We know it in our bones, but psychologists have described it many times – the moment of saying goodbye is a moment of worry. For children, saying good-night is like saying goodbye. Going to sleep is mysterious and odd, and, even among the most secure of children, there will be a reason for being anxious. Will the person or people who are supposed to be looking after me be here when I wake up? What goes on when I close my eyes? This moment of drifting off can be full of terrors for children.

Whether a story is funny, sad, scary or strange, they give children food for thought.

Comfort in stories

What does this mean for grown-ups and older siblings who are with young children at this moment? It means that we should do all we can to reassure the children that we care about them. One way to do this is to tell stories or read books. Humans invented stories as a way of talking about the things that matter to us, without appearing to talk about our own actual or personal lives. We turn the big scary stuff that is bothering us into a giant or a wolf.

We turn being afraid of being abandoned into a scene in a wood where a woodcutter and his wife tell two children to be good and say goodbye to them. Stories explore the very things that bother us whilst not actually being about us.
Michael Rosen is author of Good Ideas: How to be Your Child's (and Your Own) Best Teacher. On The Sleep Matters Club, he talks about the importance of bedtime stories.

This makes a space where the people hearing the story can think and talk about stuff that really matters to us, without feeling threatened by confessing or giving too much away of our own worries. This is known as being ‘contained’. Stories ‘contain’ us.

Stories explore the very things that bother us whilst not actually being about us.

Importance of stories at bedtime

Whether a story is funny, sad, scary or strange, they give children food for thought. When we do it at bedtime, we also give our children the strong message that we care for them. At the moment of ‘detachment’ (saying ‘goodnight’) we are saying that we are ‘attached’ (we’re there for them).
Michael Rosen's We're Going on a Bear Hunt

Of course, another way of thinking about all this is that it’s all darned good fun. Some of the best times you’ll ever have – whether that’s as a parent, grandparent, older sibling or parent – is sharing a story at bedtime. And, from the child’s point of view, as that child grows up, it’ll be one of the most beautiful memories you’ll ever have of those people who took the time to share stories with you.

What are you favourite bedtime stories? Are there any that you remember from your childhood or that your children love to hear? If so, then feel free to let us know in the comments.