The way you end the day with your children is an important part of their development.
We have a two-year-old and a four-month-old, and we're seeing firsthand the benefit of structure and predictability for our kids--especially our toddler.
The rhythms you put in place with your kids inch them closer each time they participate toward growth, maturity, and faithfulness. Discipleship and counsel can happen in big, surprising moments throughout a day, but the habits you institute with your kids are the foundation to an environment constructed for their flourishing. The end of a day presents an ideal opportunity to be strategic with your routines in order to teach important lessons and have meaningful interactions with the next generation.
This obviously will look different based on your kids' ages. If you're still brushing your teenager's teeth, you're probably not doing them any favors. Thinking critically about how you end the day with your family, however, provides you another time to implement your values and make progress on things that matter.
We don't do it perfectly every time, and we definitely miss days every once and while, but here is how we typically structure a bedtime routine with our two-year-old.
Put on pajamas
This one almost goes without saying. But getting kids into pajamas is a great way to give them a cue that we're headed to bedtime, that the day is winding down, and that we're about to kick off the nighttime routine. Sometimes during the pajama phase, we'll discuss the plan for what's next. Giving adequate expectations often helps the rituals go more smoothly.
We let our child brush his teeth first, although I'm not sure what he's doing could be called brushing his teeth sometime. Often, it's simply putting a toothbrush in his mouth. But after we put on the toothpaste, we hand it over so he has the experience at least attempting to do it on his own.
After about twenty seconds, he'll say he's all done. Then it's our turn. We make the next part more fun by making up a song or story as we brush his teeth. If you don't feel like the creative juices are flowing, you can always turn on Chompers, a podcast with fun content for kids that times their brushing.
Read a book
Cultivating a love for reading is important. We typically let our son pick out the book he wants to read and go through it in his bed. A story helps him wind down, and it give him an opportunity to practice reading the words along with us--or at least associating words with pictures at this point. This doesn't need to be long. A short story will do just fine. Sometimes these books have meaningful life lessons in them, and other times they are renditions of "Old McDonald Had A Farm."
Read a Bible story
Like our book time, we allow our son to choose the Bible story he'd like to read. As much as we want him to learn about God, we also want him to desire to engage in a relationship with God. Giving him a choice in the story we read is a part of this process. We've been choosing stories out of Ella K. Lindvall's volumes of Read Aloud Bible Stories most recently. "David and Goliath" is on heavy rotation.
Ask him to recite our family rules
This step in the process and the following two steps come from suggestions made by Moms on Call.
At this stage in our son's life, we want to establish the baseline rules for creating an environment of healthy growth and development. As he gets older, these will naturally change in phrasing and depth. We hold up three fingers and have him say these three things:
- Obey mommy and daddy.
- Be kind to ourselves.
- Be kind to others.
As a toddler, these are the three guiding principles we want him to remember. We want him to know that, as his parents, we have his best interest in mind. It's important to be kind to yourself by making wise decisions (like choosing not to touch hot stoves or jump off of extremely high places). And life isn't all about you. We are constantly growing in our ability to share, be considerate, and serve those around us.
Repeating these three things each night helps continually grow a framework for what it looks like to operate as a healthy human being reflecting what God desires for us.
Share one thing he did well today
We intentionally recognize one specific way we saw him do something good in the day and encourage him for doing it. Some evenings, this looks like: "You did a great job sharing with your friend this morning. I'm so proud of you." Other evenings, it might look like: "I love how joyful you were today." The important part is focusing on the ways we're seeing him grow and mature. Specific words of affirmation show how much we believe in him and recognize the good he's creating in the world.
Share one thing we're working on
We intentionally point out one thing that didn't go well in the day and frame it as an area we're "working on." It's important to make this a place for growth, not shame. Sometimes, this is as general as saying, "We're working on listening and obeying the first time." But, sometimes it can be specific. "Today, you threw a fit after breakfast. We're working on using self-control." After we share what we're working on, we almost always frame it in the affirmative. "I believe in you. I know you can use your big boy voice to talk with mommy and daddy. You can do it."
Pray over him
We pray blessings over his sleep and his life. We thank God for the gift of him being in our family. We pray for specific things going on in his life.
Pray for other people
We ask him to suggest two other people to pray for. These people are usually family members or friends. Recently, we've started using prayer sticks as a way to include a more diverse set of prayer recipients. Our friends shared the idea with us, and you simply put different names or topics on popsicle sticks in a cup and have your child draw a couple out. Having him suggest to pray for others cultivates both a habit of prayer and a concern for others.
Sing three songs
As we're tucking him in, we sing the following songs:
- "I Love You Lord (and I Lift My Voice)"
- "Be Brave, Strong, and Courageous"
- "Good Night"
The first song is a way to grow a love for worship. The second is a song his grandmother created from a sign in his room. The lyrics are simply, "Be brave, strong, and courageous. Seek adventure and truth." The last song is a sign off for the night.
As I walk out of the room, I say: "I love you. I'm proud of you. You're a good boy. I'll see you tomorrow." The last thing I want him to hear as I leave are statements of his identity. He is loved. He is the apple of my eye. He is capable of goodness. He is safe because I'm not going anywhere.
Your routine with your kids doesn't have to look like this. Depending on their ages and needs, it probably should look different. The takeaway, however, is that the evening is a great opportunity to strategically connect with and love your child.
What is your routine and what do you hope those habits ultimately lead to in your family and in your children's lives?