How Reading Builds Resilience

Family storytime plays an important part in building resilience in our children.

What is resilience and why is it important?

Resilience is essentially our ability to cope, or “bounce back” from stress and adverse situations. The long-term impacts of stress on our health can include a weakened immune system, poor attention, inability to problem solve, or regulate emotions. Being resilient is, therefore, imperative to good psychological and physiological health. Resilience is a coping mechanism that does not come naturally to everyone, but with the right support, it can be developed.

Resilience can be nurtured at any stage in life. However, if parents (and educators) are aware of ways we can help our children become more resilient, we can give them the best head start to tackle stressful situations. Stress and adversity is an inevitable part of life – it is how we deal with those situations (whether big or small) that determines how we can recover from them.

Beyond Blue explains the concept of resilience wonderfully with an analogy to a plane encountering turbulent weather:

“The ability of the plane to get through the poor weather and reach its destination depends on:

Plane in storm
  • the pilot (the child)
  • the co-pilot (the child’s family, friends, teachers and health professionals)
  • the type of plane (the child’s individual characteristics such as age and temperament)
  • the equipment available to the pilot, co-pilots and ground crew
  • the severity and duration of the poor weather.”

Being resilient does not equate to requiring people to be “strong silent types”. It requires a whole network of support and the ability to draw on that support.

What role does reading stories play in all this?

Some of the ways that you can help build resilience in your children include:

  • Building their self-esteem – finding ways to support and give your child confidence in their skills.
  • Building healthy relationships.
  • Working on problem solving skills.
  • Managing their stress and anxiety.

The simple act of reading to your kids on a daily basis can strengthen all of these skills. With some planning and understanding of resilience, you can make storytime even more effective. Some of the ways you can do this are:

  • Give your child your undivided attention when you read to them – go to a quiet, warm room away from distractions. Dim the lights. If you have more than one child, you may need to give them separate storytimes. There are benefits to joint storytime, but it can also be disruptive. Make the call on what works for your family.
  • Let your child have a say in what story is being read.
  • Set some (flexible)rules around discussions and questions during the story. Eg. questions to be asked at the end of each page. Make sure your child understands the expectations. This way, you can get your child to focus on the story without distraction while still allowing them to question/discuss the story with you.
  • Give yourself adequate time for storytime. Don’t rush the story. Also make sure there is enough time after for discussion at the end without your child/you being too tired.
  • Address all of your children’s questions compassionately – don’t make them feel silly about the questions they ask, or for their interpretations of the story.
  • Take the time to “debrief” on the story. Work through any conflict, problems, emotions etc with your child and discuss ways in which they were resolved.
  • Take the time to build compassion and understanding about the character’s feelings.
  • Above all, enjoy the time you are spending reading the book!

A note about mindfulness

Mindfulness is the process of “being in the moment”. It is a practice used in meditation and is widely being used as a technique to help combat stress, anxiety and depression. Practicing mindfulness, therefore, also helps build resilience.

While there are many various ways of promoting mindfulness, it can be a bit tricky with young children. Younger children do not always have the attention span, but with some gentle guidance you can engage with activities that can help draw attention to mindfulness. Reading, if done right, is one of those activities (check out Hey Sigmund for some other activities too).

When you are reading to your children, try to make the routine quiet and free from distractions. This way you can help your child focus on the story, the illustrations, their emotions, and their senses (the warm blanket on their bed, your voice, etc).

Reflection on learning

Rather than doing a review for today’s post, I wanted just to take the time to reflect on the opportunity that storytime provides us to better understand our children.

I find that we often underestimate our children’s capabilities.

We have a preconceived notion of what children can do and at what age they should be doing it. We sometimes also become dismissive of our children’s want/need to participate in conversation. It is for this reason that we are “surprised” by what our children do and say.

We are taken aback because we often don’t give them enough credit for their ability to listen, interpret and analyse – they are just children after all….

This is not to say that we should be treating children as adults; rather just taking a step back and being more aware to how in tune our children really are. They are often more creative and open to ideas than adults, who get stuck into a particular view on the world.

Once we are able to do this, we can challenge (not push) and grow our children’s learning capacity. We can trust in their ability to problem solve with some compassionate guidance.

Storytime offers a perfect opportunity to test the waters:

  • Read a story that you think may be a bit “old” for your child and ask questions about what they understand from the story. Keep doing this from time to time – children learn and grow quickly! Even if they don’t quite understand the story at first, take the time to explain and discuss.
  • Let your child pick their own story – don’t belittle their choice or steer them to something else that you think is appropriate. Chances are that they picked a book because it interests them. If they lose interest in it, they will tell you. Be guided by your child’s interest and try to foster it.
  • Always try to take the time to “debrief” after a story. This aids the comprehension process.