Let them choose the long book

let them choose the long book - mom reading to child
Shutterstock/ Anna Kraynova

It’s bedtime, and I’m exhausted. I’ve made it through baths, pajamas, brushing hair and brushing teeth. I’ve filled the humidifiers and found the missing, yet essential, bedtime stuffed animals. I just have to read a story, and I’m done for the day. I can see the finish line in sight.

Then my precious angel comes toward me holding the chosen bedtime story. My heart sinks. It’s that book.

You know the book I’m talking about. It’s the longest book my kids own. It’s maybe the longest book ever written.

I try to sway my kid by holding up the shortest book ever written. Isn’t this book great instead? So fun! So bright! So nicely compact!

My kid is not having it.

This routine is pretty normal in my house. Some nights, I just have to say no. I can’t read that encyclopedia of a book. It’s too long, and I’m too tired. If I’m at my best, on those nights I say no, I offer a structured choice of books for my kids instead. This still gives them a voice in the process yet helps set limits. When this happens, I pick three short books I am willing to read, and then let my kids choose one of those. My kids still get the power of choosing, and I don’t have to read the long book—win-win.

Maybe you can relate to this bedtime routine at your house: the exhaustion, the selection of the world’s longest book, offering the world’s shortest book instead. But here’s something my years as a mom and an educator have taught me: Most of the time—hear me out on this one—let them choose the long book.

Yes, I know it will take longer to read. I know you’re just trying to get through this never-ending bedtime routine. But let them choose the long book and hold back your sigh.

Sometimes this will feel like a sacrifice. I get it. But here’s something else I know: the difference between reading my kids’ shortest and absolute longest picture book is about fifteen minutes. And even when I’m exhausted, I usually have fifteen more minutes to spare.

Here’s what you gain when you let them choose the long book: You affirm your child’s choices. When it comes to building early literacy skills and habits, this is huge. You encourage their interests. You give them ownership over story time and reading. You let them be in charge of a small decision when so many decisions during the day are not theirs to make. And most importantly, when you let them choose the long book, you give them more of you.

Just a little bit more time. Just a little bit more snuggling. Just a little more. Research shows that one of the benefits of reading to your kids isn’t just the literacy skills they pick up, but the bonding time they get with you. It helps them form a secure attachment with you and positive associations with reading that can last a lifetime.

So tonight, no matter how tired I am, I’ll remind myself to let them choose the long book if they want. I know that time is not wasted. And in the grand scheme of life, I know I will never regret it.