When dinner starts a half hour late and bathtime is a total battle, it can be a challenge to muster up the motivation to settle into a bedtime story before calling it a day. But that last step is super important in some extremely profound ways, for both you and your young brood. For a deeper explanation on the bonding, sleep, and brain benefits of a bedtime story, we tapped Dr. Michael Morrison, an LA-based speaker, author, and consultant, who shares five meaningful and sometimes surprising (in the best way possible) benefits to the family bedtime story, as he puts it, “the most powerful family ritual”:
“There is simply nothing more powerful than the bedtime story – especially in this age of continuous screen time,” Dr. Morrison begins. “It is not just something we are doing for our kids – the benefits accrue to us as well. We don’t read to, we read with.” Cue the mic drop.
End of day closure: Got a Google Calendar overflowing with colorful stripes? You (and your kids’) end-of-day rituals really matter. “The bedtime story can symbolically represent a closure point in our continuous, always-on, and endless days,” explains Dr. Morrison. “Even our kids feel pressures of a 24/7 world.” Unwinding is done best when it is a ritual. “For our kids, bathing, teeth brushing, and pajamas start the slow-down process. For us parents, it is also important that we fully shift our attention and presence to this special time – treating it as uninterrupted, sacred space (leaving our device outside the room!).”
Feeling safe and secure: “There is probably no safer or secure feeling than to be snuggled with a parent – listening to their comforting voice,” Dr. Morrison explains (and we totally agree). Bonding over reading allows stress levels to lower (for both parent and child) and a “softer energy” come in. “To have this loving ritual repeated night after night promotes an unconditional love that protects our little ones from the inevitable feelings of vulnerability that define the human experience,” says Dr. Morrison.
Healthy sleeping and better dreaming: Now THIS is some mind-blowing stuff. “Sleep specialists reveal how bedtime stories can help both child and parent get a good night sleep, which makes total sense,” Dr. Morrison says. “The loving voice tones of the parent can also create strong associations with sleep – slowing the brain down – and helping the child to let go of the day,” he continues. And the good work doesn’t stop there: “after storytelling, the brain continues to ‘play with’ this new information — imprinting the feelings, images and story patterns that have been heard. In other words, the powerful subconscious continues to do its magic as the child sleeps, setting the foundation to positively enter the next day,” explains Dr. Morrison.
Engaging the imagination: “Bedtime stories are one of the best ways to stimulate a child’s imagination,” says Dr. Morrison. And while little Johnny might love making his on pizza on his iPad, Dr. Morrison reminds us that research reveals that reading a story is completely different than watching a TV show or movie. “Listening to a story requires more active participation,” he explains. “Kids use their mind to visualize what is happening, and to think about what choices they would make if they were the character.” The best part of reading, right? And this type of mental exercise has last effects on children’s identities. “These new ideas inspire our kids to imagine new realities and identities for themselves. Their favorite stories start to positively shape their own life story.”
Connecting and empathizing: “Just as stories help our kids create their sense of self, they also help them to empathize with others,” says Dr. Morrison. “Our young ones can find comfort in relating to a character in a story who is going through a similar challenge – whether it is a best friend moving away or the loss of a pet.” And this type of connection can better equip children to deal with the stress and challenges found in their own lives. “Stories can help our kids find the courage (and scripting) to deal with things that seemed too far out of their experience,” Dr. Morrison continues. “ For children in uncertain circumstances (like divorce or loss of a family member), a bedtime story can help them to start shaping a new reality. Still, the most precious forms of connection that bedtime stories facilitate is that between parent and child – one of the most powerful predictors of success and happiness in life for our kids.”
Time to grab a book and snuggle up. Happy reading!
Mike Morrison Ph.D.’s passion centers on developing leaders at all ages, from pre-schoolers to the corporate CEO leading a global enterprise. In today’s world, we all need to lead in some way and Mike has helped to illuminate that path through three books. His most recent book, Small Voice Says, a picture book for four to eight year-olds, is co-authored with his daughter Mackenzie.