Children have a love of stories. Bedtime stories are just what it takes to get a resistant child willing to hop in bed and snuggle up to you. They allow for special bonding time with your children, foster family traditions, pass on values and beliefs, and promote creative development.
But can just any bedtime story do all that?
More and more people are voicing concerns over traditional fairy tales. They depict girls as dependent on men (think Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, and Cinderella) and suggest only princes get the “perfect” woman. They focus on marriage as the “end-all,” suggesting life is “happily ever after” once the wedding occurs.
Where does this leave singles? What about girls who are independent or not focused on domestic qualities while being thin and beautiful? Or boys who aren’t a “Prince Charming”?
The frustrations over traditional fairy tales leave many parents feeling bedtimes stories are no longer important or relevant.
But the truth is, storytime is important. Stories allow you to teach your children about life. They give you opportunities to instill values, morals, and empathy. You can bond with them as they connect emotionally and learn more about you, your extended family, and themselves. You can even help them understand and make sense of troubles they are experiencing.
Bedtime stories soothe children and prepare them for a good night’s rest. They help end the day positively rather than having to yell, “Get back in bed!” over and over.
For the most benefit, however, you need to tell the right stories.
Share Stories That Teach a Lesson
If you are a parent, chances are high you have learned many lessons in life.
Maybe you have learned about trusting someone or the value of being part of a team. Or you understand the importance of not giving up. Possibly you learned the importance of learning to swim after nearly drowning. Could you have been injured while riding a bike without a helmet? Or you weren’t injured because you were wearing a helmet? Perhaps there was a time you conquered your fears or chose not to do something irresponsible “because everyone else was doing it” and then saw “everyone else” reap the consequences.
The point is, we all learn lessons. When you share a learned lesson as a bedtime story, it helps your child empathize with you and understand the importance of the lesson while learning to make better decisions themselves.
Stories that Share Your Experiences
If you have experienced summer camp, this is an awesome topic ripe with stories. You can expound on friends you made, challenges and fears you overcame, the excitement of getting out of bed in the morning that only Christmas Day could rival, and the pleasure of participating in new adventures. For a child, few things compare to camp. With so many activities, possibilities, options, and lessons learned, you could come up with a new story each night for weeks on end.
Have you traveled to a special place? Experienced the majesty of mountains, waterfalls, canyons, or glaciers? If you have traveled somewhere your child hasn’t been, you can share the beauty of nature and expand their horizon through knowledge of the world.
Maybe you have been ziplined through a rain forest, parasailed over an ocean, been skydiving, or fought roaring rapids. If not, what about roller skating, skiing, diving off a high-dive, or feeding animals at the zoo? Whatever adventures you have been on, sharing them with your children allows you to take them on the adventure with you.
Successfully surviving a frightening event, such as a tornado, hurricane, fire, or (like my son) being struck by lightning, can engage emotions and critical thinking skills. How did you survive and overcome? Discuss feelings of fear followed by victory. Helping your children know difficulties happen but can have a positive outcome allows them to realize they can find victory over hardships.
Show the Differences Between “Then” and “Now”
Times have certainly changed. Remember the days before cell phones, computers, laptops, and gaming systems? Did you always carry a quarter in case you needed to use a payphone? Did you have to suffer when watching television because there were only five channels to choose from and cartoons only came on Saturday mornings?
Watch their amazement when you tell them you were free to ride your bike wherever you wanted, as long as you were home before dark. (This can lead to teachable moments about being safe and topics like stranger danger.)
Use your experiences of times long-gone to show your children about the inevitability of change. Encourage them to see how new technology and inventions can improve the way we live day-to-day. Spark their curiosity and creativity and help them realize they can grow up and become a conduit of bigger and better things.
Stories They Can Relate To
Most struggles children face are not new. A friend hurt their feelings. They were left off the invite list for a party. A fight with a sibling. A bad grade. A mean teacher.
When your children face difficulties, reach into your past. Share in their grief and offer a story of a similar situation you faced and how you handled it. Let them know their struggles are real and you understand. You’ve been there. And survived.
On the flip side, when something awesome happens for your child, share in their joy. Tell them of a time you felt such excitement. This lets them know you understand how happy they are. Of course, you can also let them know that it is much more enjoyable seeing them so happy.
Keep Stories Interesting but True
While stories of Santa Clause, the Easter Bunny, and the Tooth Fairy can be forgiven when your children learn the truth, stories about you should ring true. If you embellish, chances are your children will learn what really happened from someone else.
Don’t be one of those parents who talks about walking uphill both ways in the snow. They will figure it out someday, and this will devalue lessons learned during storytime. It will also make them wonder if they can trust you.
Do, however, make your stories interesting. Just like the movie you are anxious to watch, you want your children to look forward to storytime.
Let’s face it—if a movie bored you to tears, would you want to watch the sequel?
And don’t stretch it out. Don’t add all the unimportant details. Ever watch a long movie and thought it would have been better if it were half as long? Don’t be the movie that is too long.
You’ll know you’ve hit the mark when they ask you to repeat the same story over and over.
Practice Makes Perfect
Storytime can be intimidating. Especially when you are new at it. Just keep doing it. Watch and listen for cues as to what your children most enjoy.
When you put in the effort to spend the last moments of your child’s day with them, you will both be rewarded.
Not only will you and your child come to love the time you spend together, but it will also bring you closer and build trust, empathy, and joy.