“Once upon a time they all lived happily ever after.”
Wait a minute. That’s not right!
Let’s try that again.
“Once Upon a Time there was a beautiful princess”… “And they all lived happily ever after.”
Woah! What about the middle of the story? Shall we try again (again)?
“Once Upon a Time there was a beautiful princess”… “RRP £4.99 or $7.99 (CAN).”
Storytime is one of those parts of parenting that’s always portrayed through the rosiest of rose-tinted glasses. A moment for you to bond with your young’un via the enriching medium of the story book.
What could be better than that?
Well, let’s be honest, often a lot of things are.
For a start, the baby has no idea what a ‘story’ is, nor are they aware of the convention that you read all of the pages in order. So you read the first page only to have the book wrestled from your hands and closed to reveal the back cover.
It’s all most frustrating!
It would be very easy for this (often pre-bedtime) ritual to turn into something hugely stressful for the poor parent saddled with reading yet another pass at some mind-numbing tale.
Don’t let that happen to you!
Here’s my ‘Guide to Surviving Story-time’…
1: Don’t Expect a Story
No matter how good the book you choose to share with your little one is, the likelihood is they won’t be focusing on the salient points of the narrative.
Often the babe in question is far more interested in the sound the book’s spine makes when they force it to bend the wrong way than anything the author has plotted. Essentially any time spent reading with a baby should be viewed like watching an episode of The Only Way Is Essex – nothing sensible, clever or barely coherent is going to happen. All you’ll get is incoherent babbling and the overriding wish for the experience to be over (very) quickly.
2: Drop any ‘O.C.D.’ tendencies
If you’re the type of person that is a little ‘precious’ about their things – you know, plastic covers on the sofas and dry cleaning your tea towels – you’ll need to put that aside when reading to a baby.
The process is harrowing – not least to the book in question. You might buy a lovely ‘lift the flap’ book – something beautifully rendered that you need to take out a small mortgage to purchase – yet the baby will have no respect for it, whatsoever. Flaps will be savagely ripped from the pages without ceremony, pages will be chewed up, vomit stains will mask the most beautiful drawings.
Essentially, if you’re going to read it to a child, you have to begin with the mindset that the book is already ruined. Let it go! It’ll be much easier that way. Seriously, if you’d like a kids’ book to stay in pristine condition, never introduce it to a child!
3: Protect your hands
OK – it’s not ‘up there’ with childbirth, but the pain of getting the loose skin on your fingers trapped between the card pages of picture book is not to be sniffed at.
Babies have a unique ability to slam a book closed when you’re at your most vulnerable. Expect paper cuts, bruises and damaged fingers. It’s a tough game – this parenting lark!
If you can, always wear heavy-duty gloves while reading to your child – although this may result in ‘funny looks’ if you do it in public.
4: Choose somewhere comfortable
As soon as the baby is remotely mobile, the child in question will make your experience of reading to them as uncomfortable as possible. They’ll swiftly turn you into a human climbing frame as you valiantly try to act out the story of Snow White or whatever. Expect to be kicked, scratched, stood on, prodded and even bitten as you attempt to complete your newfound narrator role.
Believe me, it will be hell, so it pays to sit somewhere comfortable.
5: Pick the ‘right’ book
It cannot to be understated how important it is to think before choosing a book for your child.
Simply put, this book may turn into ‘The Book’ the one they insist upon being read to them at any given opportunity. So before you take it up to the book shop counter, ask yourself – ‘would I be happy reading this book out loud 500 times?’ It sounds extreme but it might happen!
Make sure your book isn’t the text equivalent of Jedward – all very amusing when you first see it, but likely to make you want to end it all when it appears for the 1000th time.
6: Get ready for Deja Vu
Even if you pick your child’s books wisely, you still need to be ready for a very heavy sense of Deja vu.
Even the most engaging of reads is likely to sound like bad karaoke after a prolonged period on the bedside table pile. Add into this mix a child’s inevitable desire to hear their ‘favourite’ bits over (and over and over) again and you’ll be in need of sedation by the end of storytime!
Don’t worry, this is completely normal.
7: Voices are tricky
Remember that if you start doing ‘voices’ when reading to your child, you’re setting a very tricky precedent to maintain. Yes, your young ‘un may love the ‘hilarious’ tones of the giraffe that you perform at their bedside, but ask yourself would you be happy to do that same performance on a busy train?
Your child will expect a pitch-perfect read through of their favourite story whenever and where-ever you’re called upon to do it. What seemed like a good idea at first may leave you feeling a bit of a dodo when you’re reading out loud while waiting for the delayed flight to Malaga.
8: Don’t be afraid to ‘lose’ books
Sometimes you just won’t be able to take it any more. You’ll have read all about Fox’s lost socks just one time too many. In these cases you need to put yourself first.
You won’t be the first parent to lose a book ‘accidentally on purpose’. It’s quite an easy trick to pull off – if you make sure you dispose of the evidence quickly. Don’t put lost books into any inside bins – your child may discover them there. Go for the wheelie bin or even think about donating it to a charity shop (assuming it’s not been punished too much by your little angel).
Don’t be afraid to lose new books that have been misguidedly bought for the child by friends and family. Put yourself first. If it’s a painful read then an instant re-gift is the answer. Consider giving it to the child of someone you don’t like (that’s probably what happened to you).
9: Books with sounds: Avoid them like the plague
The amazing noise of a cannon being fired is great the first time you’re reading that fascinating book on pirates. It isn’t, however, quite so pleasing when you’ve heard it repeatedly triggered by the little monster in the backseat of the car for over an hour.
Any book (or toy) with sound effects is bad news. Period. It’s as simple as that. Remember noisy books are like Vampires – you have to let them into your home for their malign work to be done.
Just don’t do it!
I hope this guide to surviving story-time will help you through this potential minefield.
Good Luck! You’ll need it…