Once upon a time, there was a parent who had a child. For one reason or another, this parent didn’t read to their child. Why? We’re not sure. Perhaps that’s a different story – one that involves excuses like “being too tired” or wanting to binge-watch Friends for the eleventh time because they’re deeply unsatisfied with their lives in a fundamental way that they can’t fully articulate yet. (It’s okay; we’ve all been there!)
But the story we’re trying to tell you isn’t about the parent – it’s about the child.
Rather, how not reading to the child (who is somewhere between the age of, let’s say, one and six) will adversely affect them by stunting their growth as human beings, forcing them to grow up to be infinitely more dull, boring, and unimaginative than they could have been.
Whoops. Spoiler alert.
Forget it. Obviously, the story wasn’t all that great anyway.
What we were really trying to do there is come up with a clever intro for the list of “reasons why having storytime before bed is essential for your own child’s personal and mental development” that we’re about to present to you.
D’oh! There we go giving away the ending again. (Want more info? Check out Sleep Advisor.)
Anyway, here it is: the importance of reading bedtime stories to your kids.
It helps your child’s language development (and more)
Farfetched though it may sound, taking time out before the little one’s lids are shut for the night to tell them tall tales (that are hopefully short) is a good way to start building their vocabularies.
Picture books are all well and good, depending on your child’s age, but oftentimes these tykes like to be caught up in complex, multi-chapter stories that make them learn and absorb the many uses of words while expanding their fertile senses of imagination.
Reading through epic (and family friendly) novels like Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter or whatever is the most easily accessible thing to you because you don’t really read books yourself and would rather rely on the majority’s tastes to determine what your child puts into their precious minds will help them learn old and antiquated words no one uses anymore. That’s the best part.
Using their imaginations is also key so they can begin to make visual associations and think about what they’re trying to visualize in their minds.
It’ll help you out with that, too, if you’re feeling rusty.
It Enhances Empathy
Do you want your child to grow up to be a sociopath?
Er…wait. Don’t answer that. It was supposed to be a rhetorical question, anyway.
Reading bedtime stories to your little bundle of joy helps them develop this little thing humans have called “empathy.” You may have heard of it. If you haven’t, that’s what helps us sense and try to feel what another living being is going through.
“Reading fiction provides an excellent training for young people in developing and practising empathy and theory of mind, that is, understanding of how other people feel and think,” says Maria Nikolajeva, professor of education at Cambridge University, in her study relating to the topic.
Hearing stories about characters that truly engage your child builds that invisible muscle that manages empathy, and figuring out what and who they respond to can be part of the fun on your end. Plus, hearing about how these characters think and feel will help teach your child how to communicate their feelings and emotions more effectively. If you choose stories that will help your child see the world through many different eyes, and it will pay off in the long run.
It strengthens your familial bond.
Spending quality time with your child doesn’t have to be hard, complicated, or spent in front of a screen of some sort.
No, taking time out to enter a whole other world with your child will help the both of you follow the narrative pathways that the characters you’re reading about are on, learning and growing together as you do.
This will create lifelong memories neither of you are likely to forget, since you are technically both taking a time-out from the world as a family. The more you set aside time to do this, the closer you two will become.
Maybe one day you’ll eventually start reading Dostoevsky together. Fourth grade, perhaps?
That about does it, folks. In case you haven’t realized what the moral of the story here is – it’s that we want you to read to your kids more often at night! Do you think that’s something you can handle, or would you rather be a neglectful and hands-off parent who raises a boring child without a scrap of creativity?
Wait! Don’t answer that question honestly, either. Just nod your head, say yes, and agree to bedtime stories for your child from here on out. Deal?
Sarah Cummings is a freelance writer who writes for Sleep Advisor.org.