Sunday, August 19, 2012

Rituals and routines for children

Rituals are so important to families, and especially helpful to children. They can help smooth over so many hard transitions for young children making the flow of the day easier. 

Transition rituals for parents to create might be bedtime, wake up and goodbye and hello routines. Without a good night sleep everything is more challenging, you are setting yourself and child up for failure without good sleep. Waking up to a blaring alarm is no fun, but what about singing or favorite music. Routines that many people take for granted are goodbye and hello routines. For young children (and parents of young children) it is hard to let go for daycare, preschool, or school, so create a special moment to let go. Alternatively returning from away activities can be rushed and feel more like a race for the finish, take a moment to be together and it will make the rest of the day better.

Bedtime is a challenge for many parents, they forget to start winding down early in the evening. Turning down lights, turning off the TV, maybe even a slow sunset walk or stretches can help slow down the day. As a parent we want to rush through things but we need to remember that this time of our children’s lives is only here for a moment. Spending more quality time together is much richer than watching TV or chasing the kids around until they fall asleep. I think an early bedtime that allows parents to have adult time is good, whether you are a married couple or a single parent. A great ritual for every bedtime is snack, bath, story, and bed.

·      A good healthy snack, that is small and light will help the child rest better, offer this before bath time, so it has time to digest. I offer yogurt and berries or fruit and nut butter for a small amount of protein and sweetness. Remember this is a small snack, maybe 2 to 3 apple slices and a tablespoon of nut butter (preferably organic or at least GMO free). A nice hot bath is so relaxing. It is also a great time to unwind and talk about the day or play a low-key bath game. Lighting a candle is a nice way to keep the blaring bathroom lights from being to stimulating, and starts the process of quieting down.

·      After a nice hot bath with a lightly filled tummy it is time to snuggle up in a comfy chair and read a book or two. I prefer to keep the bed for sleeping so I do bedtime reading in a chair. Another advantage of this is that tooth brushing and flossing can be done while reading. Just use a tiny pea sized drop of toothpaste and then there is no need to spit or rinse. I love to read children's classic novels to my preschoolers and school aged children. I would read a chapter of Black Beauty, Charlotte's Web, or Stuart Little and later the Harry Potter books (the first few, after that they were reading them on their own). Smaller children will benefit more from favorite children’s picture books and of course for toddlers and babies board books they can manipulate themselves. Remember to go at the pace of the child, you don’t have to read the book cover to cover, perusing the pictures, talking about what is happening or create your own stories together. Allow them to tell you the story if they are willing. Just remember that this is for the child. They are learning so much more about books, than just to read at this age, allow them the time to read.

·      Then it is off to bed. Lights should be kept low and the house should be reasonably quiet but not silent. The noise of adults talking has a comforting and relaxing rhythm to it and has sent many a children straight to sleep.

Somehow this bedtime routine worked so well for me and other parents who have tried it. Waking up and having a morning routine is just as important. I haven’t really perfected my morning routine; it has been adjusted many times because of the age of my children, the times we had to wake up, and other outside factors. The one thing I have tried to keep constant is to sing a song or listen to upbeat music and provide a healthy breakfast. These two factors make a huge difference in the day, it is hard to wake up cranky to fun and funky music.

One thing I have always had in my life is a goodbye ritual. My mom and dad always gave a kiss and a hug and sent me on my way telling me they loved me. Even in the middle of an argument. The last words we heard were “I love you.” We sometimes forget that it is difficult to let go, even for the day. This is also great for those parents or children who are a clingy and needy in the mornings. Becky Bailey is the author of many books including my two favorites, I Love You Rituals, and There’s GotTo Be a Better Way, Discipline that works. She has so many wonderful ideas and I really think she takes positive parenting to that next level. I highly recommend reading her books. She has great goodbye rituals in her book, I Love You Rituals, but even creating your own simple goodbye, from a goodbye handshake to a few moments of reading one book and giving a kiss goodbye. One parent at a center I worked at would nurse her baby in a certain chair at drop off and pick up. They disconnected and reconnected for a few moments each day, this baby was very interested and available for dealing with the center after that small ritual. Later it turned into reading a book together in the same chair. So letting go is very important and can really color how the rest of the child’s choices go.

Saying hello is important too. I see too many parents barely slow down enough to throw their children in the car and zoom of to the next daily event. If this is your day maybe you should consider slowing down and read my blog on slow parenting. I have see parents who I know are loving parents pick up while on the phone, the child running around trying to show the parent this or that of their day only to leave near tears. I think taking 10 minutes to be present is so important. Children want so much to show you their world, and their perspective, giving them that small amount of time is a great way to fill up their attention tanks. You can always talk as soon as you leave, or maybe just stay outside until the conversation is over so you can be present and in the moment when you walk into to room for your child. Becky Bailey also discusses these rituals in her book and many more on her website Conscious Discipline. I highly suggest reading it.

Blessed be

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