When my son was a toddler, he went through a stage where he was afraid to go to sleep. He could only tell us so much of what was going on (he was only two, after all), but from what I gathered, he was having bad dreams at night.
He would wake up crying, and my husband or I would go into his room, hold him until he calmed down, and pray for peace for him. Some nights we had to stay in there, lying on the floor next to his toddler bed, until he fell back asleep. Every time I heard him cry it broke my heart.
Unfortunately, there is no way to nightmare-proof our kids’ minds (Don’t you wish there was?). There is only so much we can do for our kids when it comes to nightmares. We can’t take them away. But, can we help our kids think about good things at night to help them sleep better? We definitely can!
We’ve set up quite a bedtime routine with our kids (and of course, kids like routine), but our strategy has been to help them think about good things before it’s time to sleep. These are a few ideas for helping to put your kids minds on the right track.
Recap the day.
Talk about everything that happened during the day, but especially focus on the good things. Talk about some of the fun things you will do the next day. Have your kids come up with a list of things that happened that they are thankful for. Focusing on gratitude is a great way to set the tone for a good night’s sleep.
Sing a hymn or Bible song.
My kids are musically inclined (although I most definitely am not!) and they love when we sing to them before bed. Thankfully, they don’t care about my sub-par singing voice and know all the words to our bedtime favorites.
You know how catchy tunes can get stuck in your head? I like to pick songs that are filled with truth and a catchy melody, so they will hopefully be repeating those words of comfort in their head as they drift off to sleep. “Jesus Loves Me” and “What a Friend We Have In Jesus” are two of my favorites.
Pray with your kids (and encourage them to pray too).
There are a few things I like to do when we say prayers with our kids at bedtime. The first is that I like to tie in the Bible story we read somehow. I have recently been trying to include more theology in my prayers and we can do that in a way kids can understand as well.
For example, if we read about Elijah and the widow, I might say thank You to the Lord for providing us with food to eat. If we read about Jesus calming the storm, I might thank God that He is in control of everything, even the weather.
Reminding kids of who God is right before bed is one of the best ways to calm any lingering fears or anxieties. God is love, and perfect love casts out fear. When they are focused on Him, there is less room to be afraid.
Secondly, I like to have my kids pray to Jesus themselves – they don’t always want to, but when they do it is good practice. You know they are learning to turn to Jesus with all their cares (and it’s so adorable to hear the things they want to tell Him).
Find “that thing” you say.
This one is more just for fun, but when I was a girl, I remember every night as my parents left the room, we would always say four things – “goodnight”, “I love you”, “sweet dreams”, “think about Jesus”. Everyone in my family always said those four things. I think it just started as us kids trying to stall bedtime, but then it became the thing we said, and it was comforting to hear it, night after night. Even when it started to blur into one really long word as we became more comfortable with the phrase.
I always especially loved the last one though — “think about Jesus”. Isn’t that the best thing for our kids to focus on? As the old hymn says, when our little ones can focus on Jesus, all the other worries become dim.
Read them a Bible story and devotional.
Regular storybooks are all good and fun, but at night, I want to leave my kids with God’s truth. Sometimes we’ll read them a Bible story or a devotional book or both. If you are looking for a devotional to read with your kids, a great one to check out is “Bedtime Devotions with Jesus”. This beautifully illustrated collection of prayers and devotions is written by pastors, pastor’s wives, children’s ministers, and other church leaders. In this book, you’ll find valuable lessons on such topics as thankfulness, obedience, trusting God, being kind, loving others, and many more. It provides that all-important reminder to snuggle up together with our kids after the busyness of the day is done and read God’s Word for those daily reminders about how much He loves and takes care of us.
Try not to be in a rush if they want to look at all the pictures, or ask a ton of questions because that can set an anxious mode for the rest of the bedtime routine. It’s good that they are asking questions about devotions! It means they are setting their mind on God before bedtime.
Doing all this does not mean that your kids will sleep like rocks and never have nightmares, but focusing on Jesus before bed can equip them to handle bad dreams when they do happen because they will know where to go. And when your kids need a reminder, you can be there to tuck them in, and pray with them, and sing them back to sleep.
Then as you slip out of the room you can even whisper “Goodnight, I love you, sweet dreams, think about Jesus.”
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I know each family has their own special routine before heading out their children’s bedroom door at night. What’s yours?