I daresay it is common knowledge that reading to your children is important. A quick Google search can point you towards many articles boasting how early reading leads to improved speech development and academic success later in life. This is all wonderful and excellent, but what about the benefits for right here and right now? Instant gratification if you will? Well, reading to your toddler does indeed have a few instant benefits.
1. The Tantrum Buster
This is my favorite benefit of reading, although I use this theory to apply to oral stories as well.
A few months ago, my three year old was due for a haircut. He was definitely not in the mood for it. On the drive over to the salon, he started to cry because "it was going to hurt." He's never been hurt at a salon but he was afraid the scissors would hurt. Instead of trying to rationalize with him, I decided to try a new approach. I didn't try to deny his fears. His fears were real even though they weren't based in truth; he was afraid.
Instead, I said, "I'm going to tell you a story." And I did. I told him an elaborate story about a kitten who played baseball but kept striking out because his fur was too long and he couldn't see. Kitty's dad took him to the barber to get his fur trimmed; after that, Kitty could see much better and didn't strike out in baseball. Moral of the story: cut your hair/fur. My 3 year old perked right up and started jabbering away about baseball. Fast forward to inside the salon at the hair washing station. He started to tense up, and I gently reminded him: "Remember Kitty got a hair cut? But first Kitty had to get his fur washed? This is just like that." Instantly, I saw his little body relax and he softly said, "Oh, Yeah, just like Kitty."
He made it through his shampoo and hair cut and I was amazed. It was the calmest he had ever been during a hair cut. He actually seemed to enjoy it! I give full credit to my new technique of story telling instead of lecturing or rationalizing. His mind is too young and immature to fully comprehend rationalizing... but a story - he can definitely understand a story. I veiled my lesson to him in a fun and engaging way, and that made all the difference.
I have used this method a lot since that first moment. I have used several times during teaching moments to help diffuse a tantrum, I have used it as distractions for hangry toddlers when food was delayed or traffic made a car trip longer, and I have used it to illustrate the importance of sharing with siblings.
Sometimes our days are perfect: everyone gets along, tantrums don't arise, naptimes are peaceful, parents are patient, no sudden changes to the daily schedule, laundry might even get folded and *gasp* put away.
Sometimes, though, chaos happens. Siblings quarrel, tantrums happen, naptime is sabotaged, and you're wearing the toddlers' lunch on your shirt. But that is 100% okay. I repeat: it is okay that every day is not picture perfect. But this is what matters: it matters to your children that they see your unconditional love for them no matter what. Because truly nothing else matters. They spilled their soup? Smeared red paint on the walls? Yes those things are frustrating but how we react to those things says more about us than we might even know. We might lose our patience and be frustrated (because I for sure do not like to clean ground up gold fish out of carpets 4x in one day), but the key to all of this is what we do after: do we take the necessary steps to show our children that they are loved no matter what? This can be manifested in a hug or cuddle or words of affirmation.
One thing I do is turn to books. After a particularly rough day or a visit from Mr. Grumpy Pants, I turn to books. Nothing seems to ease tension than a cuddle with a warm cozy blanket and a stack of books. This rekindles our relationship and lets my children know "Mama loves you." The physical closeness and the cuddliness paired with their favorite books is a sure fire way to let them know that "yes, everything is okay and I am loved."
3. Increases attention, creativity, and enriches play time
Some days my toddlers can seem cool, calm, and collected. Some days they flit from toy toy and activity to activity. On these days, I use reading to help them calm down and regain some focus. Usually, for my boys, a big book about trucks can capture their attention long enough to help them re-center.
Little Red Riding Hood and Three Little Pigs are two big favorite here as well. The awesome thing about these is that they very easily lend themselves to dramatic play. What's more fun than stomping around pretending to blow down straw houses?
With one little book, I've now captured the boys' attention long enough to read the story and then they've spent some energy acting it out. Win win!
Another notable benefit of reading is how it factors into routine. I did not invent the concept of bedtime stories. Far from it. In fact, I remember my dad reading to me before bed. I just want to draw attention to how important it is. Yes, it's fostering a love of reading, it's creating a bonding moment, but it also is helping establish a good routine. Most children thrive on routines. It is stability. Children can handle a lot of "unpleasant" life moments (like bedtime) when they know its coming. No one likes to be jolted out of a favorite activity. My older toddler definitely craves routine. He needs lots of prepping for big changes. One way I help establish a good nighttime routine for him is reading.
He knows bedtime is coming when we do jammies and books in bed. But the notion of bedtime is easier for him when its preceded by one of his favorite activities: reading together. In our family, bedtime stories are typically done by Daddy. A few months ago, our schedule changed, and it became my job to get both boys to sleep. Such a simple change caused a big ripple, and our boy took awhile to get used to this change. We worked to change things so that Daddy can still read the bedtime stories when its possible, and I can see how this routine affects my boy.
How do stories and books play a role in your lives?
Wife & Mama with a passion for peaceful parenting, natural living, homeschooling... and my daily café au lait.