Reading To Your Children

Here’s why it needs to be a priority

Young children, especially those aged 1-4 years, learn primarily through relationships and back-and-forth interactions. Reading is seen to be both of these things: it’s an examination of relationships, while at the same time encouraging back-and-forth interactions. 

A new study by the New York University School of Medicine has shown the true impact of reading with young children. The study has shown that reading shapes a child’s social and emotional development in ways that go far beyond helping them learn language and early literacy skills. But perhaps the most important discovery from the study was this: parents reading to their children, especially when they are young, can curb problem childhood behaviours like aggression, hyperactivity, and difficulties with attention.

While most parents in this study did report feeling silly acting out scenarios from books to their children, the observational deduction from this study shows that children react positively to this sort of stimuli. In fact, it makes children happy – very much so. They love it, and they find it very fun to see their parents interacting with them in such a creative and imaginative format. 

Reading to your children shapes not only their cognitive functions, but also their social and emotional development. Dr Adriana Wiesleder (Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders at Northwestern University, Illinois) says that reading a variety of texts to children throughout their ‘Incredible Years’ helps children encounter situations that are a little more challenging than what they usually come across in everyday life. Through reading, children are given problems that need to be solved, and this gives parents the opportunity to help their child process these problems and find out ways to manage them. 

“When parents read with their children more, the children have an opportunity to think about characters, to think about the feelings of those characters. They learn to use words to describe feelings that are otherwise difficult, and this enables them to better control their behaviour when they have challenging feelings like anger or sadness,” says Dr Alan Mendelsohn (New York University School of Medicine).

But which books are best for reading to young children? 

A separate study has shown that print books (paper-based, physical books) are the best way to go when reading with young children.

Research has shown that reading printed books with children generates more verbalisations about the story, from both parents and children. This back-and-forth dialogic collaboration whilst reading positively impacts children, allowing them to maintain focus on the story and learn from it. Technology-based reading, like the kind you see on iPads and electronic devices, has shown to be not only distracting, but also negatively impactful on the way children perceive reading and language. This is largely due to the negative dialect that surrounds technology-based reading (i.e. ‘don’t touch that’, etc), as well as the overwhelming distractions that these book formats provide.

Children of today are expected to be entirely fluent with reading by Grade 3, but most parents won’t be surprised to know that a large percentage of children aren’t able to reach that benchmark. 

Collaboratively reading print-based books not only builds a positive and open relationship between parents and children, but it also helps your child learn how to manage their emotions, while at the same time improving their cognitive functions and understanding of the world around them. 

If your child is having issues with their behavioural and cognitive functions, I recommend seeking help from a behavioural specialist. My intuitive, play-based approach aims to nurture a child’s imagination, creativity and inner will. I utilise observation and interaction to support your child in facing and managing any difficulties or challenges they might be experiencing. 

Source: Klass, P (2019). Reading to your toddler? Print books are better than digital ones. The New York Times; and Klass, P (2018). Reading aloud to young children has benefits for behaviour and attention. The New York Times.