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Bedtime Rituals for Big Kids

2. Read me a story

Turn the tables by having your child read to you once he's old enough to do so with ease, says Ellen Booth Church, an educational consultant and author of The Great Big Book of Classroom Songs, Rhymes, and Cheers (Scholastic). Take turns: He reads one paragraph, you the next, and so on. Not only is it a nice way to build reading skills, but sharing a book encourages snuggling, so you'll have some up-close-and-personal contact.

3. Match wits

Challenge your child to a round of chess, checkers, or another pursuit that involves concentration  -- especially if she's the kind who needs help settling down after dark. "My seven-year-old, Sadie, would get all riled up dancing to the Backstreet Boys before bed, so I started a nightly routine of fifteen minutes of chess with her," says Ellen Thomas, a mom of two in Bridgehampton, New York. "At first, she complained about having to sit still, but now she (and I!) really look forward to picking up where we left off the night before and losing ourselves in the strategy session. And it gets my daughter into this totally calm, focused zone that makes it easy to segue to sleep time."

4. Play "Read my fingertips"

Create a cozy ritual by tracing messages on your child's back before bed, says Ellen van Wees, author of 51 Best Ways to Amuse Kids (Perigee). Write, letter by letter, with your fingertip, and encourage him to guess what you're saying. With older kids, you can spell out words or sentences ("Sweet dreams"; "Time for you to shut your eyes"; "You make me proud"; and so on) or draw pictures. All this touching has the same relaxing effect as a back massage.

5. Start a saga

To build bedtime anticipation, invent an epic tale and invite one child or the whole family to join in. Begin with an intriguing opening line (anything from "It was a dark and stormy night..." to "Once upon a time, there was a teeny-tiny mouse who strayed too far from home...") and take turns adding a sentence to the tale, continuing on for the next few nights. For extra fun, tape-record the results and play them back the night after the story is completed. Hint: Many kids love doing this in a somewhat autobiographical style. Start with: "Once upon a time, a little baby named (your child's name here) was born..."

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