Ask a Storytime Ninja: Timing, picky kids, and frustrated parents

Here are the questions tackled by Storytime Ninjas this week. Answers will be added to this post as they come in, so if you have a great response please share!

For a list of questions being asked, check here. If you’d like to answer a question on that list, you can email Storytime Underground with your answer or answer it on Facebook (if it was a Facebook question).

To prevent the TLDR issue, the answers from Facebook are NOT a transcript from Facebook. If you’d like to see the whole conversation, or a whole bunch of other great questions and answers, check out the Facebook group. If you are interested in being a Storytime Ninja or have a burning question you’d like the Ninjas to answer, go here.


Question: What to you do when a parent is overly frustrated and keeps telling the child ” do this, do that”?


Lisa says (@lmulvenna)

This is a hard one, because it is really hard not to want to cross the line into parenting.  There are always parenting issues that are easier for us to see as outsiders.  We also don’t have context here-is it in a program or just out in the library?  The quick and easy answer is that we do not interfere with parenting as long as they are not breaking any library rules (such as continuously screaming which would go against our behavior policy).  That’s not to say that our hands are totally tied.  For example, if the child is making a mess in the kids room and not wanting to pick it up even with the parent telling them to, I can walk in and say that I will give them a sticker if they pick up what they used.  Is it a child running around while the parents are trying to check out?  Then I will just walk over and start talking to them.  Chances are good that they will either calm down and start telling me everything about their day or hide behind their parents legs.  If we are in a program, such as story time when I am reading a book, I can model better behaviors, such as ways to say things quietly or positive ways to say phrases other than “do this”.  For our story time crafts and other crafty programs, we only put out enough chairs for the children registered.  This way there isn’t a place for the parent to sit right next to their child, while they tell them what to do.  If I were you, I would try some of the less obvious (or sneaky) tools like the ones I just listed if at all possible.

Answers from Facebook:

  • Jennifer Wharton says: I’ve gotten that with grandparents, especially when I do process art. They want a sample and they want the child to duplicate it and they can get very tense about it. I’ve also had some parents who were completely mortified if their child cried or was disruptive and would leave, never to return. So, when I start storytimes I try to do a little spiel “sometimes we get wiggly and it’s ok to take a break out in the children’s area and come back in or join us afterwards for the craft” I also set aside a study room as a “crying room”. I have never found a solution for the grandparents, other than to offer projects that are so general it’s impossible to make them all the same. Don’t know if that helps but….

  • Amanda DaCosta Murray says: I’ve read two blog posts recently that give great examples of communicating program expectations to the parents/caregivers so they can relax a little. This one is at Mel’s Desk and is a fun, informative read. This one is at storytime katie. She runs a series of programs featuring storybooks paired with open-ended art activities. She coaches the grown ups about the idea of letting the kids explore the materials, create freely & just have fun


Question from Facebook:

Hi everyone! Question – How do you deal with kids in Story Time who say “I hate this book!” or “I hate this game/flannel board/rhyme!” I usually tell them that I hope I can change their mind or make it silly and say they have hurt the book’s feelings and now it won’t want to be read, which then makes the rest of the kids shout out “no, read it!” & sometimes even the kid who said he/she hated it. Is there a better way to deal with those kinds of comments? Much obliged!!

Answers from Ninjas:

Leona (@layleevj) says: I will usually respond to kids saying they hate a book/activity/rhyme with “maybe you’ll like it this time” or “let’s see what happens this time.”  I like to respond and move on quickly before they bring the other kids onto their hate train. This problem hasn’t happened often but the few times it has, my moving on and ignoring any further comments of hating the book/activity/rhyme has worked for me.

Erin (@fallingflannel) says:

Question 1:
Usually when a child expresses that he/she doesn’t like a particular book/song/flannel board, I try to keep my response short and sweet so that it doesn’t become a big deal. I usually say something like, “Aww, I’m sorry you don’t like this book. Tell you what, I’ll try to make it as fun as possible. And when it’s over, we’ll move on to something else.”
However, when the majority of the group says that they don’t like a particular book or song, then I just move on to the next book or pick a different song.
Question 2:
At my library, we are very clear that programs, including storytimes, start promptly at what ever time it’s supposed to start. The only exception to this rule is when no one shows up, in which case we wait up to 15 minutes and start it whenever someone arrives. Our reasoning is that it’s not fair to those who do show up on time to make them wait longer, and if caregivers know that we start programs 5 to 10 minutes late, they’ll be more prone to show up later.
With that said, I will admit that I always have at least one latecomer for every storytime. Sometimes they’re five minutes late, sometimes ten, and sometimes even twenty. However, I personally don’t find latecomers very distracting as long as they come in quietly, which most of them do.
For big groups, such as day cares and preschools, we try to schedule special story times for them outside of our normal storytimes. We let them know up front how much wiggle room they have for being late. There have been a few times when a group showed up to my regular storytime and caused a distraction, and when that happens, I pause for a minute to let them get settled then continue. After storytime, I talk to the group leader, give him/her my business card and let them know that we prefer to schedule special storytimes for groups.

