With fanfare and a flourish, lay a small blanket over the bed, then tuck it in just so. You can use one of your child's baby blankets or his favorite small quilt. Pronounce: "We're on the magic carpet! Where are we going tonight?" If your child doesn't have any ideas, suggest a visit to Aunt Betty or a trip to Arizona. Some nights you may venture further—China, India, Italy, the North Pole! Talk about what you might see, smell, taste, and do wherever you "go" each night.
In riding the magic carpet you can present a larger world to a child, talk about the weather, the vegetation, the art, the culture, and the activities found in the area your child chooses. If he decides to take a magic carpet ride to visit a relative, you have a chance to let him know what is special about that relative and in that way keep distant relatives close.
Ask your child to share two or three things she is thankful for today. If she's uncertain of what to say, parents may want to start: I'm thankful for the extra time your teacher spent with you and for your help clearing the table." Younger children might be thankful for the dog, a visit from Grandma, or two turns on the slide, but as children get older their comments will be more sophisticated. "Things to be thankful for" fosters gratitude and appreciation in children.
Sing a Little Tune
Create a family song to a familiar tune that includes your child's name or family members near and far to sing at bedtime. Here's a start to the tune of "Mary Had a Little Lamb:"
Kelley has a little bear, little bear, little bear,
Kelley has a little bear,
With fur as brown as dirt.
She carries Spark to bed each night, bed each night, bed each night.
She carries Spark to bed each night,
That's not against the rules.
Hugs and Kisses
At the end of the day, top off your rituals with a bear hug and a designer kiss. Two pecks on the forehead, one on the nose, and one on the cheek, for example, underscores how special your child is to you.
Think of bedtime exchanges as warm deposits in your child's memory bank. Any one of these rituals starts a tradition your child will undoubtedly pass along to his or her children, and helps you and your child stay connected throughout your lives.