Dad, do you tuck your kids into bed at night? If you don’t, you might be missing one of the great joys and opportunities of fatherhood.

Here’s what a first grader wrote about her dad in one of our essay contests:

At night before bed we talk about our day and if I am sad or scared he always makes me feel good before going to sleep because he reminds me of the good things that happened.

As fathers, we can have a profound effect on our kids’ state of mind in those final moments of the day. Our children are looking to us for strength, stability and security as they drift off to sleep.

Bedtime can be one of the best, most pure moments of fathering, or it can be a tense, emotional struggle.

It’s a time when everything your kids forgot to say or do suddenly comes to their minds, and they’ll do whatever they can to stretch out the minutes so they can stay up later. Maybe some days end with hurried baths and a battle about a homework assignment or some issue from earlier, and instead of “I love yous” and comfort, everyone goes to bed tense or frustrated.

Here are a few ideas to help you to be a more engaged, more successful “bedtime dad.” Every family’s schedule and routine are different, so maybe not all of these will work for you, but apply what you can—or come up with your own adjustments to make your kids’ bedtime more positive.

Whenever possible, be there at bedtime.

This might be obvious, but it’s worth mentioning. It should be a priority to spend those minutes with your children. Figure out a way to be there. Try to view it as a great opportunity, not a dreaded obligation. You can bring great security to your children and have some priceless bonding moments.

Spend up to fifteen minutes of focused time with each child.

If you have three or more children, fifteen minutes might be more than you can spare, but each child will thrive on that one-on-one time with you. And you get to answer questions, find out what they learned and did today, and catch up on all the details that seem to get lost in the busyness of life.

At bedtime, your kids may be the most receptive to you, even if their only motivation is staying up for a few more minutes. For young children especially, it can be one of the most unguarded times of the day. They might bring up funny things that happened or even something painful—something you might never be aware of unless you’re there for regular bedtime conversations. As a dad, you can help them gain a healthy perspective on the positives and negatives, and then set a positive tone for whatever tomorrow will bring.

So get rid of all distractions so you can concentrate on them. Listen, laugh, read, tickle, and talk. That kind of activity might keep them up a little longer, but it’s far better than letting their last thoughts or feelings of the day be fearful or insecure.

Remember that children have preferences.

They may want a specific, elaborate routine every night, or they may go through a phase where they only want Mom to tuck them in. Try to be patient and understanding, and remember that your presence is still essential. Be involved in any way you can.

Be careful not to use this time for correction.

Try to reserve this as a time to affirm and encourage, to make sure sins are forgiven and friction has been soothed. Save disagreements or other tense discussions for other times.

Give a blessing.

Speak words of affirmation and encouragement, so you’re punctuating the end of the day by building them up and letting them know how loved they are. For many, bedtime prayers are part of this routine—and prayers can be another way to speak blessings over your children. These are words that all children desperately need to hear.

Nicholas, another first grader, wrote this about his dad:

He gets home late but I still feel his big strong hands put the sign of the cross on my forehead saying, “God bless.” Then he leans to my ear and whispers, “Sleep with angels, son. Daddy loves you.”

We all make our own daily decisions and set our priorities, but can you think of a better investment of time than to be there during your children’s most teachable moments?

And every child—even teenagers—should get a goodnight kiss on the forehead.

What’s one change you’d like to make in your kids’ bedtime routine? Contribute your ideas and get tips from other dads on our Facebook page.

Action Points & Questions for Reflection and Discussion

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