Mary (@daisycakes) says: Some days I must admit I get kind of snarky and respond to “I hate this book!” with “well, have you heard it before?” (The answer is invariably) “No.” “So how do you know you hate it if you haven’t heard it?” That generally stumps them. The nicer answer, though, is “well, it’s one of my favorites. Let’s read it and see what you think afterwards.”

The strategy you’re using, though sounds like it’s a fine response. Often (usually) the kids are completely engaged by the story and will have forgotten all about how much they “hate” that story/flannelboard/song etc.

Now, if they hate EVERYTHING at storytime, and tell you so repeatedly, it’s probably time to have a quiet chat with a parent afterwards. I have also told a child who said something disparaging about a book or a puppet of mine that what they’ve said “makes me sad.” That’s something they can understand. Telling them they’re being rude, though? I’m not sure they understand what that means.

Answers from Facebook:

  • Amy Koester I usually tell those kids they don’t have to participate, but since they are in storytime, they still need to use their best storytime behavior. I had this exact issue at a preschool outreach storytime last week; a boy said he hated dancing. I told him he could stay seated while we danced and just wait for the next book, and he did, quietly.

  • Kay Leigh I just say something like ~ “Oh, well I hope you’ll like it this time because I have a surprise” or ” because I am going to need some help sharing it with everyone” ~ if I have added an audience participation aspect to the book like making the sounds of the animals or counting the number of flowers on each page or shouting or whispering a sentence that is repeated throughout the book. If it is a child that I know and who says things like that for the extra attention then I will ignore the comment completely or look at a different child and kind of shrug a little as I give a secretive smile like we are going to share something really special together. Each child is different so I try to stay aware of the situation and monitor how I respond so that I am able to deal with the situation in a respectful way but essentially making it a teachable moment. Hope that makes sense.

  • Anne Clark I just ignore them. I concentrate on giving a good experience to the kids who are into it. But sometimes they force your hand. I once had an older kid accompanying his little brother complain about the craft “Do I have to do it?” and I said “YES” in a no-ifs, ands, or buts way. His mom applauded.

  • Kary Johnson Henry If a child shares his/her opinion on a book, I usually try to say something like, “Not everybody likes every book. It’s okay that you didn’t like it, but I hope someone else does! Let’s see….” and then I just start reading it. In a small way, I want to empower kids and let them know that they can indeed form their own opinions about books and that those opinions are valid.

Question from Facebook:

How about story time… timing? Do you start story time at exactly the time it is scheduled? Or do you give 5 or 10 minutes wiggle-room? Most on my mind: What if lots of kids/a scheduled group shows up late, interrupting your story time? What are your tactics for communicating with parents/teachers during and after this happens?

Answers from Ninjas:

Lisa says (@lmulvenna): There are a couple of problems (or considerations) with timing.  First, if you get in the habit of starting a couple of minutes late, your parents will learn this and will also come late.  Second, your time is also important.  If you start 5-10 minutes late, you are taking this time away from your other tasks, whether it be planning other programs, ordering, etc.  Third, we are dealing with parents of small children.  It is hard work to get your child up, dressed, fed, and into the car in a timely manner all the time unless you are supermom (or dad).

All that being said, I do normally start on time.  I start with a song or a dance so it isn’t super obvious if people straggle in.  I also show up a little early if possible to give the kiddos a chance to talk.  Half of the kids (the ones who aren’t hiding behind mom/dad) love to talk, whether it be about their new shiny shoes, what they are doing, or their pet dog.  You can think of it as a little “reward” for those who show up early and are ready to go.

Kirby says (@kirby_mcc): 

I start on time out of respect for the families that are there early or on time.

