Reading in the Early Years Helps Development and Behaviour

If you are one of the many parents who spends a large part of your child’s early years visiting libraries and bookshops and reading to your little one morning, noon or night, rest assured: your attentiveness is not in vain.

This follows publication of a new study in the Journal of Developmental & Behavioral Pediatrics, which found that children aged between one and three-years-old who are regularly read to are less likely to exhibit disruptive or hyperactive behaviour.

However, it seems that is not only the children who benefit; parents who read to children are less likely to take a reactive, punitive and emotionally volatile approach to child-rearing. Clearly, reading to children from a young age is a win-win situation for children and parents alike.

Furthermore, the study’s findings come just a month after the release of World Health Organisation guidelines recommending that children aged under two years should not spend any time at all passively watching screens; WHO advises that children aged two to five should have no more than one hour of sedentary screen time every 24 hours. In fact, WHO said that instead of screen time, children should be interacting with parents, which is exactly what reading entails.

The latest study, which was carried out by Rutgers University and was led by Professor Robert Wood Johnson and Assistant Professor Manual Jimenez, adds to the overwhelming canon of research detailing the importance of parental interactions with their offspring. It is established that around 80 percent of brain growth happens during the first three years of life, and reading is thought to be especially helpful in linguistic development.

Children are often said to be like “sponges” and are even known to pay attention to sounds from within the womb during the third trimester. Even the most basic baby babbling sounds are understood to be an attempt to mimic the language and exclamations of parents.

Furthermore, parents who are able to speak and read to their children in the classic baby-talk sing-song are likely to be even better at engaging and stimulating language in younger children. This mode of communication makes it easier for children to identify phonemes (the distinct units of sound that make up speech and language).

The study analysed 2,165 mother-child pairs, questioning them on their reading habits between the ages of one and three and then carried out another interview two years later. It was found that the more often parents read to their children, the less likely they were to take a punitive and dictatorial approach to parenting while, in turn, their children were less disruptive.

“For parents, the simple routine of reading with your child on a daily basis provides not just academic but emotional benefits that can help bolster the child’s success in school and beyond,” commented one of the researchers.