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I often have to do the bedtime routine for our two children on my own (they go to bed at the same time). They each choose a book and I read to them together, but the older (4 years) frequently interrupts both books with questions, objections, corrections and other comments. When I read to her on her own this is usually fine, but when she's with her 2-year old brother it bothers me that it's ruining his story and that he'll find it harder to follow or enjoy.

Any suggestions?

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If it isn't bothering your two year old, then you shouldn't let it bother you. I put my kids to bed together (they are not quite 2 years apart) up until very recently and I always did exactly like you-let them each pick a book and read to both at the same time. And, the exact same thing would happen-my older one would chit chat, ask questions, and flip back to previous pages. Actually, I can't say it was strictly the older boy-they could both be equally disruptive, or, "inquisitive"-sometimes at the same time.

The solution is to just be patient and relax your expectations of how story time "should" be. Reading doesn't have to be enjoyed by silent passive listeners. It's ok for them to be asking questions-you just want to guide them towards waiting until you pause at the end of a sentence or page and then to refocus back on the story-teach them to be polite if they must interrupt. The extra conversation/explanation is just as beneficial and enriching as the story itself. By allowing them to ask questions and talk about the story you are actually teaching them to be better readers!

That doesn't mean it should be a free for all though-seeing as it's bedtime you need to stay on schedule (can't have them up all night!) The best way to deal with questions, in my experience, is to answer them with a question: "what do you think" is the best one (that's also the best response to the incessant "why's" during that phase of their life, btw.) The second way is to say "let's keep reading and find out." If they go off-topic, I'll say "let's finish the story and then you can tell me all about ___." Then, make sure you actually listen to them after and maybe ask them if they know what made them think of that during the story. My kids never cease to amaze me with the connections they make to the stories or pictures.

On nights where you find that one child isn't interested in one of the books (say, the 4yo isn't interested in a "baby" book the 2 yo picked, or the 2yo can't follow the "big kid" book the 4yo picked) then you might want to have a plan B. I realize it's more convenient and efficient to read to both at the same time, but on occasion it's probably not feasible, especially if you are sure that one kid is ruining it for the other. Pick your battles! I would suggest you let the uninterested kid play quietly in the room while you give the other child one on one story time. I don't keep many toys in my boys' room-it's bad sleep "hygiene" to have distractions like toys or tv's in the bedroom-but I do keep a few things like puzzles, animal figures, and bristle blocks for "quiet time," such as when I am reading to the other child. When finished with one kid's book, switch to the next one (if they want) and whoever just had their turn reading can either have a turn playing (like the other one just had) or can join and be read to twice. Some nights, both my boys would both decide they weren't all that interested in sitting and reading books at all and would rather play quietly. I would read to them anyway while they played. They still get the benefit of the story because their little minds are "listening" all the time.

In summary-don't worry too much about "maximizing" the bedtime story experience for your 2 yo at the expense of your 4yo or, worse, a peaceful bedtime. If you are able to get the books read and both kids to bed without strife by yourself you are doing just fine.

  • Thank you for your advice -- I'm going to try some of this. Our younger one really doesn't seem to mind his sister butting in, but I feel bad that he's not getting the attention she got at the same age. If only playing quietly were ever an option for either of them... :) – user293594 Aug 3 '16 at 10:56
  • Remember that he's never been an only child so he doesn't know "what he's missing." If you really want to give him the one on one time your daughter got you'll just have to schedule it some other time, perhaps when your partner or some other trusted caregiver can watch your daughter or she's otherwise occupied. – Jax Aug 3 '16 at 23:01
  • And...in regards to "quiet" playing...quiet is relative. In my house "quiet" is everything less than fistfights and wrestle mania, lol. – Jax Aug 3 '16 at 23:08
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...the older (4 years) frequently interrupts both books with questions, objections, corrections and other comments.

I'm assuming it is the "frequently interrupts" part and not the "objections, corrections, and comments" part that really bothers you. Certainly you love that your daughter is asking questions and speaking for herself, but you're less than pleased with the perhaps rude way that she's doing it.

It's possible she just doesn't know yet that what she's doing is rude. In this case I think you simply need to explain to her, show her, and practice with her how to bring things up with proper manners (whatever proper manners is to you).

The best time to do this is NOT right before bed, hah; that's the worst time to try and do any sort of training with your kids. But find a time of peace during the day, pull out a book, and say to her "I'm going to show you how to be polite while I read you a book." Treat it like training, but also make it fun!

Do this every day or at least as often as you feel like she needs it. If she interrupts the bedtime story again remind her about what you and her practiced.

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A suggestion - If your four-year old is very familiar with the story (as they often are from when they were that age, or from having to hear the same ones) or is beginning to read, herself, have give her a chunk of the story-telling role for the two-year-old's selections.

Then, instead of having to sit through the annoying brother's "little kid" story, she's getting big-kid responsibility and participation and she's helping her mom or dad, which is pretty darn AWESOME for a four year old.

Another suggestion - every once in a while (don't want to cut down on reading), instead of having them pick a book, tell some familiar myth or fairy tale, but with your kids as main characters in them (along with maybe a favorite stuffed animal or two), and, once you lay out the general theme or introduction to the story, have them interact and change the story as it goes. More silliness is generally better for made up stories starring your kids.

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I used to let my older child look at books by himself/pick out what book he wanted me to read or do another quiet activity in the other room while I read to my younger child. Then when it was my older child's turn, I would read it with my younger child present also. My children were the same way as yours.

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