Ask a Storytime Ninja: Earnest but Clueless Parent

Our first question this month is a great one! What happens when a parent is doing everything right but a child still doesn’t behave in storytime? Check out our fabulous ninja answers below for some tips to try if you have parents who are feeling frustrated during storytime.


The Question:

I have a 2.5 year old child who won’t sit still when I take her to story time at my local library. I am bewildered as to how to get her to sit on her carpet square and listen, not wiggle or run about, etc. I do my best to role model and gently and quietly redirect her to sit & listen, to little or no avail. She loves being read to at home and has a great vocabulary but is an only child and perhaps behind the curve a bit socially. I’m torn between continuing to come to storytime and leaving when she can’t handle it or not attending at all. Any advice for an earnest but apparently clueless parent at storytime?


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The Answers:


From Lisa:


Those two year olds can be a wiggly bunch!  I totally understand your dilemma and frustration.  The best part of kids is that they grow and mature.  Your child may be super wiggly and not wanting to stay on her carpet square for quite some time, but she is learning the routine of storytime and will slowly learn about how everything works.  Give her time and patience.  Continue to redirect her and model behavior by participating in all the activities yourself.  Yes, that does include acting like a monkey, roaring like a lion and generally being silly.  Of course, there will be days when it is just not working and you need to leave storytime, but I am guessing those days will become fewer and fewer as she matures.  I do want to know, how much movement is occurring during the storytime?  Movement is SO important for toddlers to help them regulate their bodies and be able to sit and listen to books.  If this particular storytime does not have a lot of movement, you may want to try to find a different one that does incorporate more movement.  This will help your toddler have the freedom to wiggle and move as well as allow her the ability to sit and listen to the stories.  Good luck!  It will get better!


From Monica:


Congratulations on bringing your wiggly toddler to storytime! Many parents don’t even make that first step if they are unsure of how their child will behave – but bringing her to storytime, even if she finds it difficult to sit still, is the beginning of extending her attention span to the point where she *will* be able to sit still for longer periods of time.


Here are a few additional suggestions :


Many young children actually learn better when they move around. I would quote you an official scientific study, but rest assured that many “experts” have determined that a moving body often corresponds with a developing brain. She’s making connections even if she’s moving like a busy bee!


Every day will be different so determine your actions based on your child’s behavior. If she is having a super wiggly day? Sit towards the back of the room (if this is possible) and let her move around a bit, even during the quiet stories. If you feel the need to leave storytime for a bit, you can always come back at the end for the goodbye song and/or stamper. This will give her confidence that she’s not being “bad” and will let her experience the storytime from start to finish – in other words, don’t punish her for wiggly behavior by keeping her from the fun stuff at the end. 🙂


You mention that you are concerned that she might be behind socially. If this is the case, bringing her to storytime is pretty much the best thing you can do – over time, she will observe how her peers act in social settings like storytime and should begin to model their behavior.


Hope this helps – welcome to storytime!


From Katya:


Dear Earnest but Apparently Clueless Parent,


I often (half) joke that my primary responsibility as an early literacy educator is to reassure parents that they’re already doing everything right. In your case, that’s easy–it sounds like between reading at home and helping your child experience new social settings at the library, you’re doing a great job of helping her get ready to read (and to enjoy reading). I’m not sure what the specific behavioral expectations are at your library storytime, but I’m willing to bet that no one expects a 2.5 year old child to sit perfectly still and focus completely. There are many adults who can’t do this comfortably, and some of them are the greatest actors, thinkers, and athletes among us. In my toddler storytimes, some kids sit and others roam the room, examining other books on the shelves and generally wandering. At the beginning of the session, I make sure that the caregivers know that sitting still and facing forward isn’t a big deal for me–all I ask is that ‘wanderers’ are not allowed to interfere with other children’s personal space. Every child learns differently, and the kid lying on the rug and staring in the other direction or the kid stacking books in the corner may be getting as much or more out of the experience as the kid who sits perfectly still. This philosophy can make for a pretty chaotic storytime room, but I keep everyone on the same page with lots of group songs and movement. Definitely keep attending, and you and your daughter will find your storytime rhythm!


A few additional thoughts and tips:


As Monica mentioned, young children NEED to move to learn. A great resource on the subject is A Moving Child Is a Learning Child: How the Body Teaches the Brain to Think by Gill Connell and Cheryl McCarthy.


There are different kinds of disruption. If your daughter is just wanting to move around, no problem. If she’s dashing about screeching at the top of her lungs grabbing other kids’ hair, or having a total meltdown, it’s probably a good idea to take a break and come back later in the session, or another time. If she’s not having fun, don’t force her to stay. A busy storytime can be seriously overwhelming to a kid who hasn’t had much socialization. Does the session include a less structured playtime? Maybe she can start there and join the read-aloud when she’s ready. Talk to the person leading the storytime about their preferred way to handle coming and going, and take the opportunity to introduce your daughter privately to the leader while you’re asking.


Don’t stress about peer pressure. No one is judging you or your daughter–kids scream and kids run around. Just do what’s right for you two and take your time.


THANK YOU for modelling storytime behavior. One adult paying attention and participating is worth twenty shush-ers and admonishers yelling ‘listen to the teacher!’ while poking at their phones. If a kid hears you talking, they think they should be talking, regardless of what you say! You can take this one step farther by ‘playing library’ at home, inviting your daughter to remember and re-create the experience in a safe, familiar environment.


Finally, remember to have fun! Be silly and enjoy this time of exploring the world with your child. Hopefully she’ll love the library all her life.


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