Every parent with small children knows that bedtime can be the most chaotic time of day. But routines help to make this transitional moment manageable. Incorporating rituals also infuses these times with meaning, transforming ordinary activities into something you can cherish.

Review the day

Reflect with your child about the events of the day, taking note of any kind acts she performed or any that were done for her. "My friend shared his snack with me. I called Grandpa to see how he was feeling."

Read Books

A plethora of Jewish children's literature is available to us today. One lovely picture book is We're All in the Same Boat, by Rabbi Zachary Shapiro, an alphabetic retelling of the Noah story emphasizing lessons of cooperation and community. 

childrens bookAnother that my children and I never tired of reading is Joseph Had a Little Overcoat by Simms Taback, based on a Yiddish folk song. It delightfully conveys the value of finding contentment with what we have.

For read-aloud books I suggest Does God Have a Big Toe? by Rabbi Marc Gellman which contains short, creative, and humorous interpretations of Bible stories which subtly inspire questions about ancient texts.

And an all-time favorite series is the classic All of a Kind Family by Sydney Taylor about a Jewish family living in New York City in the early 1920's.

Appreciate the wonder of our world

Holding your child, look out the window and take turns wishing lila tov (good night) to what you see. "Lila tov, stars. Lila tov, trees. Lila tov, buildings."

Pray

The traditional prayer that Jews recite before going to sleep is the K'riat Shema al Ha-mitah, the bedtime shema. It is the same prayer we may know from synagogue, shema YisraelAdonai EloheinuAdonai echad, accompanied by additional liturgy. Part of that liturgy includes a blessing that names angels who are said to surround us while we sleep. Integrate this comforting concept into your own practice by naming with your child some of the important people in his life. Explain that their love surrounds him even as he sleeps. Then quietly and slowly sing the shema. (For a great recording, check out Rabbi Julia Andelman's CD The Bedtime Sh'ma).

 

Rabbi Sarah Reines

Sarah Reines is a rabbi and mother living in New York City. She served as a rabbi of Central Synagogue for more than a decade and is currently the co-president of the Women's Rabbinic Network.