I have built in 3 “opening” like rhymes and then Open Shut them to make sure stragglers won’t walk in mid book. I don’t usually acknowledge them as in stop the rhyme, but I will say “welcome!” The three openings are: 1. Welcome spiel 2. Hello Bubbles 3. It’s so Good to see you

Anne says (@sotomorrow)

I do start my storytimes on time, but there are a lot of activities that delay the actual reading of stories. At our library, we have a tradition where the librarian rings a bell to let people know storytime is starting. Then all the families gather in the aisle in front of our children’s program room and the librarian lets them all in.

We start this right at 10:15 (or 11:15, or 6:30, or whenever storytime is scheduled to begin). Then when we get in the room, it takes a few minutes to settle everyone down. We sing a few songs and do some rhymes. So I probably don’t even start reading the first book for at least 5-10 minutes after storytime was supposed to start, but I do 2- and 3- year olds only at the moment.

Inevitably, a parent or two will work in late with their kids, but that is the nature of the beast. We don’t often have a daycare or other group at storytime, but they tend to be punctual when they are registered. We do registration for all of our morning storytimes and have one drop-in evening storytime per week.

Leona says (@layleevj)

This is a big issue in my library (at least to me it is big, patrons not so much).  It is really hard to get parents into the storytime room on time.  We have a nice play space in the YS area and parents like to hang out there before storytime begins. I have the room set up and open at least 15 minutes before we are due to start but usually they are all in the play space. I have taken to warning everyone in the play space about 5 minutes before I plan on starting.  I also start about 5 minutes late.  It seems inevitable that once I have started at least a couple families walk in the door. I always start with “If You’re Happy and You Know It” and keep the door open, so that gives everyone a song to come in and get settled if they are late.  I also go to the flannelboard (something is always hiding behind houses) after our song.  This means it is 10-15 minutes into storytime before I actually read a story.  By that time most of the families are in the room and I’ve closed the door. If I have families chronically coming in late and being disruptive (most try to sneak in so I let it go) I would say something after storytime. Maybe, “I notice you are usually late and this is really disruptive to the rest of us. Would you be able to get here earlier? If not, would you please wait until I am done reading the book before coming in? Thank you.” If a school group were coming in late I would be far more blunt, “Please do not be late. It is too disruptive to everyone else’s storytime. In the future, if you are more than 10 minutes (or whatever time you choose) late please stay out in the YS area. Thank you.”  Hope this helps!

Answers from Facebook:

  • Vicki Kouchnerkavich I try to start with 2-3 minutes of the start time. I say to the adults there I appreciate them showing up on time, so let’s begin. I don’t really care about those showing up late. While I do say please join us to those who arrive late, I don’t apologize for starting on time.

  • Robin Rockman I usually start about 5 minutes after the set time. Inevitable – especially with the babies & toddlers, many come late. I honestly have not had a problem/been bothered by it. The adults seem to be respectful and try to slip in quietly.

  • Laura Brennan We allow latecomers to story time. We tried to post a sign on our program room door saying “story time in progress, please keep door closed” but people either weren’t reading it, or they thought it didn’t apply to them!

  • Susan Palmer Jeffery I usually open the doors on time, but I spend a little time just chatting with the children before hand, since they always want to show me their shoes or shirt or tell me about their new toy or something. After that, I play “If you’re ready for a good time” by Greg and Steve. Its a song to get their ‘following directions’ juices flowing, and announces to the library that we are starting. There will always be the people who come 10 minutes late or more and there is no amount of chatter that I do that changes that.

  • Sarah Bean Thompson I usually start right on time, but will wait a couple of minutes if I see a crowd still coming in. (We don’t do registration). What I do to help with late comers is do two opening songs (I use Wake Up Hands and Finger Poppin for toddlers, Where is Thumbkin and Shake Your Sillies Out for preschool) and this helps us as everyone gathers. I also stand at the door and welcome everyone in and get everyone seated before I even start. After our two opening songs, I then make all my announcements (early literacy skill we’re working on, general tips and intro like who I am, welcome to storytime, I work at the library as well as being your storytime librarian today, so please ask if you ever need anything, if you need to leave and come, that’s OK, if you need to play on the playmat and move around, that’s not a distraction, we’re going to have some stations/activities today, but we’ll gather together at the end for one more song and book) and this helps take up more time at the beginning. I still will have people show up with five minutes left in storytime, but that’s also part of parenting a baby/toddler and I understand-no big deal if you come in late. That’s also why I started doing a book and song and the end. I repeat the book, From Head to Toe, every week at the end of storytime.

