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Using Literacy to Boost Your Child’s Health and Resilience

April 08, 2020
by Karen Baicker

Parenting in the pandemic is next level. Your old daily battles—take a bath; put your toys away; wear a hat; do your homework—have been compounded with gripping concerns about microbes. You’re doing your best to keep up with your own work while suddenly being asked to homeschool. And those "kitchen table" issues people talk about—bills, groceries, medical care—should really be called sleepless night issues.

Top among your worries is the pressing question: How will this crisis impact my child physically, academically, emotionally? While so many of our go-to resources are closed for business, one of the greatest protective buffers we can offer our children is likely close at hand: a great book.

Literacy can help children adapt in positive ways to stressful circumstances. At the Collaborative for Child & Family Resilience, we’ve identified five ways that literacy can help build resilience, through the current crisis and in years to come:

1. Relieving Stress Research shows that reading lowers your heart rate more effectively than meditating, sipping a cup of tea, listening to music, or taking a walk! If you read together with your child, you’ll multiply that advantage, and feel your own pulse calming as well. Choose books that are engaging and high-quality, and settle in for a relaxing read.

2. Building Empathy Reading—particularly reading fiction—builds empathy in ways that last and extend well beyond the book. Good fiction exposes us to multiple points of view and helps us get into the minds of characters. That’s great practice for putting yourself in someone else’s shoes in real life—a particularly important social-emotional skill in today’s world. You can help promote empathy by asking about what the characters in your child’s book are thinking or feeling.

3. Creating Connections Why do some people, young and old, thrive despite adversity, while others struggle under similar circumstances? Research shows that the depth and strengths of our social support network are the greatest predictor of resilience. In this time of physical distance, the power of story can be one bridge for fostering those ties. Stories bind us when we read together, when we tell others about our days, or share virtual read-alouds online. Writing is another aspect of literacy that can build social ties. Help your child write to stay in touch with friends and relatives through emails and other online platforms.

4. Fostering Belonging When the characters and settings reflect your own identity, books promote a sense of belonging. Choose books that your child can connect to personally—whether through characters who look like them; live in communities like yours; or share your child’s interests, beliefs, and concerns. Connecting with those characters and stories will reassure your children that whatever their circumstances, they are not alone.

5. Boosting Pride Reading boosts a child’s confidence in so many ways. For readers of all ages and levels, there is nothing like the accomplishment of finishing a great book! Reading nonfiction builds knowledge, and kids love to show off what they’ve learned. Ask them to tell you more—about dinosaurs, hurricanes, basketball, or whatever facts they’re currently sponging up. Also, reading can build pride in your own heritage and community. Look for books that reflect where you live and where you’re from to foster a sense of pride in your child’s place in the world.

While you can’t inoculate your family against the pandemic, there’s one very strong booster shot you can provide to help cope with the crisis. Taking time to turn off the news, unplug, and unite over a shared story will support your family in meaningful ways. When sheltering in place, let a book be your shelter and the page be your place.

Karen is executive director of the YCSC-Scholastic Collaborative for Child & Family Resilience and the Publisher for Family & Community Engagement at Scholastic.

Submitted by Jill Max on April 06, 2020