Thursday, 5 December 2019

Bedtime reading


I felt very privileged to give training for the Children’s Sleep Charity recently. We explored the links between wellbeing, reading and bedtime stories and shared ideas for making reading a positive part of the bedtime routine and using books to promote relaxation and a good night’s sleep. The children and families the charity supports face huge issues as a result of the impact of lack of sleep. Preparing and delivering the training highlighted for me the amazing benefits that bedtime reading offers, and not just for families coping with sleeplessness.

So why is it valuable? Bedtime reading confers consistency, stability, reassurance, comfort. It strengthens family bonds. Books and reading aid children (and parents and carers) to unwind. Through bedtime reading children associate books and reading with calm, security, sleepiness. They develop positive feelings about reading, feelings that translate into wanting to read for themselves, before sleep and at other times, so bestowing all the advantages in terms of wellbeing and attainment that we know reading for pleasure affords. Books and reading can provide emotional support, reduce anxiety, develop self-esteem, build resilience, help children realise they are not alone and enhance empathy. Bedtime reading equips children to deal with emotional problems and provides a safe environment for discussing difficult things in their lives.

Yet it is happening less and less. I know how hard it is to fit it into busy lives, but even five or ten minutes is very special and beneficial. Many years ago a father sheepishly asked if I thought it was alright that his only opportunity to read with his daughter was when she was in the bath. I said then, and I think it still, that it was great that she and he had this lovely time together. But if bedtime reading happens, as it usually does, in the bedroom, it’s worth thinking about creating a cosy atmosphere: curtains down or blinds drawn, lights dimmed, soft toys to cuddle up to, a book or books chosen by the child or children. Not homework books – bedtime isn’t the time for homework reading. And printed books rather than electronic ones, as they’re more calming and better for sharing. With these things in place bedtime reading is the perfect way to end the day.

This is J.K. Rowling: “I will defend the importance of bedtime stories to my last gasp.” Me too.