It sounds so simple, but there are four words at the end of a long day that strike fear into the most hardened parent: “Tell us a story!”
By the time you’ve battled the commute home from the office, done the school run, cooked dinner, fought over the remote, bathed the little rascals, wrestled them into their pyjamas and into bed, it can be hard to think of anything but a much-needed glass of wine or cup of tea.
But then the parental guilt kicks in because they’re cute, and they want you to make up a bedtime story – how can you possibly resist?
[Read More: Will Young to read ‘Two Dads’ story on CBeebies]
Cranking up the creativity to make up a bedtime tale can be difficult. Really difficult. As many as one in five parents find it impossible to tell stories off the top of their heads, but 83% of children would like to spend more time with their parents doing exactly that. And the reason many of us find it so hard? We just don’t think we’re “creative enough”.
The research, commissioned by Rory’s Story Cubes to mark National Storytelling Week, also found more than half of parents (54%) don’t tell their kids stories every night – with many relying on alternatives such as TV (45% of the time), tablets (25%) and smartphones (13%).
So, what do you do if you want to up your game? Well, the most important thing to do is to try, because you never know what will come of it. The story I made up last year for my kids was recently published – so you might discover a talent you never knew you had.
In the meantime, if you’re struggling, here are seven tips to help you make up an off-the-cuff bedtime story for your little ones:
Make It Personal
Children love seeing themselves in a story. Name the main character after them and watch their eyes light up – and if they’ve got a favourite pet, or teddy bear, talk about them, too. Let them go on the adventure together.
Keep It Simple
There’s no need to plot a bestseller or an epic fantasy series. Keep it simple by planning the setting first (A: forest, desert island, distant planet or mountains), the characters next (B: witch, wizard, fairy or pirate), and lastly, what the goal is (C: to find treasure, to rescue someone or to fight against evil). Throw your child into the mix as you go from A to B to C – et voilà: you have a story.
Believe In Yourself
Don’t tell yourself you “don’t have any imagination” – you do. We all do, so take the pressure off. Chances are, the main reason your child wants you to tell them a bedtime story in the first place is because they want to spend time with you. Give them that and you can pretty much say anything.
Keep It Brief
If you’re nervous about your storytelling abilities, don’t worry about dragging out a complex plot for half an hour. Pre-warn your kids that you’re very tired, but that you’d love to tell them a quick tale. Five minutes, tops.
Speak From Experience
What were your favourite films when you were a kid? In my 80s childhood, it was ‘Labyrinth’, ‘The Princess Bride’, ‘Dark Crystal’ and ‘The Goonies’. Borrow parts of the plot if it makes it easier – you’ll end up making stuff up for the bits you can’t quite remember, anyway.
Do A Funny Voice
The worse you are, the funnier they’ll find it – so it’s okay if you’re terrible at impressions. Mix it up to make it even more amusing: make your villain sound like the Queen and your fairy godmother like Darth Vader.
Turn It Into A Game
Begin the story, say a couple of sentences, then ask your child to fill in the next part. When they finish, you take over again. Granted, they’ll invariably make it about someone poo-ing their pants, or farting, but it’ll be fun (for a while).