Reading bedtime stories to your children is not just about robotically reciting lines from the same book over and over again, night after night. Rather, kids perceive this as a very special time to snuggle and connect with their parents before going to sleep. This one-on-one attention etches memories of closeness, nurturing, and feeling secure into a child’s mind that will remain throughout his or her life. Some days you may not feel like going through this ritual, but rest assured that your child counts on it as an essential part of the daily routine.
Timing is important when choosing when to read the book. For younger children, they might appreciate sitting on your lap in a rocking chair, whereas older kids may prefer to be tucked into bed before hearing the story. It’s best to be sure that teeth are brushed, potty is used, and water is drank before diving into the book. Once the tale has ended, sleepy lids can fall heavy upon little eyes.
You’ll be relieved to know that you don’t always have to read a book. Kids are famous for wanting the same exact book read to them repeatedly until Mom and Dad practically have it memorized. This is how children learn and they find repetition comforting. Mix it up every once in a while by telling your child a story from real life, or one that you’ve made up yourself. Avoid the stereotypical “Once upon a time…” type of tales and be a little more creative. You can make this exercise interactive with you children by having them give you a storyline or by having them fill in a word here and there. If you do choose to draw from real life, treat your kids to a true story about a famous ancestor or funny relative. Not only will they love the narrative, but they’ll also benefit from learning a little family history.
For beginning readers, you can have them read a book to you instead every once in a while. This is a wonderful opportunity for you to gauge your child’s reading proficiency and for your child to get some practice to boot. Start by giving your kid easy books to read and then eventually try to challenge him or her with more difficult material. Your child’s vocabulary will expand exponentially with Mom or Dad by his or her side explaining the meaning of new words. Once your child is a fluent reader in your native language, try adding books to your repertoire that are in other languages, perhaps one that you want your son or daughter to study into adulthood. Who knows, maybe you’ll also become bilingual in the process!
When you are deciding which book to read to your child, or which tale to tell, be sure it’s appropriate pre-slumber material. Many children with active imaginations, and even some without, are plagued with nightmares. Even some seemingly benign traditional fairy tales can be frightening. No kid wants to enter sleep mode with thoughts of getting lost in the dark, scary woods and being kidnapped by a witch! Most adults would rather dream of rainbows and unicorns than the stuff of these old stories. Be sensitive to your child’s thoughts and imagination and all that can be conjured up with a little frightening inspiration.
Great books to read to children are ones that have a moral to the story. Take advantage of this one-on-one time with your child to teach him or her a life lesson. The moral doesn’t have to be profound and complex, rather it can be something simple like keeping our room clean, not littering, remembering to recycle, or not fighting with our siblings. The moral might not be so evident to a child so it’s essential to point it out and discuss it with your tot. Ask your kid questions to help him or her assimilate the information.
Besides reading an actual book to your child each night, this can be a great time to touch base with each of your kids about his or her day. Ask your kids what the favorite part of their day was and what they wish had gone differently. Try to decipher if something may be bothering your child and try to formulate some solutions to the problem if there is one. Take this precious time to teach your children about being compassionate and the importance of trying to do and be their best every day. Yet remind them that they don’t have to be perfect. A little bedtime pep talk the night before can make for an enthusiastic morning.
Besides the pep talk, let your kids know how much you love them before they get some shut-eye. Tell them all the things you adore about them. Build them up. Fill their minds up with lovely thoughts about how precious they are to their parents and how exciting life can be. Mold them into positive people who are charming and pleasant to be around. Put a smile on their face before they drift off to slumberland.
If you’re struggling to figure out which books to read, some great bedtime stories for younger kids are Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown, Oh The Places You’ll Go or anything else by Dr. Seuss, anything from the Berenstain Bears or Peter Rabbit series by Stan and Jan Berenstain and Beatrix Potter respectively. Curious George books by H.A. Rey are a wonderful choice as are most Disney books (not the scary ones!). For older kids, the Little House On The Prairie books by Laura Ingalls Wilder, the Nancy Drew series by Carolyn Keene, or the Hardy Boys books by Franklin W. Dixon are all great choices.
The importance of bedtime stories can be measured by the joy they bring to your children. Sweet moments of snuggling, bonding, talking, laughing, and loving with your kids are invaluable. Don’t take this time for granted because your children certainly don’t. Give your kids a happy ending to each and every day!