Reading Aloud to Young Children Has Benefits for Behavior and Attention – The New York Times

The New York Times recently posted this article online and it was picked up by some of the book and reading news sources I receive, which immediately caught my attention. While it is not anything new, it confirms once more what other studies have proved – that reading to children at an early age is a tremendous benefit to their psychological, emotional, and educational development. And we would add, of course, that when God’s Word and other good Christian literature are read to them, their spiritual development is enhanced.

The article begins by pointing to the results of another new study that found the great benefits of reading to very young children:

It’s a truism in child development that the very young learn through relationships and back-and-forth interactions, including the interactions that occur when parents read to their children. A new study provides evidence of just how sustained an impact reading and playing with young children can have, shaping their social and emotional development in ways that go far beyond helping them learn language and early literacy skills. The parent-child-book moment even has the potential to help curb problem behaviors like aggression, hyperactivity and difficulty with attention, a new study has found.

“We think of reading in lots of different ways, but I don’t know that we think of reading this way,” said Dr. Alan Mendelsohn, an associate professor of pediatrics at New York University School of Medicine, who is the principal investigator of the study, “Reading Aloud, Play and Social-Emotional Development,” published in the journal Pediatrics.

After covering the special program that teaches parents during pediatric primary care visits how to be involved in their children’s lives through reading and playing, the article concludes with these additional thoughts:

But all parents should appreciate the ways that reading and playing can shape cognitive as well as social and emotional development, and the power of parental attention to help children flourish. Dr. Weisleder said that in reading and playing, children can encounter situations a little more challenging than what they usually come across in everyday life, and adults can help them think about how to manage those situations.

“Maybe engaging in more reading and play both directly reduces kids’ behavior problems because they’re happier and also makes parents enjoy their child more and view that relationship more positively,” she said.

Reading aloud and playing imaginative games may offer special social and emotional opportunities, Dr. Mendelsohn said. “We think when parents read with their children more, when they play with their children more, the children have an opportunity to think about characters, to think about the feelings of those characters,” he said. “They learn to use words to describe feelings that are otherwise difficult and this enables them to better control their behavior when they have challenging feelings like anger or sadness.”

“The key take-home message to me is that when parents read and play with their children when their children are very young — we’re talking about birth to 3 year olds — it has really large impacts on their children’s behavior,” Dr. Mendelsohn said. And this is not just about families at risk. “All families need to know when they read, when they play with their children, they’re helping them learn to control their own behavior,” he said, so that they will come to school able to manage the business of paying attention and learning.

This “truism” is worth remembering in our own homes as well. I hope we are exposing our children to good literature at an early age and giving them the thrill of seeing and hearing words and experiences expressed in the world of books. The benefits are well documented.

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