How many times in a row can you read the same children’s book without wanting to tear out your hair? I’m not sure, but I think I’m pretty close to answering that question. If you have a toddler, there’s a good chance you are, too.
If you’re like me, you probably feel a little guilty for saying that. I mean, of course I’m thrilled that my three-year-old loves to read, and it is adorable when we reach the last page of a book and she squeals, “Again, Mommy, again!” But, really, the same book again? While I do adore The Gruffalo and Pinkalicious, we have approximately 683 other options in the bookcase in her room. Can’t we add a little variety so I’m not bored to tears—or, more accurately, bored to sleep mid-page?
The short answer is no—and that’s OK. Actually, it’s more than OK.
“There’s no question that reading helps to develop children’s vocabulary, but [research] children learn more vocabulary from that repeated reading and repetition,” says Joanne Cummings, a Toronto-based clinical child psychologist. “Repetition leads to mastery, predictability and a sense of confidence.”
This may seem counterintuitive because when there’s less variety, there are fewer words, but think of it this way: They’re so engaged in what they’re hearing, and they’re hearing it so often, that they’re able to process the words more effectively and actually remember them. Children’s stories, nursery rhymes and music also utilize this idea by repeating certain refrains, which gets kids hooked and helps them learn better and faster.
But there’s more to this phenomenon than learning and literacy. Toddlers also crave control, and the simple routine of reading the same book over and over again can provide a little structure in a world that may otherwise seem crazy to them.
“On a social-emotional level, it enables them to feel in control throughout the day,” says Cummings. “They know what’s going to happen—both within the story and the fact that the story fits into their day. It’s a signal to calm down, cuddle up, feel cozy, and there are no surprises. That provides comfort to them.”
And that’s a particularly good thing at bedtime, when you want them to drift off to dreamland quickly. “Look at it as part of a bedtime ritual to help them settle, to help them reach a calm state where they’re going to fall asleep easily,” Cummings advises. “Go with that. Eventually they’re going to switch over to something else.”
During the day, though, you can try to change it up a little while still following your toddler’s lead. Figure out what your child likes about the book: Is it the topic? The rhyming? The silliness? The illustrations? From there, you can either introduce your child to different books by the same author or to other books with similar themes.
You’ll probably hit on your child’s next obsession by doing that, and it’s also a neat way to get to know your toddler better and understand what makes them tick. It might not be what you think! But a little detective work could go a long way toward figuring that out, discovering all sorts of new interests that you can explore together, and saving what’s left of your sanity.