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. I still have many of the books I loved most, sitting on my shelves today. I often had my head in a book and would walk around the house reading. I brought a huge box of books home for the holidays. My parents taught at my school and we had private access to the library during holidays, which was so exciting! I also started writing when I was small and loved to write and illustrate my own books. So, it’s no surprise that I am now a writer, and in particular, an author of children’s books!
Stories have an enormous impact on all of us. Think about a favourite television series – what are the things that make it special to you? Is it characters, 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 many things, including language skills, empathy, and early reading skills. They initially pick up the sounds and rythms of words. They learn to care about books and to enjoy reading. They spend close time with you, engaging in an activity that extends their imagination. Stories help develop problem solving skills and grow your children’s brains, develop their social and communication skills, and to learn about their connectedness to others as well as their individuality. As they grow to better understand the stories, they learn important things about life, people and relationships. They develop emotional intelligence and lateral thinking skills.
Just as you might reach for a book that takes you away from reality, children can immerse themselves in other worlds. Just as you might reach for a book that helps you deal with problems, books can support children in understanding and coping with their lives. There are many things to be scared about in the world and books are even more important now, than they ever were – for you and your children. There are also many wonderful things to celebrate and books remind us all about these things too.
Here are 5 tips on how books can support your child’s wellbeing
- Reading offers quiet time together – taking time to read a book with your child offers a closeness that can help both of you unwind at the end of a busy day. It’s 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 (and you) can handle.
- Escape – Reading a book can be all about escaping reality and immersing yourself in another world. You can escape 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 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 offer the experience of feeling a range of emotions, and that is very healthy. It also lets your child express feelings they might be having, in a safe way. It opens up conversation about wellbeing and emotional health 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 can help your child to develop resilience. Everyone faces problems across their lives. Being able to deal with these, understand your reactions, and how to move forwards, grows resilience. Bouncing back from difficult situations and events 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, the more familiar your child will become with the motivations of the characters and how their choices impacted their lives, how they sought help when needed, and how they overcame barriers and problems.
Reading together with your child will bring both of you both 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 them.