The most powerful part of reading often happens when you put down the book,” Erin Clabough, Ph.D., says.
The benefits of reading to children are immeasurable, and they have been studied and cited countless times. Articles on the importance of reading to children explain that doing so helps develop children’s communication skills, increases their vocabulary, enhances their creativity, and can deepen the bond between the child and the parent or caregiver. There’s a great post about the benefits of reading aloud to children on Ragamuffin Books.
As it turns out though, how you read to your children also makes a difference.
When done a certain way, reading to children can vastly enhance their intellectual empathy, which can lead to more successful relationships, lower divorce rates, and more career success, according to an article on Inc.com.
The magic formula?
In short, “Read with your kids, not just to them,” says Bill Murphy Jr. on Inc.com.
Reading with Your Kids
“If approached correctly, any book can be used to foster empathy and decision-making skills,” Clabough said. “Even terrible books.”
Murphy explained that to unlock the benefits of reading to children, you must do more than just recite the words on the pages of the book.
Discuss the story as you go. Stopping periodically and asking your child what he or she would do in a particular character’s shoes gives them a chance to practice empathy. They can imagine the thoughts, feelings, and motivations of someone other than themselves.
Murphy explained that this approach to reading can develop a child’s intellectual empathy.
What Is Intellectual Empathy?
Intellectual empathy is different from emotional empathy and can often be even more useful, according to Murphy.
“Intellectual empathy is the ability to perceive objectively how other people see and experience things—from a distance. Emotional objectivity is more about the ability to actually see and feel things the way others do,” Murphy explains.
He goes on to say, “intellectual empathy might be more useful—it helps people predict how others will react to them, can inspire them to come up with ideas and even products that will inspire others, and doesn’t carry with it the risk of decision paralysis or inaction that emotional empathy can.”
Another of the benefits of reading to children is that they learn to develop their decision-making skills.
Neuroscientist Erin Clabough explained that asking children to place themselves in a character’s shoes and imagine what they would do gives the child “decision-making practice.”
“Studies have also shown if you make a decision about something, you remember it better. The brain gets better at whatever it practices, and reflection allows a child to actively practice making decisions, rather than passively listening to the book. That active practice results in synaptic changes and strengthening of neuronal pathways in your child,” according to Clabough.
She explained that children who practice empathy and decision-making in this way are better prepared to real-life conflicts at school and later on in life.
“From a neuroscience perspective, each nigh most parents are losing an incredible opportunity to use artificial conflict as real-life practice,” Clabough said.
Questions to Ask When Reading with Your Child
“The most powerful part of reading often happens when you put down the book,” Clabough said.
Here are a few questions you can ask your children during their bedtime stories:
- What would you do if you were the main character right now?
- What do you think the main character should do?
- How do you think this character feels right now?
- Why do you think he/she did that?
- What do you think will happen next?