught about raising and teaching children of all ages.

Find the book here: http://www.shop.zoepress.us/Orthodox-Christian-Parenting-Cultivating-Gods-Creation-978-0-9851915-0-4.htm

Here are a few quotes from the book:

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“Marriage… is a journey through sorrows and joys. When the sorrows seem overwhelming, then you should remember that God is with you. He will take up your cross. It was He who placed the crown of marriage on your head. But when we ask God about something, He doesn’t always supply the solution right away. He leads us forward very slowly. Sometimes He takes years. We have to experience pain; otherwise life would have no meaning. But be of good cheer, for Christ is suffering with you, and the Holy Spirit through your groanings, is pleading on your behalf. (cf. Romans 8:26)” (p. 58)

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“When a woman is pregnant she must be calm, read the Gospel, pray, say the Jesus Prayer. Thus the child is also sanctified. The child’s upbringing begins in the womb. One should be very careful not to upset a pregnant woman for any reason. When my wife was expecting a child the Elder [St. Paisios] told me: ‘Be careful not to upset her now in any way! Be very carefull!! Tell her to say the Jesus Prayer and to chant. That will help the child a lot! She should do this later on as well.’” (p. 70)

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“I once understood Orthodoxy as a beautiful expression of faith on Sundays and holidays, but I have learned that we must bring every moment of our days and every inch of our homes into the Church. I learned first how to surrender myself to Him, and now I am learning how to surrender my children and everything else as well. The only path to healing is to offer up our entire world to Christ. We must lift up these broken pieces of our fallen world and have faith that He will restore them. He will.” (p. 83)

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From a section from St. Porphyrios:

“The sanctity of the parents is the best way of bringing up children in the Lord. When the parents are saintly and transmit this to the child and give the child an upbringing ‘in the Lord,’ then the child, whatever the bad influences around it, will not be affected because by the door of its heart will be Wisdom—Christ Himself.” (p. 86)

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From a section from St. Tikhon of Zadonsk:

“A gardener binds a newly planted sapling to a stake driven and fixed into the ground lest it be uprooted by winds and storms; later, he prunes unneeded branches from the tree lest they harm the tree and dry it up. You should act likewise with your small and young children. Bind their hearts to the feet of God lest they be shaken by the machinations of Satan and depart from piety. Prune away the passions that grow in them lest they mature and overpower them and so put the new, inward man that was born in holy Baptism to death. For we see that as children grow up, sinful passions also appear and grow with them as unneeded branches of a tree.” (p. 112)

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From St. John Chrysostom:
“If artists who make statues and paint portraits of kings are held in high esteem, will not God bless ten thousand times more those who reveal and beautify His royal image? For man is in the image of God. When we teach our children to be good, to be gentle, and to be forgiving—all attributes of God; to be generous, to love their neighbor, to regard this present age as nothing, we instill virtue in their souls, and reveal the image of God within them.” (p. 137)

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“Tired of laundry? Parenting and homemaking are indeed a holy calling. Daily chores are a blessing to us and to our family. Even laundry is blessed—no children, no laundry. What would our life be like without them? So as we wash, fold or iron each item we can say, ‘Lord have mercy on (name of clothing wearer).’ This works for your husband’s clothing, your children’s and your own clothing. ‘Lord have mercy on me.’ This sanctifies our time and work. It also helps us acquire peace and unceasing prayer.” (p. 171)

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“Pray, pray, pray for your children and trust our most holy Lady with their guidance. Please do not think that just because you attend church with your children, receive Communion regularly, or because they belong to a youth group that this is some sort of fail-proof guarantee. No, that is not enough You mothers and fathers must pray as much as you can for your dearest possession, the children God has entrusted to you.” (p. 269)

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“When I first read a quote by Elder Porphyrios that parents should talk to their children less and pray more I did not understand it since my children were young and at home and they needed me to speak to them to teach them. But since they have all grown and left home I understand. This may be difficult for some parents to understand yet we all should know that even as our children are a gift from God, they are a temporary gift. From birth until they leave home they are our gift and it is our job to love and teach them; but once they leave we are to release them on their path with their Guardian Angel and God’s Grace. Then our job is to pray for them, not to control them…” (p. 275)

Bedtime and Other Rituals: Conclusion and Facing Fears at Bedtime

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.)

