Were you read to as a child? Do you have favourite books from childhood? I was lucky to have parents who read to me from birth and I still have many of the books I loved, sitting on my shelf today. I was a book addict and most often had my head in a book. I used to walk around the house reading and bring a huge box of books home for the holidays. I was very lucky to have both parents teaching at my school and we had private access to the library during school holidays, which was so exciting to me! I also started writing when I was very small and loved to write and illustrate my own books. So it is no surprise that I am now a writer, and in particular, a writer of children’s books!
Stories have an enormous impact on all of us. Think about a television series that you adore. What are the things that make it special to you? Is it the characters, the narrative, the plot, the era of the tale, the costumes, the setting? Do you love to read stories in a particular genre and why? What about your favourite songs? Are you a lover of the words and the stories they tell? Or the sound and feeling of the music or both? The stories you watch, read and listen to, will connect with you on many levels.
For children, books are multi-faceted. Reading to children from birth helps to teach them language skills, as well as reading skills. They initially pick up the sounds and rythms of words and language and develop early literacy skills. They also learn to care about stories and books and to enjoy reading. Stories encourage imagination and develop problem solving skills. Books grow your children’s brains, develop their social and communication skills and help them to learn about their connectedness to others and their individuality. As they grow to understand the stories and words, they learn things about life, people and relationships. They can problem solve and develop empathy, emotional intelligence and lateral thinking skills.
Just as you might reach for a book that takes you away from reality, to have a break from the stress around you, children can immerse themselves in other worlds. Just as you might reach for a book that helps you deal with problems, when frightening things are happening in their lives, books can support children in understanding and coping. There are many things to be scared about in the world at the moment and books are even more important than they ever were for you and your children. There are also many wonderful things to celebrate about life and our world and books remind you and your children about all of these things too – they offer balance and perspectives that we can easily lose in the busyness of life.
Here are 5 tips on how to use books to support your children’s wellbeing.
- Reading offers quiet time together – taking time at the end of the day to read a book with your child, of any age, offers a closeness that can help both of you unwind. It is a special time to look forward to and it helps you and your children relax before sleep. Lying together reading a book offers opportunity to bring up issues or concerns and can deepen your relationship in a lovely, gentle way.
- Identifying with characters and stories – using characters and/or storylines to connect to things that are happening in your child’s life, and in the world in general, opens up opportunity to discuss those issues. You can choose to focus only lightly on the reality, such as saying, ‘look, Sam the hen (or whatever the character is) has the same problems we have and see how he is feeling better now?’ Or you can talk more deeply about whatever issues your child might be facing, using the story as a stepping off point. Judge this by your child’s age, their current mental health and your feelings about how much they can handle.
- Escape – Reading a book can be all about escaping reality and immersing yourself in another world. There are so many reasons to read a book, simply for a rousing good read! You can escape together to another place, another time or another world. Reading is a pleasure and a joy and does not require an internet connection or any fancy equipment! Libraries are wonderful places and it is free to borrow books, so make sure you join up. Supporting local authors by purchasing their books is also very important for the continuation of our industry, so if you can afford to buy books, please do and build a library for you and your child. It is something to treasure for life.
- An emotional workout – books can make you experience the entire range of human emotions and that is very healthy. It allows your child to express feelings they might be having in the real world, in a safe way. It opens up conversation about feelings in general and deepens your child’s understanding of their own feelings and those of other people. Developing emotional intelligence is so important, especially in our digitally connected world.
- Resilience building – reading stories about how different characters deal with difficult situations and work through those, can help your child to develop resilience to their own problems. Everybody will face multiple problems across their lives. Being able to deal with these, understand your reactions and how to move forwards, grows resilience. Bouncing back from things is vital to mental health and wellbeing. You can have direct discussions about these things, or just allow the story to sink into your child’s heart and mind. The more you read a story, the more familiar your child will become with the motivations of the characters and how their choices impacted their lives.
Reading together with your child will bring both of you many benefits and rewards. With any luck, they will go on to be lifelong readers. And that is one of the biggest gifts you can ever give.