10 Bedtime Story Starters

by Sasha Emmons

10 Bedtime Story Starters

Low on inspiration for bedtime stories? 10 ways to get started when your kid wants to hear a tale.

“Mommy, tell me a story.” Do you draw a blank when you get this request? Telling stories is a sweet way to wind down before bedtime—and can be a sanity-saving diversion when you’re waiting in line or on a long road trip. But if stuck for inspiration, try one of these 10 tips to get you started. Bonus points if you use funny voices.


Align with an interest

Whatever your kid’s into—trucks, fairies, that one super-cool twisty slide at the park—is a good base for a story he’s sure to love. Kids are known for being obsessive in their interests, so don’t worry if it’s your 57th story about princesses.



Keep it short and sweet

There’s no need for an intricate story with lots of plot twists a la Lost—small kids don’t have long attention spans anyway, so pressure’s off. Just follow this basic structure: problem, problem becomes a big problem, problem gets solved. And don’t worry about repeating the same story you told last week—often kids like to hear the same tales repeated.



Tell your childhood favorites

What did you love to hear when you were your child’s age—Hansel & Gretel, Little Red Riding Hood, The Boy Who Cried Wolf? Chances are, your kids will love these timeless tales too. And while they might be old to you, they’re brand-new to your child.



Give the story a moral

All moms have those challenging days where you swear wild wolves must have raised your child. You disciplined and explained, but a good way to reinforce the lesson is to work it into a story later. If Junior was territorial with his toys that day, craft a story about a boy who hates to let other kids play with his trucks and how he learns to share. Always end on a positive note, with the lesson learned.



Do it together

The onus to come up with a plotline doesn’t need to be just on you. Why not take turns with your child moving the story forward? You get it started, and then ask your kid to take over for a sentence. Go back and forth—you’ll probably provide more of the story arc—and then bring it on home with a “and they lived happily every after.”



Mine your own history

Kids love hearing about what their parents were like as kids, so dusting off a story of something that happened when you were little is an easy way to find material. It’s also reassuring for kids to hear their parents once experienced the same things.



Go Greek

While your kid’s probably familiar with the story of the three little pigs, he’s probably never heard about the story of Narcissus, who was so full of himself he fell in love with his own reflection. School yourself in a bit of Greek—or Indian or African or Native American—folklore to give you ammunition for a story anytime, anywhere. Some of the myths can be a bit bloody, so tone them down based on your child’s age.



Art as inspiration

A drawing or painting that your kid did can be a nice springboard into a story. Ask your child to explain what’s going on in his masterpiece, and then go from there. Your child will be tickled that you brought his artwork to life.



Use an old improv trick

Ever been to an improvisational comedy show, where the audience is asked to provide the particulars of a scene and then the performers force a scene around it? Steal this trick for your bedtime story. Have your child provide a name, a place and a job, and then you take it from there.



Your child the star

Kids are all about, well, themselves, so they’ll love a story starring the same. Give them amazing superpowers or send them on a journey to the moon—you always tell them they can be anything they want to be, right?