Order our lives so that we make room for the largeness of our love.
Over the years, many parents have asked for advice concerning the various challenges that arise when caring for their little ones. While there are a few quick tricks that I can offer, like swaddling a restless infant, for example. In general, a holistic approach requires much broader, long-term remedies. Whether the difficulty surrounds sleeping, eating or discipline, chances are that a simple and consistent daily rhythm will alleviate the problem and allow the family to function happily.
One of the tasks of the growing child and one of the functions of parenting is to bring the child into rhythm. It seems as though the life of a newborn lacks rhythm completely. Feeding and sleeping occur on demand at irregular intervals, even the baby's breathing is erratic. The first hours, days and weeks of my son's life seemed timeless and otherworldly to me. Like most new parents, I was enamored, emotional and exhausted. Gradually a rhythm began to develop and it brought peace and purpose, calm and contentment.
An ordered, predictable daily structure provides the young child with a sense of security and a sense that life has real form. Knowing what's next enables him to go with the flow with greater ease. It is a great comfort for a child to know what to expect and what is expected of him. Strong daily rhythms and repetition reduce unnecessary decisions and allow us to be more present in the moment for our children and ourselves. Our family rhythms needn't be mundane. They can be loving, nurturing, balancing, interesting, joyful, beautiful, and fun. They nurture our sense of life.
Discipline issues are greatly reduced when we've established strong rhythms. Activities are taken as a matter of fact and become habits. Regularity is the key to creating good habits. If a child has washed his own dish after eating each day since he could reach the sink, what aggravation we are saving him as an adult! He shall be liberated from woeful glances at a sink overflowing with crusty dishes. As your children get older, they will transform the outer structure that you have helped establish into inner self-discipline.
How do we create rhythms and rituals with our children? We begin by forming our lives around the essentials, nourishment and rest, with plenty of outdoor play in between. Consistent bedtime and meals reduce tension and confrontations at what can be the most challenging times of the day. These sacred times can be held by ritual, a blessing before meals or a lullaby at bedtime. Regular meal times, naps and bed times help to start orientate the child to the passing of time. Establishing these external rhythms allow internal rhythms to develop. When dinner time and bedtime are consistent, a child becomes hungry at dinner time and sleepy at bedtime.
Young children need at least 10 hours of sleep at night. And, pediatricians recommend a total of 12-15 hours of sleep each day. Bedtime routines can revolve around hygiene and bonding. At our house, we ease into the evening by lowering the lights immediately after dinner and preparing a warm, lavender bath. The radio and television are quiet. Our voices are lowered. After bath time, we have some cozy play time in the dimly lit bedroom. The room has been warmed with a space heater, so we take our time dressing, allowing the children to learn to put on their own pajamas. This gentle pace sets the tone for the evening. Young children find comfort at bedtime when we do the same preparations in the same way at the same time every night. One simple story from a book, or better yet an oral tale, can be told again and again for weeks. This allows the child's mind to calm and relax into sleep. When we watch television or read many books before bed, the mind becomes filled with images and it is difficult relax . On the other hand, the quite presence of loving parents can bring a sense of peace to a child as he prepares to slumber.
Let your day breathe life, balancing in-breaths like painting, quiet play, bathing, and sleep with active out-breaths (outdoor play, exploring, singing, going to the market, visiting friends, etc). There are times for drawing our children into our embrace, and other times to release them unto themselves and their world.
Your daily life is your temple and your religion....
Our Daily Rhythm
Indoor Play... greeting, playing, singing, domestic and artistic activities, tidying, cooking, table setting
Snack... hand washing, blessing, passing, pouring, eating, dish washing
Outdoor Play... dressing, climbing, running, jumping, digging, dancing, singing, exploring
Lunch... hand and face washing, table setting, blessing, eating, thanking, dish washing, clearing, sweeping
Nap... tooth brushing, tucking in, story telling, lullabies, listening, resting, waking, snuggling, hair brushing
Snack... hand washing, farewell to Miss Jaimmie and family, story and snack with Mister Jeremy
Outdoor Play... enjoying each other and the outdoors until families reunite for the evening
Sources: Seven Times the Sun, Shea Darian
You are Your Child's First Teacher, Rahima Baldwin Dancy
Beyond the Rainbow Bridge, Barbara J. Patterson and Pamela Bradley