Telling bedtime stories is an incredibly old tradition. Since the dawn of humanity, people have been telling stories. In ancient cultures, the art of storytelling was the only way that older generations could pass on their knowledge to the young ones. They did not have history books or documentaries that they could read or watch to find out where they came from. Literally, the only way for a new generation to learn about their history was through the art of storytelling. Or, as the learned people call it, by oral tradition. Oral tradition is the art of transmitting knowledge through storytelling, chanting, folk song and so on. It excludes all fomrs of writing.
Luckily for us, we don’t have to sit around smoky fires in dark caves, with ravenous beasts lurking in the shadows, and listen to a bunch of old people chant about where we came from if we want to know something about our history. If we want to know, we simply ask Google, Siri, Cortana, Alice or if we are old school, we consult a textbook. But isn’t there still something magical about good storytelling? Have you ever listened to a master storyteller ply his or her trade? I, for one, can be quite easily enthralled by a good storyteller. Now imagine you have the privilege of listening to someone telling bedtime stories with skill and passion. Don’t you think you would be able to fall asleep to something like that? I know I would.
Are Bedtime Stories a Thing of the Past?
When I was still a little boy, I loved to listen to my father as he told us bedtime stories. It was one of the things I looked forward to every day. And to be honest, I think that the younger generation is slowly but surely letting this age-old tradition die a slow death. What with tablets and TVs, parents have become complacent. They let the telly tell and show their children bedtime stories, instead of taking the time to do it themselves. Instead of forging a bond with their child, modern parents raise their children on technology.
Now you might wonder why substituting parent-child contact time is such a bad thing? There are myriads of reasons, but for now, I’ll only focus on one or two. The first and obvious reason is that children need attention from their parents. Why? Because from an early age people need to feel like they belong somewhere. And believe it or not, if you stick your kid in front of the TV every night, they form an attachment with the TV and not with you. Do you know what this leads to? Some of you guessed it – Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).
Sidenote – What does the TV have to do with ADHD?
Television shows are not made to reflect realtime. Some concepts, like falling in love and getting married, takes months to years in real life. But when you see it on TV, it takes half an hour to two hours. And in between the falling in love, all sorts of other things take place as well. When the TV show bounces around between scenes all the time, your child starts accepting that as the norm. And then when you put him/her in school and force him/her to sit still and concentrate for 40 minutes at a time they just can’t cope. Moreover, then you put the child on medication to help him focus, but come bedtime, in front of the telly they go.
So instead of sticking a screen in front of their developing eyes around bedtime, tell them a bedtime story.
Back to the Dying Art of Bedtime Stories
Where were we..? Oh yes! Why you shouldn’t let an iPad or laptop do your bedtime story routine for you. The second reason why this is such a bad idea is because the screen time right before bed is quite detrimental to your child’s quality of sleep. By now most of you should have heard about the adverse effects of blue light right before bedtime. But if you haven’t, do not stress because I am about to tell you about it!
Our bodies were built to be awake when the sun is out and be asleep when it is nighttime. One of the natural ways in which our bodies synchronize to the light-dark cycle is through filtering the type of light that falls on our eyes. When our brains perceive blue light, it tells us to be awake and alert. Maybe because the sky is blue? Anyhow, TV screens, PC monitors, laptops, tablets and smartphones all emit blue light from their LED screens. So unless you put a blue light filter on your device, watching a bedtime story has the exact opposite effect of what you really want. Instead of making you or your child sleepy, it will make them more alert. And then you wonder why your child doesn’t sleep after lights out…
Bring Back the Bedtime Story
So now that you have a general idea why you shouldn’t neglect telling or reading your child bedtime stories, let’s get you equipped to bring back the bedtime story.
First of all, we need to ask ourselves what kinds of bedtime stories are appropriate for our child. The story has to have the right content for your child. A lot of traditional stories are not really ideal to be told as bedtime stories. All of the gory ones with dragons and creatures of the dark are great to read or hear, but the fact of the matter is that these stories give children nightmares.