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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/

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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)  

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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.)
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This blog post recommends praying the Jesus Prayer if you (or your child) are having trouble sleeping: http://simplyorthodox.tumblr.com/post/32070899950

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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/

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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

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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

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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:

http://www.graceparenting.com/BibleVersesAboutPeacefulSleep.html

http://learnscripture.net/verse-set/5-sleep-not-sheep-bedtime-verses/

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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Excerpts from “Raising Children Who Will Hold Onto the Faith in Our Secular Age,” an article by Dr. Philip Mamalakis

“Raising Children Who Will Hold Onto the Faith in Our Secular Age” is an excellent article by Dr. Philip Mamalakis that was published in PRAXIS magazine’s Fall/Winter 2016 issue. This article is an invaluable resource to Orthodox Christian parents with children of all ages. It recently came to our attention once again, and we have found it so helpful that we have decided to share a few excerpts with the Orthodox Christian Parenting community.

“Will our kids hold onto the Faith? …It’s easy to be worried or scared for the future of the Church, the future of our country, and our kids’ future… The temptation, as parents, when we’re afraid, is to parent out of fear: to control, to restrict, to intensify our monitoring or warn our children of all the possible dangers. Parenting out of fear is destructive to our kids. If we parent out of fear, we pass along fear to our children, and they will hold onto fear as they go out into the world. What our kids really need is to have the judgement and the skills to navigate the dangers of life, and our goal must be to equip them with those skills and that judgement.

“If our faith is nothing more than going to church, our kids will understandably drop that empty ritual as soon as they leave and replace it with something else on Sunday mornings that is easier… If we want our kids to hold onto our faith when they leave, they have to have it deep in their hearts when it is time to go. It has to be their faith, not just ours. That is the goal of parenting.

“How do we raise kids who walk in the light of Christ? …How do we get them to believe and to follow? Well, the short answer is, ‘We don’t.’ That’s not our role as parents. ‘Our goal as parents is not to transmit faith; that is the work of divine grace, and our task is to foster the work of grace.’ (as Sister Magdalen wrote in Children in the Church Today.) …Our role as parents is to foster the work of grace, to provide the environment around our children so they grow up to internalize God, Christ and His Church, as good, true, and right.

“Creating the environment for our children to grow in faith is, in some ways, like a three-legged stool. For this stool to stand, each leg needs to be in place. Each leg is critically important, but no one leg alone is sufficient. Those three legs are: the life of the parent [how we live]; the parent-child relationship [how we relate to our children]; and the connection between the home and the Church [living as the Church of the home]. Each aspect of parenting is crucially important, but no one aspect alone is sufficient.”

The article goes on to expound on each of the “three legs” of the stool, and is well worth reading in its entirety. To inquire about this article or to subscribe to PRAXIS magazine, visit http://www.goarch.org/archdiocese/departments/religioused/praxis.

Here are some additional quotes from the article, as well as links to related resources:

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“The home is our primary mission field… the home is the single greatest influence on our personhood! …I really do believe that the greatest influence that we will have on the world is our children… We are forming their hearts and their minds and their souls and these people will grow up to lead the world…” Listen to Dr. Philip Mamalakis’ excellent talk on the subject of raising children who will hold onto the Faith in our secular age here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2zO_sptqYVM

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“Successful kids know deep within their hearts that they are loved by God and by us and desire to freely return that love. Our goal is to help our children to see themselves and others as children of God, as icons of Christ, as holy images of God (Genesis 1:26). This is real self esteem.” ~ Dr. Philip Mamalakis, “Raising Children Who Will Hold Onto the Faith in Our Secular Age,” PRAXIS, Fall/Winter 2016, pp. 33-34.

