Even families who are not at all religiously inclined will often have a bedtime ritual. Here are a few ideas for a Jewish version:
•Once pajamas are on, teeth brushed, clothes for the next day laid out and stories read, we say Sh'ma (the first two lines and the v'ahavta paragraph) outloud to our children. Some families also add the traditional prayer invoking the presence of the angels surrounding the sleeping child and Shechinat El, God's holy presence, at the head of the bed. Debbie Friedman has a melody to this prayer which can be found in this section as Lullaby/The Angels' Blessing.
•After saying the Sh'ma, we tell each of our children, "Ema and Abba and your other siblings (by name) love _________ so much." My husband concludes by asking each child to appreciate something about him or herself and he then appreciates something about them.
•Many parents add a lullaby in Hebrew, Yiddish, or Ladino. A few possibilities: Lailah, Lailah; Duerme, Duerme; Rozinkes Mit Mandlen ("Raisins and Almonds"); Numi, Numi; Oif'N Pripitchik. There are several music collections of Jewish lullabies: Jewish Lullabies and Lullabies and Love Songs by Tanja Solnik are both excellent.
•One family, described in Yosef Abramowitz and Susan Silverman's excellent book, Jewish Family and Life, describes the following bathtime/bedtime ritual. After getting out of the bath, drying off and putting on pajamas, the parents bless their children: "Thank You, God, for a clean, fresh body and this time to rest." This blessing helps focus the children on transitioning from the day to the night.
•Meg Cox in her wonderful book, The Heart of a Family, describes a bedtime ritual created by Lucinda Herring called, "Grateful and Grumbles": "The idea was to tell the grumbles first so we could shed them before going to sleep. We would end with what we were thankful for in our day, so we could take the grateful with us to sleep. If the grumble was something too big to really let go of, then we asked to receive guidance help with the problem while we slept" (215). Whatever form this ritual takes in your house, it is clear that bedtime is a unique time for talking – children often open up and say things that are rarely said by the light of the day.
•I have always enjoyed staying with my children until they fall asleep and escorting them, as it were, from the world of waking to the world of dreams. This can definitely be time-consuming and is frowned upon in many child-rearing books, but I believe it gives my children a sense of security – they know that we will parent them through the night, as we have through the day.