One of my all-time favourite stories is “Die Drakejagter van Koewein”. I could not find an English translation of this book, but it translates to something like The Dragon Hunter of Koewein. It is about, you guessed it, a guy that hunts dragons. The book was marvellously illustrated and I loved to browse through the pages as my parents recited it to me at bedtime. However, I cannot recall the number of times that I woke up in the middle of the night after dreaming about the little dragon-men in that story. So even though I formed a great bond with my parents, the content of the story robbed both them and me of precious sleep. We need to take that into account when we read our children bedtime stories.
The Best Bedtime Stories
Okay, we have established that children need to hear bedtime stories from their parents and not from the TV. We have also illustrated that kids do not need to hear about orcs and goblins right before bed. It sounds like I am very narrow minded in my approach to bedtime stories, doesn’t it? But the fact of the matter is that we need to be extremely cautious of what we put into our children’s heads. They form their moral perception of the world around the toddler phase, which is most likely the phase where they get to hear a bedtime story every night. Thus we need to sensor what they hear and make sure that what we read or tell them builds on strong moral ideals.
Dragons and such are great because it is fantasy, but it brings on the bad dreams. So instead of dragons or TV, what can we read to our kids before bedtime? We are getting there, I promise!
Carl-Johan Forssén Ehrlin, a Swedish psychologist and author has a couple of great tips when it comes to telling bedtime stories. He believes that the manner in which you tell the story is almost more important than the story itself. Can you believe that? Moreover, with each of the bedtime stories that Ehrlin published came a set if strict reading instructions. It’s not every that you see that now is it? Carl-Johan argues that speaking to the child’s subconscious as you read to him/her is an important aspect when it comes to storytelling. H claims that speaking to the subconscious mind is what will eventually make the child drift off to Dreamland. Thus the way in which you narrate has to make the child feel sleepy.
How do you do that? Easy as pie! You read slowly with deliberate pauses every now and then. Forssén Ehrlin takes it a step further and instructs his readers to throw in a yawn every now and then. The effect is quote telling, because soon after the narrator starts to yawn, the little ones will catch on and do the same. Thus you trick them into thinking that it is time to sleep, because when you yawn you need to rest, right?
Types of Bedtime Stories
According to our Swedish psychologist, bedtime stories have to relate to all things sleep! He suggests that instead of reading a traditional story before bed, you read a story about someone that is preparing for bed. So ladies and gentlemen, without further ado, in no particular order, the best bedtime stories:
The Rabbit Who Wants to Fall Asleep
By our very own Carl-Johan Forssén Ehrlin, this little bedtime story is a charming one. As you can deduct from the name of this book, the story revolves around a rabbit’s journey to Dreamland. In the book the rabbit encounters all sorts of characters that share their wisdom about sleep. In the end, the rabbit makes his way to bed and goes to sleep. This is one of the books that comes with reading instructions. So be warned, if you purchase this one you better be ready to yawn your child to sleep! But in all honesty, it is well worth the effort.
Goodnight, Goodnight; Construction Site
Authored by Sheri Duskey Rinker, this little bedtime story tells the tale of a construction site getting ready for bed. No, it is not about the construction workers on site. It is about the vehicles on the construction site, preparing to get some well deserved zzz’s after their long day of labouring away in the sun. Go ahead and give it a read. Your child will probably love falling asleep to this one!
Margaret Wise Brown authored three bedtime stories. Goodnight Moon is the second one in the series, and it is a perfect example of what a bedtime story should be. The narrator follows a bunny as he says goodnight to everything in his room in rhythmic fashion. Slow rhyming different ways to say goodnight to a toddler will definitely help them to doze off. You can also check out the other two books in the series – The Runaway Bunny and My World.
The Going to Bed Book
In this colourful, rhythmic bedtime story, author Sandra Boynton tells how a bunch of animals prepare for bed. After watching the sun set, the animals go about all of their nightly rituals to prepare for bed. This is a great book to teach your children about proper sleep hygiene because the author makes brushing your teeth before bed look like fun.
The Very Hungry Caterlippar
An interactive nighttime story about a caterpillar eating his way through the week, before spinning a cocoon and going to sleep in it. Author, Eric Carle put together a masterpiece of a bedtime story with this book. Through the pages of the book, children can open and close various flaps to see the holes that the caterpillar ate through the pages. The book also teaches a child the days of the week in a fun manner! Double whammy! You can read a bedtime story to your infant and teach him/her something at the same time.