Reading bedtime stories together will make families happier, studies find
In our house, every day, no matter how good or bad or long or stressful, ends with a bedtime story.
After getting into their pj's and brushing their teeth, my own two children will crawl into the double bed and we will all snuggle down to read before it's lights out and time for sleep. They each pick a book – if it's a short one, designed to be read in one go, we will. If the book is a longer one (my little girl is currently loving the Rainbow Fairy books), we will read a chapter or two, and continue the following evening.
This ritual is pretty much sacred in our house, as important to me as I know it is to them. Not just because I love how I am hopefully passing down a love of books and reading to them, but also because the setting to me is so precious. This is the time to connect, to wind down, to be close. To share funny stories, to chat about our days and to just relax and let the collective stresses of our days just melt away.
And the thing is – never mind just sharing stories and calming down before it's time to sleep, the value of reading to our kids – for them and us – is reinforced by a growing body of research on the topic. In fact, according to CNN, just last week, a meta-analysis of 19 studies published in the journal Pediatrics found that reading aloud was significantly beneficial to children and their parents.
In most of the studies – which involved more than 3,000 families – the parents were assessed as well as their kids, and get this: Reading aloud appeared not only to strengthen parents' feelings of competence and improve the quality of their relationships with their children, it even seemed to reduce parental stress or depression.
That's one powerful bedtime story, mamas.
For kids, being read aloud to improves a young mind's cognitive development (thinking, problem-solving, decision-making) and reduces behaviour problems, research shows. As with playing board games, reading to them increases concentration and attention spans. In fact, reading aloud even outperforms conversation when it comes to exposure to vocabulary and advancing a child's literacy.
The problem? Many of us stop reading aloud to our kids once they get to a certain age, with studies from Australia showing that more than a third of children aged 6 to 11 whose parents had stopped reading to them wanted to continue.
My girl is 11 years old now – and while there are evening she now reads aloud to myself and her little brother, most evenings she still wants me to read, enjoying just being able to listen and relax as the story is being read to her – even though if she wanted to, she could perfectly well read it by herself. And so we continue our reading ritual – with no plans to stop anytime soon.
And because reading aloud is pleasurable, by doing so, parents reinforce a child's habit of reading because they create a positive association with it. It is, maybe, one of the most virtuous circles of parenting and teaching.