by The Growing Room

“One more time!”

This well-worn phrase has become associated with a child’s transparent effort to delay bedtime. Yet, the plea and the intended result encompass far more for both parent and child. Concerned parents are continually seeking information as to how to raise the happiest, healthiest, most well adjusted humans. Recently the American Academy of Pediatrics issued a policy statement saying that all pediatric primary care should include literacy promotion, starting at birth. Enter bedtime reading rituals. Bedtime reading may well be one of the most important health and communication tools available to parents in establishing physical and emotional wellbeing, and literacy skills with their child. The image of child lovingly tucked in bed beside a parent—favorite book in hand—resonates deeply with all of us. The role of storyteller is one of parenting’s most sacred privileges—the beloved nightly ritual of bedtime reading serves as the hallmark of positive parent- child interaction. Here are some of the wonderful benefits that bedtime reading offers children (and parents).

Bedtime Reading and Emotional Health/Physical Bonding
Remember choosing that favorite dog-eared book and snuggling with your freshly bathed, soft-skinned, wide-eyed toddler? Skin against skin, the unison of heartbeats—reading aloud is the shared attention and emotion between a parent and child. There is nothing that tugs at those parental heartstrings more than those early memories. Not surprisingly, it is the same for your child. What greater gift can a parent give their child then their undivided attention? Children ultimately learn to love reading and books because they are sharing it with someone they love. So…

Save the Ritual!
The snuggles don’t have to end! Though your child may be beyond the physical snuggles, they are never beyond the “emotional snuggles” that a shared story provides. While bedtime stories are not immediately associated with tools for emotional health, the shared emotions and conversations while reading a book with a parent can foster strong connections between parent and child. Experts suggest that parents continue the bedtime story tradition even into the teenage years. Reading aloud can provide fodder for interpersonal conversations. Bedtime reading allows parents to approach difficult topics in a safe environment. You are able to enter their world through the safety and anonymity of a third party character, gaining insights into your teenager that otherwise may be guarded. Powerful emotions can be explored through stories. Furthermore, by selecting books that are slightly above a teen’s reading level, parents can continue to expose their teenagers to new words to expand their vocabulary. So, don’t stop the bedtime reading tradition as the kids reach their tweens! By keeping your  bedtime ritual alive through the years, a book becomes the conduit connecting you with your child on a deeper level.

Bedtime Reading and Neural Rewiring
A powerful benefit that bedtime stories provide is an enhanced mastery of language for the child. Verbal interaction with a caretaker can rewire a child’s brain to quicken their mastery of language. Studies at the University of Texas in Austin found that electronic images of children’s brains considered poor readers showed little activity in the verbal-processing areas; however, after being read to for one to two hours a day for eight weeks, the poor reader’s brain images changed to resemble the good readers. Rewiring happens as words and emphasized sounds stimulate the auditory cortex. For the youngest children, the more frequently they hear sounds associated with language, the faster they become at processing them. They begin to hear the difference between similar sounding words. As those children become grade school age, they will be more adept at sounding out unfamiliar words on a page. To break down unknown words into pieces, a child must first learn those pieces. Bedtime reading provides the vehicle for children to hone their skills.

In addition to activity in the auditory cortex, children who report being read to at home show significantly greater activation in the parietal-temporal-occipital association cortex region of the left hemisphere of the brain. This area corresponds to multisensory integration, integrating sound and visual stimulation. This area is very active when children read to themselves, but also lights up in younger children who are hearing stories. Being able to create visual images from stories read aloud develops skills that aid in language processing and comprehension.

Bedtime Reading and Improved Communication/ Language Skills
When comparing the language in books to the language used by parents talking to their children, researchers found that the picture books contained unique word types. Reading to-and-with children amplify the language they hear more than “child- directed” speech. Reading expands a child’s vocabulary more than just talking with them as books introduce ideas and objects that are out of their direct environment and therefore not a part of their daily conversations. When parents read to their children, they are building an inner dictionary that not only furthers speech and reading skills but also promotes better communication skills with parents and peers. Reading provides skills that movies or video content seem to short circuit.

Bedtime Reading and Anxiety Reduction
Anxiety symptoms are on the rise in children. Even young children are exhibiting signs of stress leaving parents feeling anxious and concerned about how best to help. While there have been no scientific studies on how bedtime stories affect children with spiked cortisol levels, neuroscientists say it stands to reason that being read a familiar book while snuggling close to a parent can comfort a child, thus lowering cortisol levels and aiding in relaxation. The calming nature of bedtime reading— cuddled up with a parent in a comfortable place, with a favorite blanket or toy—is bound to confer soothing benefits. When a child experiences stressors such as bullying, concerns about academics, or relationship difficulties, providing the time and space to open a dialog is of paramount importance—bedtime reading provides this opportunity. It provides the intimacy and space that allows uncomfortable discussions to occur organically. Bedtime reading also allows children and parents a safe place to explore tender topics through characters and storylines. Enchanted worlds help both parents and children de-stress from daily pressures.

As every parent who has read a bedtime story knows, there is magic that occurs of the hard-to-quantify-kind in the context of face-to-face, skin-to-skin, heart-to- heart contact when snuggled up reading with your child. Bedtime reading rituals are the essential mix of love, security, acknowledgment, and comfort. It is that magic that makes toddlers and even older school-aged children clamor “One more time!” It is also the reason that parents tear up and hearts swell when that well- loved, dog-eared bedtime book from years past crosses our path.