Reading to children is a wonderful and powerful way to communicate our care, and to help them learn a variety of important skills. Socially and emotionally, reading to our children has a deeper and more profound impact than we might imagine.
When we read to children, it gives them the opportunity to increase their attention span. Additionally they develop emotion recognition, emotional regulation, social skills and empathy.
Stories help children to build their emotional comprehension, as stories are fundamentally about feelings, and characters’ emotional reactions to situations. Storytelling gives children the freedom to project their feelings onto stories and characters – they can ‘try on’ emotions for themselves, or reject those feelings if they seem too overwhelming, while still learning about the feelings. Characters in stories become a means for children to explore feelings in a safe way, by exploring those feelings in other characters, at a distance that feels safer.
Stories also introduce the concept of empathy – feeling for and with characters that are being identified with, which spills over into children’s interactions with those around them.
Important social skills are learned during story time, as children carefully watch and learn from characters’ reactions, or have discussions with trusted adults about different ways of interacting.
Story time also provides a wonderful opportunity for connection with parents and carers. It is usually a restful, quiet time, during which children can snuggle up close, and enjoy wonderful physical proximity with those they love. For adults, it is a wonderful opportunity to make positive eye-contact with little ones, and to provide love, nurturing, attunement to children’s feelings, and sharing feelings with them while reading. Adults can initiate discussions about a variety of feelings or situations in stories, gently guiding and teaching in fun ways, and help children to become aware of what they are feeling and how to cope with those feelings.
Story time is even beneficial for parents! It is a quiet, peaceful time that relaxes muscles and reduces heart rate significantly. Cuddling and spending quality time with little ones releases oxytocin, the ‘cuddle-hormone’, which combats the release of harmful, stress-induced hormones, and strengthens the immune-system.
So make time for stories, even if it’s only one, because story time build us up, one story at a time!