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How Bedtime Stories Prepare Children for the Real World

Updated on December 15, 2018
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Analyzing why people do the things they do and how those things affect others is one of my favorite pastimes. I enjoy finding solutions.

Teddy Bear reading at bedtime
Teddy Bear reading at bedtime

The Unexpected Benefits of Bedtime Stories

It has long been known that reading bedtime stories to your children enhances the parent/child bond. That's why once this routine has started, children usually crave the connection it brings, and therefore, request a story when bedtime rolls around. Well, that's one of the reasons. Another reason, of course, is that they want to prolong the time they are allowed to stay awake. Parents have also known for eons that the unworldly characters, far away settings, and embellished scenes heighten their child's imagination. While the plot may send some subliminal messages about the ways of the world and the characteristics of people in it, it also has the potential to encourage your child to be inquisitive, patient, kind, helpful, and funny, among other things. Additionally, aspects of the story may increase their intelligence. Likewise, the act of being read to often inspires a child's love of reading which could transform into a love of learning. All of these attributes contribute to a more well behaved and well-rounded child. Lastly, parents who read to their children, as well as the children, often sleep more soundly promoting better physical and mental health.

What the Elements of a Story Teach Children

Even though children stories often portray fantasy worlds, the structure of the story and its individual parts usually mimic real life. For example, as in life, the story has a beginning, a middle, and an end. This aspect alone may somewhat prepare or inform children that this is how life works. The story also presents good and bad, as well as, cause and effect. Children learn, for instance, that when the bad character does something bad, something bad will likely happen, and vice versa. In addition, a problem is usually presented in the story that somebody has to employ brainstorming and critical thinking skills, as well as, take some sort of action or get help to resolve the problem. In everyday life, children may observe this process, however, it's often jumbled and occurs over long periods of time. The story organizes the process and usually presents it quickly enough for the child to pick up on the general idea of how problem solving works. They see what causes a problem. They see why it's a problem; and they see what others do to resolve it. And, we thought it was just a book, right?

Baby listening to bedtime story
Baby listening to bedtime story

Patience and Curiosity Learned through Stories

When a story captures a child's interest, curiosity inevitably ensues. And, with it comes questions --- lots and lots of questions. Kids want to know everything from why a character's face is blue to when will the hero receive their reward. After you finish telling the story, they often want you start it all over again. That's where patience comes in. Yours and theirs. You learn that the story often makes you more sleepy than it does them; and, you have to have patience when you make it to the end and they ask for a repeat. They learn patience when they're anxious to find out what's going to happen next or in the end. And, they learn patience when they have to wait until the next night for their next story.

Body Language, Tone, and Facial Expressions Inspire Humor

One of the best parts of the story for kids and probably the thing that makes them feel the most connected to their parents has to be when the parent takes the role of the characters and expresses it through their movement, voice, and funny faces. The description of a character may appear to be a horrid creature but the parent has the power to make their children laugh at angry faces and loud noises. When parents demonstrate their silly side, children often find their own funny bones. All of this laughter helps both parent and child unwind from and forget about all the small stresses they encountered throughout the day. It all makes for a better night's sleep.

Boy with book
Boy with book

Children Emulate Good Qualities Found in Story Characters

When parents remind children of admirable qualities some characters possess, it motivates the kids to want to display the same things. A couple of the most common positive characteristics expressed in children's stories are kindness and helpfulness. Parents have the opportunity to use the story to help teach these lessons to their children. For example, a parent might say, "Do you remember how Bugaloo helped Stormy pick up the twigs? Well, I need your help now. Could you help me pick up your toys?" The child probably envisions Bugaloo picking up twigs and feeling good about helping Stormy. Therefore, helping out seems to be more of a fun thing to do than a burden. When parents praise a characters good behavior, it encourages their child to act the same way so they can receive praise too.

Three siblings reading kindle
Three siblings reading kindle | Source

Kids Retain More of What They Learn Shortly Before Sleep

When people sleep our brains process parts of what we experienced throughout the day. The closer an experience is to bedtime, the more of it we learn from and remember. Harvey B. Simon, M.D., editor of Harvard Health at Harvard Medical School, explains Learning/Memory Retention During Sleep. When parents invent their own bedtime stories, they have the opportunity to create the lessons most important to them for their children to learn. As a result, parent and child experience a strong REM cycle of sleep which is the cycle that best helps them retain information. This helps them both be more alert when they wake up. Sleep also helps the body heal. The next time your child asks you to read them a bedtime story, think of the benefits.


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