  • Liz Anderson I actually regularly start my Baby and Toddler Time at 10:45 instead of 10:30, which is what all of our promotional materials say. This is something my predecessor did, and I tried starting at 10:30 when I started, but my families couldn’t adjust, so now I just start at 10:45. I actually don’t have a problem with people coming late.

  • Kirsten Rose Our groups usually start on time, but if it’s a rainy or snowy day, I will often wait a few minutes to give people a chance to park, get inside, get out of their coats and boots, etc. etc. Bad weather just makes everyone run late, and that’s understandable. Once I’ve started, and stragglers start coming in, I’ll wave at them, or (if I can) say, “Come on in!” but I make no apologies about what they’ve missed or anything. If you want the full experience and to hear every song and every story, then you should get there at 10:30. *grin*

  • Kathleen Connelly-Brown There’s some wiggle room in mine too, but I also make no apology for starting on time. I will say to latecomers ‘welcome, please join us’ or wave them on in if I’m in the middle of a song. Most of them slip in quietly and will apologize to ME afterward for being late! I always tell them it’s ok and to not worry about it. I wonder though Sarah, are asking what you should say to the latecomers to encourage them to come on time? That is how I’m reading your post…….that they are late and disrupting storytime so you’d rather address it so that it no longer happens?

  • Susan Palmer Jeffery I have a poster on my board behind me that sweetly discusses the etiquette of story time – one of which is to arrive with time so your child can make the switch from playtime to storytime – and because for some, walking into a room full of strange faces can be scary. I don’t make a fuss if they are late – some will just always be late and some will always be the first ones there. I based it on the book Do Unto Otters: A book about Manners. I used the artwork from the book, but added the rules I felt story time needed.

  • Allison Frick I usually start 5 minutes past start time and everyone who shows up early = “my earliest birds”. If a bunch of children show up I do my best to include them. I tend to go overboard with making extra art projects for post storytime creativity.

  • Abby Johnson I open up the doors at starting time and there are usually a few minutes of gathering everyone and getting them settled. If I have a small crowd, I might wait a few minutes before opening up the doors, but I try to announce that, saying something like “I’m going to wait just a couple more minutes to see if any more friends join us.” We don’t generally have a problem with people being disruptive when they’re late. They tend to just slip in. I know it can be SO HARD to get out of the house with little ones and I never want anyone to feel unwelcome, even if they aren’t on time.

  • Leigh Espey I usually start as close to time for those who have been waiting. To alleviate some of the distraction of latecomers, I always lead with songs so that i don’t lose them during the stories.

  • Lisa Pressley Giddens I start on time; usually, my story timers catch me up on their week, so that takes a couple of mins., then my opening routine takes several mins., so latecomers aren’t very disruptive.

  • Sarah Stippich Thanks for all your thoughtful responses, everyone! As for me, I do my storytimes on the floor (meeting room is downstairs and not that accessible; I like to show the rest of the library patrons how awesome storytime is)… Most of my storytimes are with daycares and classes, sometimes scheduled together. I start within 5 minutes (10 if it’s bad weather, etc.). I think this eventually communicates to teachers and parents that we stick to a schedule, and if you show up on time, you’ll be rewarded with an awesome story time. I love all your feedback about how you start storytimes to accommodate the inevitable latecomers. Also, if I have a group that habitually comes late, I try to keep it positive and say things like, “It looks like 10:00 is a little early for your group. Would you like to schedule your next story time for 10:30 to give you a little more time to get the kids together?” It’s interesting to hear from those of you who have a separate space for story time… Thanks, all!

  • Susan Erhardt My parents get later and later if I push the time back. This summer I got a professional bubble machine and turn it on for five min before the program starts. I turn it off at the scheduled start time and let them chase the remaining bubbles around. Then I say it’s time to start. It has helped a bit for them to know there are bubbles for those who arrive early. Professional Bubble Machine

  • Jennifer Wharton We do 3-5 minutes of dancing/shakers music at the beginning of each storytime. People wander in and out during storytime as well, but that’s just kinda how we roll. Our storyroom opens out into the play area and sometimes trains are a bigger pull than books.

About Kendra

Children's Librarian in the Northwest. Lover of toddlers, twitter, and TV (T's, too, apparently!).

Posted on July 23, 2013, in Ask a Storytime Ninja. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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