make up and tell bedtime story

How to Quickly Make Up and Tell a Bedtime Story for Kids

Ever told your child a bedtime story? No? It’s fun and a lot easier than you might think. Let me tell you how to make up a bedtime story while telling it to your child. Enjoy!

Telling bedtime stories is a unique way to bond with your child. It is easy to make up a story when you use familiar characters, a clear problem, and the principles of improvisation. Telling the story is like taking your child on a beautiful adventure, ending in a relaxed sleep.

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Step 1 Tell when your child is ready to listen

Sometimes your child is too sleepy, too active, or too full of something else. As you get to know your child, you will see when a bedtime story might not be a good idea.

Before telling a story, make it cozy. Snuggle together, dim the lights. This is a special storytime together.

Step 2 Use familiar characters and situations

For younger children (3 – 6 years old) I would like to suggest starting close to their world. What happened during their day? Maybe you can turn it into a story?

Did another child take their toy? Maybe you can tell a story about an animal whose toy gets taken?

Younger children also like stories with their favorite pet or stuffed animal in them.

Older children (6 – 10 years old) like stories that take place in a story world. In How to Tell Stories to Children (link to Amazon), authors Silke Rose West and Joseph Sarosy suggest starting stories in the world your child lives in. Then, to move through a portal into the imaginative world of the story. And at the end of the story, return to the ‘real’ world.

💡 Sounds familiar? The Chronicles of Narnia, Harry Potter, and many other books use this storytelling technique.

Whether your child is interested in dinosaurs, pirates, or space travel, you can go there in the story world. Just step through a door…

“I like lizards.” “Well, let me tell you a story about a lizard, so big…”

Step 3 Use recurring characters and other unoriginal ideas

There is no need to create new worlds and new stories every night. It is perfectly fine to tell stories about the same two characters over and over.

It is better to use recurring characters and settings to allow the child to experience them deeper. This brings us to an obvious principle:

PRINCIPLE 1: DON’T TRY HARD TO MAKE THE STORY ORIGINAL AND AMAZING

You are not composing the new Harry Potter. You are having a time of fun and relaxing and adventure together. Connecting with your child is far more important than telling a brilliant story!

Step 4 Introduce the problem at the beginning

You need a problem. A conflict. A dream. Something that drives your story.

It needs to be crystal clear. And you need to introduce it at the beginning of your story.

Remember, this is a bedtime story. When you make it too complicated or introduce the problem too late, your sleepy child will get easily bored.

Step 5 Accept the story as it comes

You start with characters and a story world. You have clearly stated the problem or the dream.

The story has begun.

Now you accept what bubbles up in your imagination, and you continue. Don’t overthink it, don’t try to be original or super creative. It will only block you. This brings us to the second principle:

PRINCIPLE 2: ALWAYS GO WITH YOUR FIRST IMPULSE

Feel free to take parts of movies, books, or other sources and use them in your story.

The tension in your simple bedtime story

When you have no idea what will happen next… introduce a closed box, a locked door, a mystery. And ask your kid.

The problem grows, the dream becomes more challenging to attain. The tension is growing…

What happens next? Before the successful ending, there need to be some unsuccessful tries.

Feel free to make the story as long as possible or as short as needed. Five minutes is ok!

Step 6 Stay connected with your child

Remember, you are telling a story to have a good time together.

And while your child might be interested in the story, they are listening first and foremost to have a good time with you. So there is no pressure. Anything goes, storywise, as long as you two have a good time.

Deepen the connection with your child by maintaining eye contact.

And slow down. Pause to build tension and give your child time to imagine and react.

Step 7 Bring the solution the story needs

The problem, the dream.

You need to bring the story to a solution—a good ending.

Two practical recommendations for a good ending:

  1. Give the story a happy ending for the main characters. Your child will need it for a good night of sleep. Stories with unhappy endings are better left for during the day.
  2. Make sure that all villains are dealt with at the end of the story. In fairy tales they usually die. It’s important, because when the wolf does not die, he might appear under the child’s bed.
Sleep, child, sleep…

Step 8 Take time for the questions that are still lingering

When the story is finished, your child might still be thinking about it.

It is the perfect time to slowly talk a little about the story.

Maybe your child likes to question you about the story. About what would happen next? Or about why something happened.

Maybe you like to ask your child what they would have done in the story. Or how the dog looked.

And that’s it. Repeat the following evening. As long as you both are enjoying it. 🙂

6 Reasons why bedtime stories are good for kids

So, why are we telling bedtime stories to children? There are many reasons, most of them obvious, but let me give you these six:

1. Bedtime stories provide your child with a safe way to relax and get ready for a good night’s sleep. Sleep is essential for all of us. When you read a bedtime story, the frantic day fades away. Children are immersed in a story, and you can see their bodies relax. Happy child, happy parent.

2. Bedtime stories allow you to bond deeply with your child. When you tell a story, you are going on an adventure together. You feel the character’s feelings, and you connect to the story; a unique way of deepening the bond with your child.

3. Bedtime stories stimulate the creative imagination of your child. Children love to imagine in their play and their thinking. However, when they grow older, they find out that not everything seems possible in ‘the real world.’ Therefore, when you imagine a bedtime story, you allow them to exercise their imagination.

Everything is possible in your imagination

4. Bedtime stories stimulate the capacity of your child to empathize with others. In every story, the child experiences what it is to walk in somebody else’s shoes. They learn that different characters have different feelings and ideas. This will help them in understanding and accepting others.

5. Bedtime stories give you an opportunity to have a conversation with your child. While they might be listening most of the time, they will also ask questions and share their commentary on the story. Listening, understanding, and forming an opinion are all valuable language skills.

6. Listening to bedtime stories increases the vocabulary of your child. Children learn a lot by listening to language. When you tell stories, you will use words and sayings in ways they have not heard before. In addition, you will have to explain what words mean. All this increases the passive vocabulary of your child.

If you are interested to discover more about this, here is the link to an article from The British Psychological Society, mostly about reading bedtime stories: No fairytale…the benefits of the bedtime story (link to The British Psychological Society).

Of course, you can do both: one day you read a story, another day you make one up. There are some differences though, between telling and reading a story:

Telling a bedtime story vs Reading a bedtime story

Telling a bedtime storyReading a bedtime story
eye contact is with your child, leading to a stronger connection and deeper experience of the storyeye contact is first with the book, reading the words of the story, only partly with your child
flexibility in the choice of wordswords are primarily fixed in the book
lots of opportunities for nonverbal communication (gestures, posture, moving around, etc.)limited nonverbal communication (you need to keep the book where you can read it)
lots of opportunity for creative participation of your child, leading to changes in the storylimited creative involvement of your child because the story is already fixed in the book
there is no book present and no immediate connection to readingthere is a book present and, as such, a direct connection to reading

Telling bedtime stories to older children

Storytelling is all about connection. When your children get older, your storytelling will also need to grow with them.

Your inspiration can still come from the same two sources: the things happening in your child’s life and the books, movies, and stories your child absorbs.

Make sure you are in touch with both, and you can improvise stories that can entertain your child well into their teens.

Photo credits: Storyblocks, Pixabay

💡 Once a month, I send out an email with new writings on storytelling and fairy tales.

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