Bedtime stories for toddlers: Why are they so important?

Bedtime stories are a cherished part of our childhood memories.  But these days we’re so busy that many of our own children don’t have this special experience.  Less than half of today’s children go to bed having been read a bedtime story: fifty-two percent of parents just turn off the light and leave the room, with TV often being the child’s last activity of the day.

Childhood experts believe bedtime stories are vitally important for these reasons:

1) Learning

Studies have repeatedly shown how encouraging early reading leads to improved language and literacy, which  leads to academic success and social/emotional wellbeing through to adulthood and beyond.  It’s never too early to start – the Bookstart scheme has shown that parents who introduce their babies to books give them a head start over their peers throughout primary school.  Apart from helping their reading, sharing a bedtime story with your child improves their motor skills, through learning to turn the pages, and their memory.  It also enhances their emotional and social development.

2) Routine

Babies and toddlers thrive on routine, and the bedtime routine is no exception.  Child psychologist Dr Tanya Byron says “Reading a bedtime story is a great way of helping a child get a decent night’s sleep, as it ensures their mind has settled down.  The closeness to a parent and the rhythmic sound of a bedtime story being read act as the child’s sleep cues”.  Studies have found that often, baby and toddler sleep problems are  caused by inconsistent and ineffective bedtime routines.

3) Physical contact

Nothing beats a cuddle with the person you love most in the world.  The bedtime story helps you make sure your child gets their snuggle quota, especially if you are unable to be physically close at other times of the day because you’re working or caring for your other children.

4) Bonding

Often after reading a story, young children may talk about things that have been worrying them, as they are now relaxed and feel in a safe environment.  You can encourage this by asking your toddler how the characters in the story might be feeling, and relating those feelings to your child’s own experience.  Or you can use stories to explore challenges your child is facing, e.g. the arrival of a new baby, the start at nursery, a series of hospital appointments.

Don’t forget, it’s not just your toddler who benefits from bedtime stories.  For many parents, the knowledge that however hard their day has been, there will be a period of close, quiet, shared attention and emotion, makes the bedtime story the most magical time of day.

So have a browse through your children’s bookcase and reap the many benefits of the bedtime story!

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My toddler wakes up too early: how to train her to stay in bed longer

If your toddler wakes very early every morning it’s really hard on you as the parent.

The big problem here is that toddlers are too young to read clocks, so they can’t tell that it’s too early to get up.  Fortunately, there are some techniques you can try even before your toddler is old enough to tell the time:

1. Get blackout curtains. It can be hard to convince a child it’s still night if the sun is shining outside, so stretch out the night time a little longer by creating your own darkness.

2. If child is waking up because she’s thirsty or needs the toilet, give her a drink or a trip to the bathroom then encourage her back to bed by explaining it’s still night-time.

3. Set up a nightlight and a timer so that the nightlight comes on at 6am (or whatever time you choose). Then explain to your toddler that they should play or read books until the light comes on.

4. Get a Gro Clock – an alarm clock specially designed for toddler sleep training. The clock displays stars to show it’s night time and then you set it so that a sun is displayed when it’s time to get up.

5. For older toddlers with a digital alarm clock, cover all the digits except the first one with a piece of paper and explain that wake-up time is when they see the ‘6’ (or whatever time you choose!)

If the child won’t sleep, encourage her to play or read quietly in her room until it’s ‘wake-up time’.  There’s a good chance that, once your child has had a little of the sleep training above, that she will start to sleep until later.

For more tips on getting your child to sleep until later, take a look at how to stop your toddler from waking up too early.