- Reading to your child can help bolster their mental well-being by providing communication tools.
- Reading creates the vocabulary children need to process their emotions and express their needs.
- Reading teaches empathy, increases attention span, and provides strong parent-child connections.
Kids love being read to. It helps them settle before bed and provides many mental health benefits. Here are the five top reasons to build reading into your child’s daily routine:
1. Reading to them helps them become readers themselves.
Research shows that children who struggle with reading are more likely to have behavioral problems and lower self-esteem. There’s obviously a chicken-and-egg situation here where a child’s behavioral issues and low self-esteem may make their learning more difficult or where the difficulty is contributing to the behavior and esteem issues. I’d guess both probably operate together, creating a negative loop. By reading to your child, you help them associate reading with something pleasurable they can carry into their lives. As you read at the earliest ages, you help children recognize words and sounds, the foundation of the reading process. As they get older, your child will begin to recognize the words themselves.
2. Reading teaches empathy.
Children’s books have gone way beyond the Dick and Jane primers I grew up with. There are stories about everything your child may encounter–being bullied or left out, struggling with a disability, or a parent’s divorce. Through these books and stories, the child learns how others feel, and understanding how others feel not only helps them feel less alone but helps them realize that others feel like they do, creating empathy.
3: Reading helps them make sense of the world.
A young child’s world is one of sensations–emotions, and experiences with a yet-not-developed rational brain to make sense of it all. But stories help bring those sensations together into a more unified whole. Through them, they begin to understand how the world and the people in it work–how people react to each other or why situations turn into problems. And if you use the story as a launch pad for a conversation–"Why do you think the rabbit did that?" "Why do you think the owl is sad?"–it helps cement this awareness further.
4. Reading increases attention span.
With the concern these days about children developing short attention span due to technology, the reading process engages them differently than a video. It doesn’t create the high stim but instead ignites their imaginations, slows that world down, and helps them learn to focus for longer periods of time.
5. Reading increases a child’s vocabulary and ability to process their own emotions.
This, I think, is probably the greatest benefit of reading. Research shows that children who struggle with reading are prone to internalizing their emotions. My experience working with children with serious emotional disturbance bears that out.
Reading increases a child’s vocabulary, and children with a limited vocabulary struggle to express their feelings. More importantly, words make up thoughts and our ability to talk to ourselves. It is by talking to ourselves we process our emotions and experiences. If a child lacks these words–these labels, these connections–they are left with raw emotions that either flare up and are acted out, or held in, often leading to depression. By reading, by learning new words, they have the tools to think and process, to see beyond one-sided black and white. They can replay scary events differently and, most of all, better express to others what they need, replacing the negative, acting out, or withdrawal behaviors with the help they truly need.
I’ve long believed that if there is one thing that you could do to bolster your child’s mental health, it’s read to them even at the earliest of ages. If it’s not part of your daily routines, build it in, even if it's for 10 minutes. It’s a great reward for getting kids ready for bed on time: "If you hurry up, we’ll have more time to read." It is a great way to connect with your child. Make friends with your public library, let your kids pick out the books they want to read, and if they’re struggling with a particular problem, there’s a good chance you can find a book that speaks to their needs.
Tomblin, B. (2008). The association of reading disability, behavioral disorder, and language impairment among 2nd-grade children. Journal of child psychology and psychiatry, 41 (4), 473-482.
Boyes, M. (2020). Relationship between reading ability and child mental health: Moderating effects of self-esteem. Australian psychologist, 53 (2), 125-133.
Taibbi, R. (2022). Doing family therapy, 4th ed. New York: Guilford.