How reading helps emotional development

Updated: Apr 9, 2021

Happy Book Day! Do you remember the first book you really loved? Was it Goodnight Moon, Peter Rabbit, The Very Hungry Caterpillar? You probably can recall, even if you haven’t read it since, what you loved so much about it. The truth is reading ignites something special in us. As an adult, it helps you tone and maintain your imagination, learn a new skill or comprehend an important and timely concept, even destress. But as a child, it offers a crucial foundation to emotional development.

Here are 3 ways books contribute to your child’s socioemotional learning:

  1. Increases emotional intelligence

Fiction offers your child a world’s worth of culture they wouldn’t have access to otherwise. We’ve talked before about the importance of children understanding diversity, which you can introduce to them on holidays like Chinese New Year and MLK day. But books go deeper - they get more personal and relatable. Your child can learn about someone her age on the other side of the world - their day-to-day, their hardships, their joys. Researchers at NYC’s New School found, according to a Scientific American article, that literary fiction can “support and teach us values about social behavior, such as the importance of understanding those who are different from ourselves.”

2. Bonding

Chances are your child hasn’t started reading novels on their own yet, but reading aloud to them yourself as early as possible is just as important as their own reading practices will be later. Your child, no matter how old, loves to hear the cadence of your voice. If you have an infant, hold them close and read to them - it helps them associate reading with intimacy, which sets an important precedent to enjoy learning.

3. Empathy

Many books offer a problem or tricky scenario for their character, which takes them on a journey to a solution. As your child understands this plot, they are naturally working out their own feelings about it - what would they do, what would they think, how do they feel about the character’s choices? Reading allows us to imagine ourselves into someone else’s experience. Understanding the intricacies of someone in a different circumstance than you is key to developing empathy and the ability to connect with other humans.

Remember, it’s always the right time to read! Promoting reading as much as possible when they’re little will give your child a very valuable love - of learning and of other people. Try making it extra fun with a drop-everything-and-read routine. At any point in the day, have your child stop what they’re doing to read for an allocated amount of time. They’ll love the game and it will instill an excitement and gratitude for the ability to do it.

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