Why reading stories to children helps promote good mental health

I listened to Michael Morpurgo, successful author, especially known for writing magical children’s books (e.g. War Horse) on BBC breakfast this morning talking about well-known authors re-writing classic fiction, and promoting the importance of reading with children.

I felt this very much links in with the editorial on BBC news yesterday about parents needing help to ensure the mental health of their children which you can read here.   “One in 10 children aged five to 16 years had a mental health problem that warranted support and treatment, the report said. And the quality of the parent-child relationship and parenting more broadly played a primary role.” The author, Professor Ashton says “Having produced healthy babies we then set about neglecting them.”  Harsh words, but probably true!

Reading to Children

Children’s classics have endured for thousands of years and therefore one must conclude they must be extremely good.  They also contain archetypal images in a language that resonates with children and teaches them many lessons in life and helps them to understand and to deal with a range of emotions. They allow them to know that life is not always easy and it often takes courage, resilience and determination, negotiation, social know-how etc to overcome obstacles as well as the ability to find happiness and to spread happiness. Stories stimulate imaginations and aid understanding of the world.  Sugar- coated stories which do not address real life problems are not helpful.  But they need address life’s challenges in a way that fires the imaginations and wonder of a child.

Apart from improving their literacy and access to other subjects as a result, parents regularly reading to their children also give their children the message that they are important, feel safe and secure feel close to the people they love, and can have conversations with parents who are more than physically present – the perfect opportunity to really listen to them, to help them understand and name their feelings, help them work through their worries, to explain and clarify some aspects of the story.

And when a child wants the same story repeated again and again, it is because it speaks to their emotional needs and their interests. Stories stimulate curiosity, help children explore strong emotions safely, enhances brain development.

Reading books with children – lots and lots of books, especially classics which you can return to time and time again, is a win win opportunity to maintain young people’s mental health. Books lay the foundations for future social, communication and interpersonal skills.

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