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).

Once Upon a Time…

Thanks for joining me on my blogging journey! This is certainly a new experience for me. I am naturally more of an introvert, so putting myself out there is a bit frightening.

person holding black and orange typewriter

After months of ummm’ing and ahhh’ing on how and when (or if) I was going to take the dive into blogging, I made the decision to write about books. I spent time thinking about my audience and what I could write to them that they may find interesting. However, I came across a stumbling block of which I am a little ashamed….I am not a particularly avid reader…

Contradictory? Hypocritical you say? Well, not really. Let me explain.

As a child, and into my late teens, I loved nothing more than to snuggle up in bed with a book. I would read for a least half an hour every night until my eyes could no longer hold themselves open. I would demolish novels.

Life continued like this until – university. I was enrolled in a Bachelors of Arts which consisted of history subjects, philosophy, sociology, linguistics, etc. The demands for reading over the course of these three years was high and it ultimately took its toll. After three years of copious amounts of read, analyze, summarize, write, the love of reading had been sapped out of me.

Don’t get me wrong, I still read and I do also believe in the ongoing benefits of reading as an adult. It’s just that now the nature of that reading has changed. I read technical manuals and bulletins for work. I read the news. I read blogs. And, above all, I read to my children.

I would say that I “don’t really read for fun anymore”(ie I don’t read fiction novels), but I lie. Reading to my children is much more fun than sitting down to a novel. The trick here is to find books that are enjoyable to read and that grab the interest of your kids. Reading to your kids requires a lot more of your whole-of-body input (that’s right, channel your inner actor), but it is well worth it. The rewards benefit two parties in one go.

It is the notion of storytelling that I am most fascinated with. As adults we lose the human connections in the stories we get told. We watch movies, TV shows, read social media posts, watch lectures, documentaries, etc, etc. These are all stories being told to us. They connect with us on various levels, but they often lack the human element. Some of us are fortunate to know a friend, family member, colleague who has mastered the art of telling a story – and aren’t their stories the best stories?! I have a second cousin who, no matter what the story, has the room in stitches. The difference here is that, when they tell you a story, they are connecting directly with you.

This is what your children get to experience daily when you read them a book. We are lucky enough to have a multitude of resources available to us (often for free), where we get the good story given to us. We just need to put a little time and effort into engaging our audience, our kids. We can buy a book once and keep it for a lifetime (if your kids don’t destroy it in the meantime). Libraries also offer us a host of new material for free.

It is for that reason I want to share the children’s books that are a part of our family and I would love to hear what other families are doing.

I don’t claim to be a parenting expert, nor even close to being a perfect parent. Like most of us, I am just an imperfect parent doing the best I can, with the skills I have and the resources I have available to me.