Sharing is Caring

Why a book at bedtime can be the most important part of the day

“A book at bedtime is the moment of calm after a frantic day.”

The world over, people fill time on their commute by burying their nose in a book – or for those stuck in traffic jams, audiobooks make the best companions. It is a moment of calm before the madness of the day, a way to shut off the world around you (and frankly, much that is witnessed on commutes merits being shut off, from the ‘had a big night last night and I’m unbelievably hungover’ queasy face to the ‘in a rush this morning and didn’t have time to shower’ suspicious odour).

We use books to escape and to distract, and more and more adults are downloading apps that have bedtime stories meant for them. In a world where it is well nigh impossible to switch our minds off, we return to the safety our childhood offered: a book before bedtime is the perfect way to go off to sleep.

For children, it is all about this escape and safety – and yet it is so much more.

“For the anxious, going to sleep is sometimes impossibly difficult: who will be there in the morning, and what will the world look like?”

A book at bedtime is the moment of calm after a frantic day. Imagine being five years old again and being introduced to the world: everything is new and full of possibility. Their little brains are saturated with information. A story is a distraction from all of that – it offers a sanctuary from any anxieties the day has brought and instead fills their mind with beautiful images and possibilities.

A book at bedtime is a moment to be shared with the grown ups in their lives. It is a time of reassurance and warm cuddles. For the anxious, going to sleep is sometimes impossibly difficult: who will be there in the morning, and what will the world look like? There is an importance in reminding children that you will still be there the next day, and the routine of a shared bedtime story offers that reassurance.

A book at bedtime is a moment to face up to the challenges of life. Stories are a way to talk about something that is happening without having to talk about ourselves; instead, we have made up characters and worlds that run in parallel to our problems or fears. The choosing of a particular book can speak volumes, whether carefully selected by an adult or specifically pulled off the shelf by a child. If they pick a particular story it is perhaps their way of saying, ‘This is what I need to hear right now.’ Pay attention, take not, and learn from their choices.

And psychologists go even further. Collette Smart has stated that, “We know now, because we have brain imaging studies, there’s a difference in the reading and cognitive skills of kids whose parents sit with them and read. The difference has nothing to do with things like family background, their home environment or socioeconomic status, but how frequently an adult sits and reads with the child.”

“…it is perhaps their way of saying, ‘This is what I need to hear right now.'”

According to Smart, bedtime stories are key in improving the brain function of children. They improve visual processing and imagination, a huge advantage when they come to read books without pictures and need to conjure them up themselves. And they develop the language skills, because adults are introducing new words that don’t usually come up in their conversation. By the time a child is 12, they should have access to a memory bank of around 50,000 words – but consider that the average woman uses only around 2000 different words a day. Where are they going to make up that shortfall? Books. And lots of them.

Perhaps especially when you are rushed and ‘don’t have time’ and are busy being distracted by the problems of the Grown Up World, perhaps especially on these days you need to push that aside and share a book at bedtime. Reassure, share, make the world safe for them. So much can be changed in a matter of minutes, both for you and for them. 

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