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“The single most powerful ‘parenting tool’ we have is the way we live ourselves. Children learn the most from modeling their parents’ behaviors. …We’re not supposed to be perfect, because that’s impossible. However, when we fail, do we take responsibility for our mistakes…, repent and get back on track? Trying to be a perfect parent will teach perfectionism, which is a disease, but repentant parents model the path of repentance for our kids. Only when our kids see the values and virtues lived out in our lives are they able to internalize these things as real.” ~ Dr. Philip Mamalakis, “Raising Children Who Will Hold Onto the Faith in Our Secular Age,” PRAXIS, Fall/Winter 2016, p. 36

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“Parenting is about loving our children more than correcting them, and our corrections need to reflect our love for them. You can’t love a child too much, but you can love them in the wrong way. Our love needs to reflect God’s love for them. …Our children need to know that we delight in them, that we recognize that they are a gift to us from God, and our delight in them needs to inform how we relate to them when they’re behaving well and when they’re misbehaving. We might not feel delight when we’re tired or overwhelmed, but they are a gift, and we need to relate to them out of that truth, not out of our own frustrations and feelings.” ~ Dr. Philip Mamalakis, “Raising Children Who Will Hold Onto the Faith in Our Secular Age,” PRAXIS, Fall/Winter 2016, p. 37

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“Our children internalize this reality of God and His kingdom when we connect the daily life of the home to the eternal reality of the Church. We do this by attending church regularly and by our regular involvement, as a family, in the communal life of the Church. We bring the external practices of the Church—the prayer, icons, hymns scripture readings, etc.—into our home life. For example, when we pray in the home we communicate to our children that prayer is real. Prayer becomes normal to our children because it is a normal part of the life of the home. Our children will internalize all the realities of the Church as we integrate them into daily life.” ~ Dr. Philip Mamalakis, “Raising Children Who Will Hold Onto the Faith in Our Secular Age,” PRAXIS, Fall/Winter 2016, p. 38

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“It is the parents who co-create, with God, the stepping-stones to faith; who show by their words and actions, as best they can, the journey to theosis. It is their task, more than any other’s, to teach the special kind of communication we call worship. Symbols need explaining; explanations need giving. Our religious language, or the way we communicate our faith by everything we do and say, needs careful thought. Above all, remember that religious education is not something that stops at age sixteen. Growing in faith is a family affair.” Read more in Elizabeth White’s article, “Stepping Stones to Faith: Nurturing Orthodox Christian Virtues in Your Children” at http://www.antiochian.org/node/16620.

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“Each chapter [of this book] ends with a list of practical ideas any parent might try to help cultivate character qualities such as attentiveness and silence. This small jewel could well be called ‘the Holy Fathers applied to parenting’.” Find the book, Walking in Wonder: Nurturing Christian Virtues in Your Children, at: http://store.ancientfaith.com/walking-in-wonder-nurturing-christian-virtues-in-your-children/

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How are you helping your children to grow in their faith and to hang onto the truths of Orthodox Christianity in the face of the secular culture in which you live? This fall we will be writing blog posts containing practical ideas for daily living Orthodoxy in the home. Will you please help us by sharing your ideas? This form can help you think through your family’s schedule to think of ways that you as a family are living the Faith together. If possible, kindly pass on your family’s traditions in as many of the following categories as possible, and then submit your answers so that we can share them with the community.

Reminder: survey forms received by Sept. 1, 2016 will be entered into a drawing for a copy of the book Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home by Elissa Bjeletich and Caleb Shoemaker. (A total of three copies will be given away.)
Thank you in advance for helping the Orthodox Christian Parenting community in this way!
http://www.antiochian.org/sites/default/files/living_orthodoxy_daily_in_the_home_survey.pdf