What Makes a Great and Effective Bedtime Story for Your Kid?

Bedtime isn’t just the end of the day when a kid climbs in under the blankets and goes to sleep. It’s a transition time and a ritual. It involves certain practical steps such as brushing teeth and putting on pajamas. It also involves certain practices that are more focused on bonding and even entertainment, but that are no less important.

Some families choose this time to talk about their days together. Some use this time to talk about new lessons learned or things they are thankful for. Some enjoy a bedtime story. Or you may choose combinations of these different activities.

A bedtime story is a tradition that goes back for centuries. Even before printed books or widespread literacy, mothers, fathers, aunts, uncles, and grandparents told stories to fascinate, educate and ease children to sleep.

Still, even after centuries, there is a big difference between a great bedtime story and a not-so-great one. Just because a book contains a fantastic story, it doesn’t necessarily make it appropriate for bedtime.  After all, if you’re reading something stressful or frightening, you’re likely going to create the opposite effect from the one you wanted.

The purpose of a bedtime story is to entertain, but also to soothe and calm your child. Here are some of the features to watch for in a book that will make a truly exceptional bedtime story:

  • Subject and theme – This is the easiest feature to spot in a bedtime story. Choose stories that are interesting and calm, as opposed to being too exciting, scary, or giggly. There are lots of great books that calmly describe happy times, that offer happy tales of self-acceptance, that describe the world as it winds down for the night, or that even talk about bedtime routines and all the things we do before getting tucked in for the night.

    While bedtime itself makes a great subject, it’s still important to know that it is not the only topic worth considering.  Provided it is an interesting and calming one, it will likely work well as a subject.


  • Rhythm and reading – The way a book reads helps to set the tone for the emotions it brings to your child. If a book is properly paced, regardless of the words themselves, it can have a soothing quality. A number of very short sentences all read in succession can have a fast, playful, and exciting rhythm to it. On the other hand, when sentences are slightly longer and reflective, they have a gentler and more comforting quality.

    At the same time, this makes it important to read the book in the rhythm in which it was written. If you’re in a rush and are trying to get through the story because you’re simply not in the mood to read it, you could break up its peaceful trait.


  • Shapes, colors, and illustrations – The illustrations in a book meant for bedtime usually involve rounded shapes, muted colors, and happy, soothing imagery. It may include cooler colors such as blue, green, and purple.

    It may also specifically feature nighttime scenes or indications of routines associated with bedtimes.  This might include some backdrops of black and blue, images of stars or moons and other similar figures.

While there aren’t any specific rules that dictate whether or not a storybook will be perfect for bedtime, these can be very helpful in guiding you in the right direction.  A nice little library of bedtime books is a wonderful thing to have. It lets you choose the book depending on the length of time you have to dedicate to the story, your child’s mood, and his or her preference that evening.



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