Do you ever wonder how to get more positive time with your kids? Do you search for ways to teach your children skills and values without it ending in a struggle? Countless parents I’ve worked with have come into my counseling office with questions like, “How do I get him to stop and listen?” Or “How do I teach him better ways of reacting without causing an argument?”
I always encourage parents to teach during the good times. I’ve found that there are few better ways of establishing positive, good times with our kids, than to sit down together with a good book and read with your child. Reading together has the power to captivate children’s minds and hearts, while simultaneously allowing parents to teach and strengthen relationships.
The following are 17 reasons, I have seen and/or are supported by significant research, why to read with your child…
1. Builds connection/bonding:
When we read with our children, starting at very young ages, you can’t help but be close. We are literally close in proximity and in thoughts, because our minds are focused on a central purpose and a shared story. There is extensive research that both nurturing physical touch and sentimental or meaningful storytelling helps to build trusting relationships between people. When we cuddle, hug, sit close to one another, or even shake hands, Oxytocin is released in the brain. Oxytocin has been called the trust or love hormone. It facilitates feelings of trust, love, bonding and connection. Whether you needed to know that or not, the practical reality of reading to our kids is that it provides a perfect opportunity to connect and bond.
2. Teaches character, virtues and values:
Stories present a non threatening way to introduce and teach values in context of real and make-believe situations. It provides opportunities to have interactive experiences with virtues, choices and to see perspectives and consequences without having to personally live out each one. Whether you’re reading, Curious George, The Berenstain Bears, or something more advanced, there are always lessons to be learned. It can be helpful to ask questions like, “what do you think he’ll do next? What would you do? What do you think will happen? Or How would you feel if that happened to you?”
3. Instill Self Discipline:
Let’s face it, reading takes more effort than watching TV or some other mindless activity. Modeling disciplined behavior like reading, even when there are other available options, shows our children the value of self-discipline and personal effort.
4. Exposes your child to adventure without ever leaving home:
We don’t always have the means to sail across the oceans, take hot air balloon rides, go on an African Safari or see the great art of the world, but we can be transported from our living rooms to those places in an instant through books. My children have gone to every continent, swam with sharks, learned about ancient civilizations, and learned how to build a log cabin and a jungle tree house all through the pages of books.
5. Inexpensive education:
A child that loves to read will never be uneducated. Regardless of their financial ability to pay for formal education, a child that loves to read can access any learning they can think of. With the vast resources available on the internet, access to local libraries and other resources, all it takes is an ability, desire and love for words and books to learn anything.
6. Higher achievement:
Everyone wants their child to excel in their learning and education. Countless studies have shown that parent involvement, specifically reading to their children, leads to higher achievement in grades, test scores, reading ability, and a variety of other educational achievements. The Harvard Family Research Project looked at 77 different studies that supported this reality: that children that are read to by their parents generally have higher academic achievement.
7. Encourage creativity:
Imagination and creativity take form as we read to our children. It opens their minds to new things and allows them to build dreams of their own. It allows them to see that they can think outside the box and do things differently. From the incredible and silly animals in Dr. Seuss’s zoo’s or circus to the majesty of Aslan in the Chronicles of Narnia, books can challenge our reality and help us and our children to see solutions and possibilities we never knew existed.
8. Develop a love for reading and learning:
Kids that have parents that love to read are much more likely to be children that love to read. When this happens all of the other benefits of this list come along for the ride the rest of the child’s life. The University of Michigan Psychology Department suggests that in order to motivate kids to truly love to read, reading needs to become a social activity. We should read together, share books and titles, as well as discuss stories, jokes and personal insights from the books. The more pleasant and social the reading experience becomes, the more motivated they are to read.
9. Develop problem solving and decision making skills:
There is actually a form of therapy called narrative therapy or bibliotherapy that uses books and stories to process emotions and teach specific skills to cope and resolve personal or relational problems. If we are deliberate in helping our children identify problems in a story, brainstorm solutions, plan, and anticipate consequences of characters actions, they will be better capable of processing these principles in their own lives.
10. Provides opportunities for meaningful conversation:
I have had discussion with my seven and five year old children about topics of freedom, fairness, honesty, kindness and the whys of life. I have had them ask questions about God, about faith, about their grandfather, who they have never met, and about what I love best about them, all because of books we have read together.
11. Learn emotional intelligence:
Reading and sharing stories gives opportunity to see things empathetically. They are able to observe emotions and reactions from the outside looking in and relate to personal feelings, reactions and behaviors. It helps them to increase emotional awareness and be more emotionally regulated.
12. Learn coping, resilience and optimism:
Most stories, especially children’s books, follow a character through some kind of struggle and resolution. Reading inspirational stories and triumphs can give children a sense of optimism. They are able to see that people sometimes struggle, but that we are capable of overcoming hard things.
13. Provide enjoyment:
It’s just fun! If you pick the right books reading with your children will be enjoyable for you and for them!
14. Improve vocabulary:
It’s a joy as a parent to be talking with your four or five year old child and to hear them use a word like “exuberant” in a sentence. The coolest thing is that they actually know what it means. Research has also shown that children that are read to develop larger vocabularies with greater understanding of their language.
15. Increase attention span:
Reading with our children helps them to develop prolonged attention spans. It challenges their natural development and slowly, over time grows longer periods of focused attention. When parents read with their children their presence and nurturing behavior acts to help the child regulate impulsivity, anxiety, and manage their attention with greater success.
16. It’s calming:
As stated above, when we connect with our kids and speak in quiet tones, the rhythm and the whole experience of reading together acts as a calming agent. Parents that read to their kids and find themselves nodding off during the book know this all too often. I’ve known parents with terrible insomnia, that find their bodies relax and eyelids droop when they read with their children. It has the same affect on the children.
17. Great bedtime preparation:
Reading is a perfect bedtime routine activity to prepare a child for sleep. It is calming and allows the parent and child to shut off the other cares of the day and focus on the story. It can act as a trigger to tell the child’s brain, “OK, it’s time to go to sleep now.” It can be one of the most treasured times of day.
Reading is so much more than an academic activity. It is a social activity, an emotional activity, a bonding activity. It is a way to establish good times between you and them that will pay enormous dividends in your family’s happiness and the growth of you and your child. Take the challenge to read to your child each day. Do it today. “Today is your day! Your mountain is waiting. So… get on your way.” (Dr. Seuss).
Question: What are your favorite books your have read with your children? Or what benefits have you seen from reading with your kids?
Don’t forget to download your FREE copy of “5 Jump Starters for Powerful Family Cycles: Creating Happier and More Effective Parenting THIS Week!”