Tell Me A Story: A guide to crafting the perfect bedtime story

By Olivia K Pitkethly, MA, LMHC

“Tell me a story.” These four words coming from my children gets my creative juices flowing. I love to engage in the silly, describing a real-life Candy Land, and changing my voice with each character. My husband? Not so much. He says he is the least creative person in our family, though he is more creative than he thinks. Nevertheless, the storytelling usually falls under my list of parental duties, and I am always happy to oblige.

Many parents, though, feel stuck when their child asks them for an original bedtime story. Lucky for you, we have got a story rubric to help you build the perfect story for your little one!

Truth or fiction?

Kids love to hear stories about when their parents were little. It is hard for them to imagine their parents being little people, and if you have an especially funny story to share from your own childhood, they will be delighted to hear it. If you would rather not give your child any ideas from your mischievous past, you can opt for an imaginative story, maybe putting a new spin on a classic fairytale.

Characters

Choose who is going to be the main star of your story. Your child? You? Will your story have a hero or a villain? The characters can be anything you choose — people, animals, even a talking tree. Be careful to not overwhelm your child with too many characters. More than three are a lot for your child (and you!) to keep track of.

Setting

Where does your story take place? A sandy beach on a bright day? On a cold planet in the middle of star-filled sky? Describe the setting, using colors, smells and sounds. Be careful to avoid a setting that your child might deem scary or beyond their understanding. A dark forest may keep your little one up at night, and the depths of the ocean may leave your child with more questions than you can answer.

Event

The story should build up to a main event. Does the main character discover a new jewel? Do two enemies become friends? Consider your child’s interests — dinosaurs, princesses, sports — and incorporate them into the story to capture her imagination. If there is something your child is struggling with, like a family change, being honest, or sharing toys, you may want to add a moral component to your story. Children learn through play, and storytelling can be a powerful tool in teaching a lesson.

Let your child lead

Children who are older or have an expanded vocabulary may want to be storytellers, too. It is always fun when my child takes over the story. It is a window into her imagination. Before you start a story, ask your child what she wants to hear. Halfway through, ask your child what happens next. And how do they want the story to end? You will know the story is a good one if she never wants it to end!