By: Alice Ahearn*
Duvet off, duvet on, left side, right side. Sigh!
We all know the agonising frustration of being unable to sleep. Often, though, I’ve found I can combat it by reading. It doesn’t have to be for long, but it’s perfect for helping me to settle into bed, and to avoid replaying my day in my head. What’s more, I’m pretty sure I’ve always been this way; my reason for demanding bedtime stories throughout my childhood could well be that they helped me go to sleep.
Reading fiction has all sorts of payoffs at any age. As well as being educational, a fiction book can provide some much-needed escape from reality; whatever our worries, whether about mortgage repayments or getting picked in PE, we can forget them by losing ourselves in someone else’s story. If we’re lucky, it might even clear the way to a solution – but even if it doesn’t, stopping worrying for a while is undoubtedly healthy, and if it leads to a good night’s sleep, even better.
All fairly obvious, no doubt, but why might this be particularly important for children? Well, for one thing, more relaxation and sleep are clearly needed when studies show that primary-age children are unhealthily stressed. Equally important is the reassurance of seeing yourself and your worries reflected in a character on a page; whether or not they have a happy ending, there can be huge comfort in discovering that you are not alone in your struggle. For children, those struggles could be grief, anger, loneliness – all kinds of confusing feelings that they might be experiencing for the first time. Books can help them to make sense of their emotions in a way that real life might not.
There are times, though, when the most comforting thing of all about a children’s book is its unchanging sameness in a bewilderingly unstable world. A familiar, beloved character is like a good friend, and revisiting their pages can give as much solace and safety as a hug.
A book is never going to solve all your problems. That would be cheating. But its powerful blend of escapism and empathy could just be the key to a child learning to cope, in much more effective and long-lasting ways than being taught.
*Alice is an intern at Tiny Owl.
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