Bedtime Story

Bedtime Stories

A bedtime story is an essential part of the bedtime routine for children – but what about babies and toddlers? KEN PHELAN discovers that introducing a bedtime book at an early age can have a significant effect on your baby’s development.

While most parents appreciate the benefits of reading to children, many would question the value of reading to babies or young toddlers. Research has shown, however, that the years between birth and age three are critical for long-term language, emotional and interpersonal development, and that being read to from an early age plays a central role in this development.

What are the benefits, if any, of reading to babies and toddlers? Clinical psychologist Dr

David Carey, whose work includes the assessment of children with dyslexia and learning and literacy problems, says: “In terms of infants, reading just helps with the whole attachment process, so it’s a bonding experience – it’s time with Mummy or Daddy – and it’s good in terms of stimulating the child’s brain. It’s not going to help them to read, not in infancy.

But when you move up to toddler years, age around two-and-a-half to three, it’s very important to read with children, because it shows them that books are important and begins to lay the foundation for an interest in reading.” Dr Carey states how parents act as role models for their children when they themselves display an interest in reading, and he stresses the part this plays in developing early literacy skills. “Children reared in an environment where there is print literature, where they see adults reading and where adults read to them, develop better literacy skills than children reared in an environment that doesn’t have those kinds of things happening.

So, as parents, what we’re hoping to model for our children is an interest in books and literature, newspapers and magazines – a house that contains print resources where they can see us reading to ourselves, perhaps sometimes to one another and, most importantly, at times, to them.”

Making time

This argument is supported by research that has even shown a direct correlation between the number of books held within the home and the effects on early childhood literacy, clearly showing that environmental factors play a significant role.

The pivotal role of parents is also highlighted by the Irish Primary School Curriculum, which holds them as “the child’s primary educators” and life at home as being “the most potent factor in his or her development during the primary school years”.

Dr Carey also cautions that reading shouldn’t be forced: “You have to be careful that if the child isn’t interested, you don’t want to force the activity. It doesn’t really matter when you read – it can be nap-time, bedtime, or in-between time – there isn’t really any rule around this. Children like bedtime stories because they find it soothing when they’re being tucked into bed by Mummy or Daddy. It doesn’t so much matter when it happens– what matters is if it happens.”

And what guidelines would Dr Carey offer specifically to parents of babies and toddlers? “Choose books that the child themselves are interested in. Try to pick a book or story that reflects the child’s natural interest in the world around them. Choose a time that’s a relaxing or comforting time, and don’t force the child to sit and listen to you read. If they want to be active and play, let them be active and play. Reading is fun and should be a pleasurable and enjoyable experience. When you’re reading a story, bring it to life – take on the role of the different characters and use different voices for each character, just as an actor would!” Perhaps one of the most striking aspects of childhood development is the proven link between socio-economic background and early literacy. Studies have consistently shown that the single most important factor in determining childhood literacy is parents’ education, occupation and socio-economic status.

What is perhaps even more startling is that it has also been shown that these barriers can be overcome, even in severely disadvantaged areas, by parents who cultivate an environment conducive with early literacy. Apart from the proven benefits of reading to baby – the effects on early language acquisition and literacy skills, and on interpersonal, emotional and cognitive growth – there is perhaps a far more important by-product of storytelling worth noting. That is, the unique and special bond fostered between parent and child that lasts from birth, through infancy, adolescence and adulthood, on a journey that begins with a simple, but magical,‘Once upon a time…’

Dr David Carey appears on Sean Moncrieff’s parenting slot on Newstalk 106-108fm each Wednesday at 3pm, and holds a private practice in Stillorgan, Dublin


maternity & infant

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