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Why Reading to Little Ones Really Matters

I know every parent wants to do the "right thing" for their child. There is such a strong message that we need to be reading to our children (like, from day 1) so when we don't find time to do it, it feels like a big parenting failure. Reading together should not feel like an obligation..from my perspective, that may even defeat the purpose of doing it to begin with. So, instead of shaming and guilting parents into reading to their children, lets reframe the experience of reading to babies and children and if it feels enjoyable, do it!

Reading Doesn’t Always Look Picture Perfect

First and foremost, you aren't failing if you aren't reading to your newborn. You also are not failing if you only get through 1 or 2 pages with your older child. We should never force a child to sit and listen to a story, that can create an experience that pushes them farther from enoying to reading (who wants to be forced to do something?). Sometimes Eli and I will get through the first page, he'll turn the page, and then he'll close the book. I'll prompt a few times to continue the book but if his interest has moved to another book or to something else, I let that happen. It's not like trimming his nails where I'm trying to force him to let me finish all of the toes! Let reading together be a fun, child-directed activity. Homes in which reading is a natural, relaxed activity, children are more likely to develop a love for reading. Shift Focus From Academic Achievement to Emotional Connection

We need a paradigm shift from focusing primarily on "academic skills" to focusing primarily on social and emotional “skills”. The irony is that social and emotional skills DO support academic successes. When it comes to reading together, we can relax into the reality that just the closeness between parent and child is doing the child the greatest good. The connection and time together is the true magic in reading to children. So, yes, there are many benefits in reading to your child. Most often, we hear the messages of how reading to your child sets up them to read to themselves and develop literacy skills, both of which are amazing reasons to expose your child to reading and books. But what matters even more to me in early childhood, is the connection between parent and child and the message in the stories.

Book Choices The books you choose for your child can be life changing. There are so many wonderful books to choose from that support social skills and emotional health--the two broad topics that I see the most benefit in focusing on in early childhood. Social skills are so important as they allow children access to meaningful relationships throughout their life by being able to participate socially in important ways like sharing and cooperating, being empathic and sensitive to others as well as reading social cues and responding appropriately to moods and contexts. Children with emotional health are able to recognize feelings and regulate their emotions so that they can cope positivly with stressors. Children who are able to do so can then be able to use their executive functioning skills, which includes things like listening well, being patient, using impulse control, concentration, creativity and overall, optimal learning can happen.

Basically, social and emotional health is the foundation of happy, healthy, and fulfilled people. Of course, children with social and emotional skills are much more likely to "do well" in school (not just in childhood but across the lifespan!) and also just "do well" in life (i.e have positive self-esteem and mental health, feel fulfilled with their work choices, engage in positive and healthy relationships, have better health outcomes, etc).

So how do we make sure we're providing the opportunities for our children to gain the social and emotional development that they need to thrive? Books, of course (among many other things, too)!!

As an Early Childhood Therapist, I used books very frequently to help children learn about a variety of feelings, learn to name them and express them, learn coping skills, learn about treating others with kindness and respect, learn about differences among us, bravery, caring for the Earth, and so much more. I've seen how powerful reading can be. I've felt how connection and relationships can build through stories and I’ve seen children take away huge lessons from the characters and experiences told to them through books.  

One example of a book that teaches about feelings and compassion is “The Day Leo Said I Hate You”. Another example of a book that builds social and emotional skills is a special book written after 9/11 that helps children with fears called, “There’s a Big Beautiful World Out There”. These two books are just examples of MILLIONS of amazing books that can teach your child valuable skills and lessons.

Each week on Instagram and my private Facebook group (Leah Frankel - Thriving Families), I’ll be posting a favorite book to help your child with social and emotional health. 

If you’re child is struggling with a specific issue and you’re interesting in using stories to help them, please contact me discuss a personalized plan with custom recommendations in person or via email.

#reading #earlyliteracy #earlychildhood #books #picturebooks #socialskills #mentalhealth #parenting

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