Before I begin to answer this, I’d like to ask you, lovely reader, how do you feel after reading? I don’t mean reading a text message, your Instagram feed, or a letter from your child’s school. I mean an actual book. Be it digital or physical, what state of mind are you in afterwards?
If I take my teacher hat off to answer this, I can honestly say that when I give myself a moment to read for pleasure, it’s like my mind has released its pressure valve. I feel calm, at peace and almost (dare I say it) refreshed?
Hopefully you can relate to some of these things, but before I lose you completely, I’d like to share some actual research that can help you see where I’m coming from. And how reading really can make your child happier.
Mental health is a growing concern for children
A 2021 survey published by NHS Digital found that 1 in 6 children in England had a probable mental disorder. This is the same as 2020 but an increase from 1 in 9 from 2017. Shockingly, 39% of children aged 6-16 experienced a deterioration in their mental health between 2017-2021.
The causes for this deterioration are hugely multi-facetted. These declines have been attributed to things such as: social media, family problems, household circumstances, perceived impact of COVID-19 restrictions and lockdowns, school absences, access to learning resources and SEND support to name a few.
It’s not all bad news (I promise)
As parents, I know you want to do everything you can to protect your children’s mental health and wellbeing. And I’ve got some good news for you, the answer to this problem is sitting on your bookshelves. The importance of reading is exceptionally underrated and can help in more ways than one.
The National Literacy Trust conducted a survey of 49,047 UK school children aged 8-28 and found: children who are the most engaged with reading and writing are much happier with their lives than children who are the least engaged (NLT, 2018).
Additionally, they also found that children with above expected reading skills are three times more likely to have high levels of mental wellbeing than their peers with below expected reading skills (NLT, 2018).
What can parents do?
Any parent will know that children are less than receptive to discussing their thoughts, feelings, and emotions as they grow older. In fact, I’ve heard some parents nostalgically remember the ‘good ol’ days’ when their children wanted to talk to or even spend time with them.
This is what makes books so magical. They’re a portal into another character, world, life. Children’s books are excellent resources for teaching us about life’s toughest lessons and issues in the simplest of ways.
From The Colour Monster’s delightfully cute illustrations that help youngsters understand feelings to A Monster Calls tackling one of the hardest topics of all, losing a parent to cancer.
Trust me when I say, there’s a book out there for everything. If someone has felt it, I guarantee someone else has written about it.
The trick is to find the book that tackles the emotions you think need addressing. Then your child can discuss and empathise with the character’s experiences in a distant and non-explicit way.