Teaching our children good sleeping habits isn't just a question of good health, but also a lesson in trust.
While it’s true that our quality of sleep depends partly on our temperament, our physical make-up, the state of our health, and external circumstances, it also depends on our ability to utterly surrender ourselves and really stop. And that’s not always as easy a we like to think.
Sleep: A way of telling God we love Him
We need to know how to stop both playing and working when it’s bedtime, even if we feel we haven’t studied enough for a math test or finished an important work project. Learning how to sleep is also a lesson in discovering that there’s a time for everything. When it’s time for bed, my duty — that is, my way of telling God I love Him — is to go to sleep. At every instant, God offers Himself to me completely and expects me to respond in kind, by giving myself up completely. When He calls me to sleep, He asks me to give myself into His hands and truly surrender myself to slumber, exactly as a child surrenders himself totally into the arms of his mother.
Accepting that we must stop, that we must put everything into the hands of God, requires a great deal of trust. And that trust is learned from an early age. Even little ones can have cares and worries that keep them from sleeping: fear of the dark or a storm, fear of a monster in the closet. Over the years, to these fears are added problems at school and all the difficulties of life. It’s up to us, the parents, to awaken in a child an awareness of Him who never leaves us. It’s of capital importance that children know that at any moment of the day or night, God is there, loving them, watching over them, and listening to them. God, as well as the Virgin Mary, the saints and the angels, are like so many friends to whom they can entrust their worries, their fears, and their questions — instead of fretting over their anxieties all alone.
Finish with bedtime tussles
An object can help little ones to remember this presence of God — a cross, a medal, a rosary Some parents reject this, saying, “It’s dangerous to reduce the Faith like that to objects, like good-luck charms.” Is it superstition? No. In order to understand it, you only need to compare it to a security blanket or a child’s teddy bear that goes everywhere with him because it reminds him of home. If that security blanket helps a child to get to sleep, why not a rosary or a cross to similarly evoke the Father’s tenderness?
Quality of sleep also depends in large part on the moments preceding bedtime. At day’s end, we should avoid noisy games and horseplay. Replace them instead with more calm activities. Silence (at least relative) allows the young to get to sleep without the disturbance of music or television.
Don’t neglect bedtime prayers
One other point remains: forgiveness. One grandmother always gave her grandchildren this advice: “Never go to sleep without giving each other a kiss.” Which made one of her granddaughters say, “I think Grandma spared us many sleepless nights by calling us to forgiveness.” So, we must never put our children to bed while angry with them, and vice versa.
We must not forget bedtime prayer, either It’s what leads us to forgiveness and is the perfect time for it, because it’s the moment we give ourselves up to the mercy of God at the end of the day, with repentance for our sins. It is He who enables us to forgive and to ask forgiveness. Evening prayer is also the prayer of Simeon: “Into your hands, Lord, I commend my spirit.” This prayer can be recited or, even better, sung (an easier way to memorize it, and music is conducive to calm).
Finally, let us not forget that our child’s quality of sleep depends first on our ability to commend them each evening into the hands of the Lord.