By Molly Alexander
When we talk about the benefits of reading at home with infants and young children, we often focus on the language and literacy skills that can be gained. While that focus is essential, reading together can also nurture the parent-child bond and promote a positive relationship.
The first relationship in a child’s life with her primary caregiver can be described using the framework of attachment theory. When the attachment relationship is secure, the primary caregiver serves as a secure base from which the child can confidently venture out into the world around her and return to for comfort and connection. Many research studies show that secure attachment develops during infancy through attuned, responsive, and sensitive parenting. When it comes to experiences at school in particular, research shows that secure attachment relates to curiosity, eagerness to learn, and enthusiasm in problem-solving in the preschool years and beyond.
A secure parent-child attachment relationship develops through everyday interactions, and when put into practice as a daily ritual, reading books with your child can be a special interaction filled with affection and attuned, undivided attention. Even very young babies learn to associate the act of shared reading with the feeling of comfort and being loved. The act of reading books at home together even has the power to heal and improve relationships. A study on youth in care in the UK showed that carers who read daily with their child reported that it made a positive difference in their relationship.
The quality of the reading experience is what matters most, not the quantity of books read. When we shift the focus of reading together onto relationship building, there are practical ways to tailor our approach accordingly. Here are some tips for making shared reading a pleasurable and comforting experience for both you and your child— one that has the power and intention to nurture your bond:
- Make reading together a daily routine. Reading together at the end of every day, no matter what else may have happened that day, is a way to show your child that he is loved no matter what. The routine of reading daily can instill a sense of calm; the consistency and predictability can provide a sense of security.
- Invite your child to snuggle in your lap for a story. It can feel good for both parent and child to cuddle up with a book. Feeling safe and secure while sharing a book every day is a wonderful way to bond.
- Think about the experience as an interaction. You can initiate interactions while reading together by pointing at pictures, asking questions, labeling and commenting on the illustrations, and making connections between something in the book and something in your child’s life. Take it as an opportunity to listen to what your child has to say. The more your child feels heard and understood, the more connected she will feel to you. When she chimes in, this is her way of participating in the interaction. When you acknowledge what she says, or even the babble sounds that she makes, and respond with enthusiasm, it sends the message that you are paying attention to her and that you value her voice and presence.
- Allow your child to turn the page even if you haven’t finished reading that one. Let him turn back to a page if he wants to look at it again. As adult readers it can be the default to prioritize the text and plow ahead with reading. Remember that your baby or young child is looking closely at the artwork while listening to your voice as you read. Perhaps your toddler loves a particular illustration on one page. Or perhaps the sound of a certain phrase on a page delights him and makes him laugh and he just can’t wait to skip ahead to get to it. You will learn something about what interests your child when you follow his lead, and when you take pleasure and interest in what he delights in it is an opportunity to strengthen your connection and bond.
- Talk about feelings when reading together. Through stories and books, your child is beginning to learn about the range of human emotions. Stories and books are a safe place for her to begin to experiment with emotions, and doing so with you can send a message that you accept her no matter how she feels.
Looking for a book recommendation? Check out I Love You Because You’re You written by Liza Baker and illustrated by David McPhail. This wonderfully reassuring book captures a parent’s unwavering love and the many emotions of all children through its comforting rhythmic text and cozy watercolor illustrations.