Bedtime stories: How your child’s bedtime routine can help them reflect and expand

Rebekah Shallcross @mamafeminologist

👂🏼 Clinical Psychologist & Researcher
Talking all things Women’s Mental Health
Mum to Arfie
Lover of second hand bargains, leopard print and cake 🍰

I’ll be honest, we have a very loose routine when it comes to bedtime… and any parenting guru worth their salt tells me this is not good.  In the early days, having a routine was sold to me as the magic key to the elusive ‘sleep through the night’.  However, for us, strict routine or no routine, sleep has always been difficult.

So our routine looks a little different each night. Sometimes we have a bath, sometimes we read a book, and sometimes (shock horror!) we watch TV! I always try to get some good nutrients into my son in the form of a bedtime snack (especially if he has had an early tea at nursery) – @mylittlepiccolo pouches are great for this – and he loves them! Other staple bedtime rituals include: teeth brushing, having a little baby massage, giving daddy a kiss at the bottom of the stairs.

When we do read books, we have some firm favourites including ‘Along Came a Different’ by Tom McClaughlin, ‘Julian is a Mermaid’ by Jessica Love, as well as ‘The Snail & the Whale’ by Julia Donaldson and the classic from my childhood ‘Hairy Maclarey from Donaldson’s Dairy’ by Lynley Dodd.  As Arthur gets older, I am more aware of the pressures he will face in a world where men aren’t supposed to cry or be sensitive or have feelings. Research shows that boys especially really struggle to identify different feelings at primary school age, except for anger. And that’s one of the things that I love about books!  They can really challenge the mainstream societal messages that all our children will face growing up.  As such, one of the things that I will be very focused on going forward is choosing books that challenge gender stereotypes, give story to a range of different feelings and open up his world beyond what he experiences in his day to day.  In particular, I am looking forward to reading ‘I am perfectly designed’ by Karamo Brown and ‘Ruby’s Worry’ by Tom Percival.  I’m also very mindful that a lot of what Art consumes has male lead characters and, whilst we often recognise the importance of leading female characters for girls, it’s also so important that our boys read stories of girls and their adventures where the masculine is not always the centre. I’d also love to see more books with gender non-conforming characters and family units other than mum, dad and 2 kids! I’ve heard great things about ‘Who are you?’ by Brook Pessin-Whedbee, so this is another one on our list.

Another top tip if you don’t have your babe’s favourite story book to hand is to tell them the story of their day.  This, I believe, is a very insightful experience for children.  It gives them opportunity to reflect on their day, to voice any concerns they’ve had before bed, and for them to know that we have had them in our minds throughout our day, thinking about what they have done. A great way to encourage self-reflection and processing of feelings at the end of the day – a habit I’m sure you’ll agree, we could all benefit from!

With love and #mamasolidarity