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Night Time Rituals for Children

By Sally Skelding

Children in the rest of the world seem to go to sleep when bedtime arrives. At least that is the perception among some noted researchers. Bed time comes and children go to bed. In the United States, some families have troubles getting children to bed. There are, from my perspective, several reasons for this difficulty in families.

First, there is the sense that bedtime is bedtime for all. Parents should use David Elkind's marker system to establish bedtime hours. The marker system means that five year olds go to bed at a different time than the 10 year old. If you are in primary school bedtime should be about 8:00 and for middle school students it could stretch to 9:00. High-schoolers often need to stay up later; yet this causes problems if school starts before they have had 8 hours sleep. It is well documented that we are a sleep deprived nation and that fact shows up in negative behaviors at school.

Second, limit TV on school nights or turn it off completely! This is a good rule for the entire family. Use the evening time to complete homework assignments, talk together, read, pursue an interest or catch up on some much needed rest. Hard to do? Yes, but the results are electrifying for the daily grind of living.

Three, add rituals to the evening bedtime schedule for everyone. A bath, warm bed and a story for younger children. Older children can read in bed and then turn off the light and go to sleep with less turmoil in their brains, than if they had watched an action TV show that gets them hyped up. Babies need snuggling time and a story too, with perhaps some music playing softly in the background or some white noise to drown out the other household noises that let them know the rest of the family is still up and functioning.

Fourth, bedtime is a great time to review the day. It is a wonderful ritual to begin early in a child's life and continue as long as a child/youngster/adolescent lives at home. As bedtime draws near, or after the child is in bed, talk together about the positive things that happened during the day; perhaps even list the 5 good things about your today. You could also review what is planned for tomorrow, or decide what everyone will do on Saturday. Every family will have different conversational leads: the point is to talk and share and go to sleep with something positive in your head! The old song, "Count your blessings instead of sheep and you'll go to sleep counting your blessings," works.

Sally Skelding has been molding the minds of both young adults and children for more than 30 years. Sally's long career started in Youngstown, Ohio, where she was the Director of the Youngstown Civic Children's Theatre. During those years, she and her students entertained children with puppetry and children's theatre performances.
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