There are so many different opinions and approaches to raising kids that your head can spin. As soon as you and your partner announce you’re expecting, your parents, siblings, in-laws, and friends all chime in with stories of their own triumphs and failures in childrearing.
There’s one bit of advice that most parents and childrearing systems agree on, and that’s the necessity of reading to your children. Reading aloud to kids helps build language skills, reading comprehension, vocabulary, and social skills. The closeness and bonding that happens over a storybook is something every parent cherishes. But there are some additional, unexpected benefits of reading to your child.
Research has shown that just keeping a substantial number of books in your home benefits children. Kids who grew up in homes with large home libraries grew into adults that were more proficient not just in literacy, but also in “numeracy,” and in using technological means of communicating with others.
The benefit was apparent even in people who never graduated from high school: if they grew up in a home with a large number of books, their literacy level was on a par with people raised with fewer books around who had nevertheless earned college degrees.
Many children’s books directly address some of the difficulties kids face as they grow up. Children’s authors have sensitively addressed teasing, anxiety over visiting the doctor, hurtful rejection from friends, or even the pain of losing a grandparent. Reading books that depict ordinary kids coping with these issues can help a child forge resilience to overcome the obstacles life puts in their path.
Parents can even help their children with developmental issues like outgrowing thumb-sucking by reading books together that present changes that happen when growing up. For kids with physical or intellectual differences, seeing a portrayal of a kid like them in the pages of a book can be reassuring and empowering.
Building Empathy and Self-Regulation
Children who are read to regularly demonstrate greater empathy for others. They have the ability to step into another’s place and see things from different perspectives. That’s a soft skill that employers value later in life, another of the more unexpected benefits of reading to your child. Kids who are read to also develop better self-regulation skills and attention spans.
Fostering Imagination While Separating Reality from Fantasy
Readers know the delight and the thrill that comes from losing themselves in stories that depict imaginary worlds. Kids love to pretend, and books that take them to a princess’s castle, a dragon’s lair, or a wizarding school become favorites for life. A love of fantasy can become the basis for friendships and adult affinity groups.
But as kids grow up, they must face how things happen in real life. Heroes in stories can inspire kids to take on real-world challenges and work hard to overcome problems. Stories also help them learn the difference between the fictional world in their favorite books, and the reality of what happens in school, on the playground, and around the family dinner table.