As a children’s author and a book-lover at heart, it may not surprise you to hear that I recommend reading to babies every day, and especially as part of your nap time and bedtime routine. Not only is the act of reading a book one of the simplest joys in life, but it also provides a much-needed rest from busy days and computer screens. It’s widely known amongst parents that story time is great for kids, but not everyone knows that reading to babies and toddlers even before they can comprehend the meaning of what they’re hearing is actually a great benefit to their development.
On top of this, reading specific books and reading in general has been shown to improve emotional learning and emotional intelligence, even at a young age. That’s why it’s so important to find a way to incorporate reading into your daily routine, but for many parents this is easier said than done. I’ll discuss some ways that reading may work its way into your life and routines and why you should start as soon as possible.
What do the Experts Say?
The consensus seems to be pretty clear; reading to babies is one of the best things you can do for them. Pediatrician Sarah Klein, MD says, “Reading to babies and young children is so important. It provides the building blocks for language. And it gives them the tools for forming lifelong social and emotional skills.”
Some of the specific benefits of reading to babies include: improving language skills, bonding, emotional learning, building a foundation for empathy skills and social learning, establishing beneficial routines and school readiness. Language skills and school readiness will help give your child a leg up when they eventually start school, putting them on a path toward school success.
Emotional and social learning is a little less clear and is heavily influenced by what and how you read to your child. Little ones pick up on how you inject emotion into a story. This can be through your voice inflection, facial expressions, and expressive gestures. As you read stories to your baby, be mindful of the many teaching opportunities you have for demonstrating what emotions look like and especially the relationship between body awareness and emotions.
Experts stress the importance of reading daily and forming a reading habit, spanning from infancy to late in life. Reading strengthens your brain, builds warm associations with books, and greatly helps mental health. Just imagine that by reading to your child every day, you can share something truly wonderful with them that they will continue throughout their lifetime.
Is All Reading the Same?
The best books for some children are not the best books for all children. Clearly, a 4-month-old baby will require drastically different reading materials than, say, an 8-year-old. But notice what books particularly engage your baby’s attention. Board books with bright pictures and interactive features, like the Hoppy & Poppie PinkCheeks series, are highly recommended for starting a child’s reading experience.
One recommendation that will help your child develop a love of reading is by letting them discover and pick books on their own. Of course, you want to oversee what they choose and make sure their reading choices are age-appropriate, but by letting them explore and choose for themselves, your child will experience a greater satisfaction with reading and it will maintain their interest.
Reading to Babies and Emotional Intelligence
The benefits of reading certain books meant to encourage emotional learning are well-covered on this blog, but I’ll mention them again because they’re so important. Emotional intelligence education benefits the development of empathy, motivation, reaction to adversity, emotional regulation, and so much more. It’s no secret anymore that people need emotional intelligence to thrive and navigate the complexity of modern life and the sooner you start teaching a child about it, the better equipped they will be.
As for which books to choose, the possibilities are endless. My own series is not the only material out there. In fact, I compiled a whole list of great books for children that come with matching stuffed animals, many of which are specifically written to encourage emotional growth. It’s so important to get started at a young age because it is a very emotional time. Rational thinking is still in development so children are often left with emotional reactions to things they don’t understand or don’t like.
The job of a parent is not to discourage emotional reactions, but to help their child develop emotional self-awareness, self-management, and self-assessment. No emotion is more valid than any other one. Happiness is not a be-all, end-all, and neither is sadness nor anger. Showing your child how different people express the more difficult emotions and encouraging them to figure out how they can most beneficially express themselves is the ultimate role of a parental mentor.
How to Begin
For the parents who say they’re too busy or tired by the end of their day to read to their baby consistently, I feel your pain and I empathize with you. Let me tell you, I remember times when I felt like skipping parts of our bedtime routine, whether it was bath time or story time. But time and time again, sticking with it regardless of how tired I felt, was not only soothing for my babies but also soothing for me.
Think about it this way; when you read to babies every night, you create and establish an extremely valuable habit. As you consistently read a book before bed, your child will begin to associate reading time with winding down and preparing for sleep, making one of the hardest parts of parenting that much easier. Here’s to no more nights of chasing the kids around the house before bed and struggling to get them to sleep.
I hope this article has inspired you to not only start reading to your child but continuing that practice and letting them explore reading for themselves. At young ages, the goal should be to inspire big thinking, creativity, high emotional intelligence, and a love for learning. Children absorb so much from the stories you read to them so make sure that what you choose to read is age-appropriate and ideally, provides both educational and entertainment value. If you can find a good balance between those two, your child will thank you through their lifetime love of reading. I’d love to hear what some of your favorite bedtime stories are, let me know in the comments below!