How often do you talk to your kids? I don’t mean the routine, plan-as-you-go discussions about who should empty the dishwasher and who’s going where after school. I mean the discussions that really matter: the deeper, life-giving conversations that consistently point your child to God as their inseparable Father and their source of hope and security.
Perhaps these kinds of conversations happen less often than you’d like. If so, you’re certainly not alone. In survey results reported in 1990, Search Institute found that only one in eight U.S. teens from Christian families had regular conversations about their faith with their mum. And only one in 20 teens had regular conversations about their faith with their dad.1
Sadly, new research suggests that kids do suffer for the lack of ongoing, faith-building dialogue at home.2 If you’re looking for ways to connect more meaningfully with your children, bedtime presents one of the best opportunities in the day. With a little thought, you can build a bedtime routine that not only draws you closer to your child, but also helps you instil faith-building truths your child will remember for life. Read on for some ideas to help you get started, or to enrich your existing routine.
Setting the mood
Creating a pre-sleep "snuggle-up time" your child will look forward to requires the right preparation. Switch off TV shows and electronic games an hour before bedtime and allow children to wind down by providing less-stimulating activities. Encourage your child not to dawdle through the bathing-brushing-dressing-in-PJs stage by reminding them how much you’re looking forward to your bedtime chat. You may even want to come up with a quirky rhyme that helps hurry things along such as, We can have fun when we’re done with washing, so pass the toothpaste and let’s get flossing!
Blessing through meaningful conversation
It’s important that your bedtime discussion guides your son or daughter’s thoughts in a positive direction. For Canadian author and speaker Grace Fox and her husband, asking fun questions was the key to engaging with their kindergartener.
"We wrote the questions on little cards and tucked them under her pillow in a little bag," Grace recalls. "Each night she’d choose a different card.
Today the Fox family’s questions are available for purchase as a charmingly presented set of Tuck-Me-In cards. And there’s some fun bedtime activity books available too, such as Bedtime Blessings. But you don’t need to get too sophisticated. Simply asking your own searching, open-ended questions can lead into an enriching discussion and help identify any anxiety in your child. Here are some questions you could try:
What was the best part of your day?
What’s one thing you did today that you are proud of?
What’s one thing you are excited about for tomorrow?
Is there anything you wish you could change about today?
Is anything on your mind?
How can I be praying for you?
How did you see God working today?
What are you trusting God for this week?
Be ready and willing to share your answers to these questions too, as appropriate.
As you engage with your child, be intentional about directing your child toward peaceful, Christ-centred thoughts. In his book, Sleep: It Does a Family Good, Dr. Archibald Hart devotes an entire chapter to the importance of "pre-sleep pondering" as a time to build a deeper connection to God. For both children and adults, Dr. Hart recommends identifying three blessings from the day and using them as the basis of a prayer of gratitude.3
Blessing through Bible readings and other stories
It’s a rare child who doesn’t enjoy Bible story time, especially with Mum or Dad snuggled up beside them. But if you’d like to add a little extra fun, try repeating the same Bible story a second time, this time with some "silly nouns" thrown in. Invite your child to listen for and correct your mistakes, and feign surprise when your child insists that Noah didn’t save the animals in a hot air balloon!
Children love stories where they play the lead role. Try switching the audience and telling stories about your child’s day to their stuffed animals, pointing out blessings that your child experienced. Let your child add real or imaginary details if they wish.
As your child matures they’ll appreciate true stories from your past. Make a point of sharing your conversion testimony and stories about how God has led you and met your needs. Encourage other relatives – especially grandparents who live far away – to connect via an internet platform and tell bedtime stories from their own faith journey, or invite them to create an audio recording you can play for your children at bedtime.
Blessing through prayer
One of the benefits of establishing a strong bedtime routine is that it can last well into the teen years – especially the habit of praying together before bed. If you prefer traditional, scripted prayer, some lovely bedtime prayers for children have been derived from hymns. A couple of popular ones are Jesus Tender Shepherd Hear Me and Now the Light Has Gone Away. You can search the Internet for other hymns, or select recent worship music to adapt into a heartfelt prayer. If your child is a teen, they may already have some favourite lyrics they’d love you to pray for them.
A quick Internet search will reward you with many other rote prayers for children that are easily committed to memory and, with repetition, will likely be remembered for decades. Although it may take a little more work, there’s huge value in building your own bedtime prayer for your children based on select passages of Scripture. For young children, you may want to focus on passages like Psalm 91, Psalm 121 or Psalm 139 to help allay fears of the dark and reassure them that God is always with them. Some good passages to pray for primary ages and older are Ephesians 1:17-19, Colossians 1:9-12 or Romans 12:2, but there are many Scriptures you could use.
Another type of prayer you may want to consider is prayer that reinforces the values you consider important as a family. When our children were small, my husband and I often prayed with them the simple request that God would help us be a "learning, playing, caring, sharing family."
Blessing through song
Children love repetition, and will request a favourite story or song over and over again. But you’ll want to make the most of the power of repetition by choosing bedtime songs that teach important Biblical truths. Dig out that CD the kids were given at church, or purchase a few songs on CD or by download. Sound faith lessons set to a captivating tune are well worth the small financial investment.
Some traditional hymns that are well-suited to a children’s bedtime routine include Now the Day Is Over, All Through the Night, God Sees the Little Sparrow Fall and Can a Little Child Like Me (Father We Thank Thee). Laurel Kirchner, author of Focus on the Family Canada’s Kids of Integrity series, recommends a "Taps-style" camp song called Good Night – a family favourite over many years.
"On nights we are feeling energetic," Laurel notes, "we still sing our teen guys this same bedtime blessing song we first sung to them even before they could talk."Here are the lyrics to Good Night, including a second verse Laurel and her husband added for their boys. You can hear the music played on Camp Greystone’s Facebook page.:
Good night our God is watching o’er you
Good night His presence goes before you
Good night and I’ll be praying for you
So good night, may God bless you.
Good night your mum and dad do love you
Good night we think the world of you
Good night and we’ll be praying for you
So good night, we do love you!
Your parting blessing
Each night represents a "mini-separation" from you and a time for your child to practice dependence on God alone. With this in mind, you might want to end your time with a younger child with a final blessing that will focus your child’s thoughts on God as the one who keeps them safe. Numbers 6:24-26 and Psalm 121:7-8 are great Bible verses to quote as a reassuring blessing, but there are plenty of others. For older children, give some thought to the most important Scriptural truth you want to impart, then build a unique parting blessing based on the relevant Bible verse.
To add a little fun and head off any remorse at your departure, invite your child to count down from three, then "blow out the light" (while you simultaneously hit the light switch). Speak your blessing over your child from the doorway just before you leave.
1. As quoted by Dr. Kara E. Powell and Dr. Chap Clark in Sticky Faith. Based on research by the Search Institute and published in Effective Christian Education: A National Study of Protestant Congregations (Minneapolis: Search Institute, 1990).
2. Searching for reasons why faith "sticks" with only about 50 per cent of U.S. teens, the Fuller Youth Institute completed a multi-year survey of over 500 college students. In their book Sticky Faith, Drs. Kara Powell and Chap Clark present parents with this sobering conclusion from the Fuller Youth Institute’s study:
Perhaps our most significant and summative finding regarding the influence of parents is this: how you express and live your faith will have, all things being equal, a greater impact on your child’s life than any other factor. . . . what they see and hear and experience growing up with you will communicate more about the essence and veracity of faith than anything they face or anyone they know.
3. The Three Blessings is a practice first promoted by Dr. Martin Seligman, a widely respected psychologist and author of The Optimistic Child.