This week we’re honored to feature a guest post from Dr. Jillian Roberts, an internationally respected Child and Adolescent Psychologist based in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada. Dr. Roberts actively teaches and conducts research in the areas of Educational Psychology. She is also the author of the best-selling and award winning Just Enough Series – a children's picture book series which helps parents & teachers initiate important life conversations with the very young.
Dr. Roberts is here to talk about why children’s books - and reading them to kids - are so very important to a child’s social, psychological and emotional development.
As parents and citizens, we want our children to grow up with the skills and virtues of empathy, compassion, respect, and love for others and for our world. But how can these values be instilled in our children? This is especially important as today’s kids are bombarded with diverse messages from media and peer groups, along with our own family values. These influences shape and form how your child values and perceives the world around them. Below are just a few of the many benefits children’s books offer young readers and their parents.
Bonding and teaching
Children’s books are a powerful tool for teaching important values. There are a vast number of benefits to reading to kids, including many that confer lifelong rewards. For instance, reading together allows for quality parent-child time and gives you the opportunity to explain and discuss the story’s key messages. Try asking your child what they took from the story and encourage them to open up about what they didn’t quite understand in the book. Make it clear what the moral of the story was and how this could relate to their own life. This kind of questioning can create wonderful teachable moments for you and your child.
Using my own children's book series as an example-- the Just Enough Series-- parents are supported in delving into complex topics such as death, divorce, reproduction, and diversity. These books enhance the theme of openness, staying informed, and demonstrate the values of acceptance and empathy. Books such as these are excellent resources for your child to start learning not only about these complex and challenging topics but how to perceive and react to such themes in real life as a part of their moral development.
Developing empathy allows children to put themselves in another’s place and to better understand their experience. In today’s busy world, it’s important that children learn how to be deeply present to others’ thoughts and feelings. Empathy is key to social and emotional development in most cultures and supported in most religions. Empathy helps children make good decisions that keep their own and others’ best interests at heart. In other words, empathy helps children connect with our common humanity – protecting us all from prejudice and divisiveness.
Many children’s books focus solely on social skills development and how to overcome challenges. However, in my book What Makes Us Unique?, it also focuses on why it is important to understand and accept that everyone is different and that we should celebrate this uniqueness. The connecting value to this is empathy, because part of understanding and accepting differences, is that we must have at least some sense of where this person is coming from and appreciate their own diverse experiences; this is part of what empathy is all about. When a children’s book subtly demonstrates empathy within the storyline (or any important virtue for that matter), parents can point it out to their child and explain why it is so important. Books provide opportunities for many teachable moments.
The development of imagination is also a central component in children’s books.
Imagination is the driving force for creativity and innovation and can be the door to endless possibilities; it gives us the opportunity to be “flexible thinkers” and use our creative outlets. When kids develop their imagination, they learn to “think outside the box,” and to see challenges from multiple perspectives, which ties back into the idea of developing empathy. Imagination is a vehicle for problem-solving.
Children’s books can also demonstrate resilience when characters make mistakes or face a challenge but then work to solve the problem and move on. What a great message to send to our kids! Everyone experiences failures and challenges; the important part is to get back up and continue on. These are crucial lessons for a child’s healthy growth and development.
The above virtues and values emerge and grow as your child develops and they are not independent from one another. They are connected and they integrate beautifully with one another in a number of different ways. Children’s books help expand your child’s experiences, depth of knowledge and wisdom. Story books can teach valuable lessons while still making it fun and enjoyable for both you and your child. Reading to your children early on will help set them up as lifelong readers.
In the end, children’s books provide valuable lessons, not only for kids but also for parents. They give us the opportunity to instill important virtues in our little ones and suggest how we can model such values in our own lives. And that’s what we want, right? For our children to be full of knowledge and to have learned valuable lessons about relationships, service and self-exploration.