“Go pick your bedtime book, right now,” I told my four-year-old. Afternoon meltdowns had turned into bedtime battles, and I was tired. He returned clutching the book Glad Monster, Sad Monster and curled up beside me.
His body began to relax as we read about all the things that made these monsters glad, mad, sad, and scared. “Did you have big feelings today, like the monsters?” I asked. Big nod.
“Do you need extra hugs tonight?” More nods. When he couldn’t quite tell me how he was feeling, he found a book that could speak for him — and that helped me give him what he needed.
On a recent taxi ride, the driver asked me, “What’s your best piece of parenting advice?” He had young kids at home, too, and his question made me pause. I’ve probably read too many books and research articles on parenting, so I have lots of data at my fingertips.
But there is one dimension of being a mom where the research beautifully matches my experience in the trenches – something stunningly simple, where the return on investment is undeniably good for my kids and good for me:
I read to them.
Almost every evening, after tooth-brushing and before lights out, we snuggle and read. Despite the inevitable ups and downs of family life, we end the day connected.
Reading aloud to kids has clear cognitive benefits. For example, brain scans show that hearing stories strengthens the part of the brain associated with visual imagery, story comprehension, and word meaning. One study found that kindergarten children who were read to at least three times a week had a “significantly greater phonemic awareness than did children who were read to less often.” And the landmark Becoming a Nation of Readers report from 1985 concluded that “the single most important activity for building knowledge for their eventual success in reading is reading aloud to children.”