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The Best Bedtime Ritual

By Fransie Frandsen, author of the book Are Mummies Scared of Monsters?

Snuggling up together with a book at bedtime is not only fun and bonding, but paves the way for becoming emotionally intelligent adults.

Reading with children at any time of day is beneficial. But in my professional and personal experience, a bedtime story is invaluable in creating healthy attachment and bonding between parent and child, paving the way for forming positive relationships all through life.

Adding reading to your bedtime routine also cultivates a positive habit that does not only help calm young minds at the end of a busy day, but will soon become a lifelong habit of approaching sleep in a calm and peaceful manner. Little did I know, when I started reading with my own children as babies, what a valuable investment I was making - not only regarding these benefits, but also in my future relationship with my children.

Snuggling up with a book at the end of the day when your child is tired and ready to go to sleep is a perfect time to gently explore your child’s feelings. Young children do not always know what they are feeling and how to name their emotions. A picture book with lovely illustrations is an ideal way to get a welcome glimpse into your child’s inner world by gently exploring his or her understanding of the story and characters.

For example, you may ask, ‘I wonder how the bear felt when he was lost in the wood?’ or, ‘How do you think the bear will feel when he finds his house again?’ In this way, your child can safely explore his or her own feelings through the story and the characters in the book and learn, with your help, how to put names to their feelings. Additionally, by associating with and relating to the characters in the story, your child will learn to empathise with others; an important tool in becoming an emotionally intelligent individual.

Such precious moments will leave your child feeling heard – learning that it is safe to express feelings, which in turn leads to healthy attachment and bonding with you as their parent. The ability to safely voice emotions is a valuable tool in times of stress and a skill that will be carried forward into adulthood, and ultimately into parenthood.

I had anticipated that this bedtime ritual with my own children would slowly fizzle out by the time they started reading chapter books by themselves. However, this time together has become so valuable to us all that even now as teenagers, although not reading together anymore, my children still seek the closeness and safety of snuggling up in bed with me to talk about their day before drifting off to sleep.

In short, reading a picture book together with your child is a feast for the senses which builds positive brain pathways, leads to healthy attachment and bonding and installs essential life skills. I am convinced that early childhood experiences, such as reading together at bedtime, are irreplaceable building blocks in forming positive relationships and in helping develop emotionally intelligent individuals with empathy for themselves and the world around them.