Children’s author Karen Wallace reveals how a good bedtime story can do so much more than just help your child fall asleep…
However much we want to shelter our children, we cannot prevent them from encountering difficult situations as they grow up. As they now approach the return to school, or starting it for the first time, it is only natural that anxieties will arise.
Facing up to a bully or overcoming shyness and reaching out to a new friend is the way children develop self-confidence and learn how to stand on their own two feet. But it is hugely intimidating when it is something you have never had to deal with before. Factor in childhood being more complicated than it used to be: adult stress filters through to our children, who feel compelled to look right, own the right things, have the right friends. Childhood can be an unsettling and difficult time.
Often it is hard to get to the root of how a child feels. It can be hard for children to communicate how they are feeling especially when anxious. This is where bedtime stories can be helpful. The right stories can acknowledge that problems such as shyness, fear or insecurity happen to other children who are just like them. They can provide comfort to a child undergoing difficulties: confirming that he or she is not alone. Good stories can also provide practical advice for handling the variety of situations that your child may encounter in his own life or the lives of his friends. Acting as an avenue into a discussion with your child, where they can be free to ask questions without the fear of adding to their parent’s stress or feeling like they are doing something wrong.
Children do not necessarily accept the story that is being read in the same way as they might do the pictures flashing on a television screen – completely and unquestioningly. Instead, they question everything: Why did he do that …? What would happen if …? They retain control as they manipulates the plot as their imagination dictates, and enter and leave the story world at will. Their ability to make a story their own means that it is an ideal tool to help them to resolve their conflicts to their own satisfaction.
A child’s imagination also provides a safe space in which they can learn about the different ways we relate to each other, as well as the difficult situations that they may well have to face in real life. Meeting them in a story told by a parent provides him or her with an opportunity to explore painful emotions, before having to deal with anything similar in the real world.
The frantic pace of today’s real world means that parents often feel guilty that they don’t spend enough time with their child. But a parent’s loving attention is the most important thing in the world to them. Settling down to a bedtime story together is a wonderful way of providing your child with your complete, focused attention. It also gives your child an opportunity to raise any related concerns about his or her own life – or perhaps remind them to share a recent discovery or triumph with you. The more interest you show in the kind of person that your child is becoming, the more you listen to their fears, hopes and wishes, the happier and more confident they will be and hopefully the less anxious they will become.
Sometimes we may not feel like reading, especially after a hard day at work, but perhaps we will be a little more encouraged when we realise what an important, safe space, the imaginary world of a bedtime story provides. Yes, we may be tired, but all it takes is a little enthusiasm and our own acknowledgement that ten minutes out of our day may just help our child to be happy and confident.
Karen Wallace has written more than 90 books for children and was nominated for the Guardian’s Children’s Fiction Prize.
Angels At Bedtime by Karen Wallace et al., published by Watkins, (RRP £12.99) is part of a series of beautifully illustrated bedtime storybooks; each a collection of exciting tales written specifically for children aged 4 to 8. Set in either a modern day environment (such as a family holiday or a school playground) or in the fairy tale world of princesses and giants, eachtale is a parable of difficulty overcome. Affirmations at the end of each story draws out its essential messages – perhaps that bullies are bullies because they are frightened of something, or that people will respect you if you own up to your mistakes. Each story, with the option of teaching a child how to meditate, should leave your child with a sense of calm and help equip them for the variety of very real difficulties they may encounter in life.