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Reading To Kids Does Good to Their Brains Biologically, Research Finds

Reading To Kids Does Good to Their Brains Biologically, Research Finds

In college I learned an important fact that came to be a driving force in my classroom as well as in my parenting. It’s good enough to share. Are you ready? The number of books a child has available in their home is strongly linked to their academic success in school. Specifically, studies show the more books in the home, the better those children do in school. It made a lot of sense to me at the time and seemed rather obvious; if a large amount of quality books were made available to children, they would likely be read to more often. Furthermore, those parents likely placed a heavier emphasis on reading and held a deeper understanding of its early benefits.

The study struck such a chord with me that many years later and at six months pregnant, I created a children’s library for the nursery. I bought a bookshelf and took one hundred dollars with me to a discount book store. I filled up all the shelves before my first child was even on this earth. As my family increased over the years, I made sure all of my kids had their own library. I added books along the way to meet their interests and developmental stages. I placed a heavy emphasis on reading aloud, always reading with them at night and as much as I could during the day. I taught them as many early literacy skills as possible during this time (text goes left to right, using pictures as clues, asking what they thought was going to happen or what the problem in the story was).

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Reading Aloud Has Its Benefits

Reading aloud with children had always come naturally to me but a crash course in college and putting the skills into practice in the classroom allowed me to learn there is a stark difference between reading with kids and reading to kids.  The craft, being able to engage a young reader so they can get the most out of the literature experience can be learned by any adult. But whether you are reading to a child or with a child, one things is clear. Scientists and doctors can now biologically prove that when children hear books read aloud, the chemical makeup of their brain actually changes.

Early Literacy Improves Academic Progress

Numerous studies have been done to show the benefits of early literacy and how its immersion ties into academic progress. But, a new study shows the “why.” It’s been something scientists and doctors have been wanting to prove for a while now. Most compelling is that this study has more than just observation-based data.

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Doctors and scientists now have scientific proof that the developing brain of a 3-5 year-old actually looks different when being read aloud to, dependent upon on how much the child has been read to in the past. “The MRIs revealed that children from more stimulating home reading environments had greater activity in the parts of the brain that help with narrative comprehension and visual imagery. Their brains showed greater activity in those key areas while they listened to stories.”.

From nine months of age, my girls have had a book read to them nearly every night before bed and often had two or three books read aloud to them during the day. My oldest is in the 99th percentile for her vocabulary and my four-year-old is as precocious as they come. I absolutely attribute their speech and language, comprehension, above grade level reading level, oral retelling and contextual understanding to one thing…being read to aloud daily.

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Good Reading Habits Show Up in Early Age

Early on in the school year teachers can often pinpoint which children have had a literacy rich background and which one’s have not (excluding children with suspected disabilities). Children who have not had books read to them often have lower comprehension skills, lower vocabulary skills and present with weaker reading stamina. Of course with anything and anyone, there will always be an exception to that rule but the statistics are telling.

If you want the best chance for your child’s academic (and even social) success, carve out as much time as you can for exposure to literature. Go to the library or bookstore and bring home books, lots of them. Libraries often have a check-out limit that goes well over one hundred books. This means you don’t have to make a weekly trip; every few weeks is plenty and can be worked into a realistic busy schedule. Getting these books into your home and then reading them aloud is the number one key to creating a literature rich environment.

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Look at it as front-loading. I realized veryquickly I would be far more capable of helping my children at the ages of three or five years of age than I would when they were failing high school chemistry or Algebra II. I hope by giving my children the needed tools when they are young, they will be better prepared for the future.

Thank science for its findings later but for now, make a plan to make your home more literature-based. At least once a day, tell your child to put down the iPad and pick up a book. Kids need to remember that reading is not only an option, but a necessity. And remember, there are more benefits to reading aloud with your child than just the academic successes that will come. The time spent one-on-one makes it even better. Adding daily read-alouds to your family’s routine is something you will never regret doing, sadly the regrets only come with the opposite.

Featured photo credit: Albumarium via albumarium.com

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Published on December 3, 2020

7 Positive Parenting Techniques to Raise Happy Kids

7 Positive Parenting Techniques to Raise Happy Kids

Having a black belt in the martial arts does not make you a black belt in being a parent—far from it. Most parents have a level of skill or expertise in at least one area, whether it’s baking, management, DIY, or something else. We know the rules, are familiar with the problems, and can craft an outcome that we would like. These are all needed for positive parenting.

So, raising kids should be simple, right?

Well, wrong. Simple does not mean easy, and in the current climate of a pandemic, it feels like it just got a little harder as well. But the world needs us at our best right now. If we do not raise our kids to be the best version of themselves, the negativity, the anxiety, the frustration of this generation will come full circle with less creativity and a reduced desire to face challenges.

Trips to Mars will be furloughed. The next Steve Jobs may skip a generation. You get the idea. So, where to start?

Stephen Covey, the author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, says that it’s a good habit to begin with the end in mind. So, let’s start there.

1. Begin With the End in Mind

Imagine it’s your funeral and your kids are around your grave. They’re talking about the good times and the bad. What would you like them to say about you as a parent?

Beyond people saying how much they love you, this part gets hard for a lot of people including me. But think about it, what is it about you that the kids love the most?

For me, I want my kids to say that I was always fully engaged when I was with them. They felt like there was lots of positive energy, and they were the most important thing in the world at that moment. If I value being fully engaged, how do I make this a ritual so it’s there when the kids need it? For me, it’s my energy levels when I’m with the kids.

Our lives are a mixture of complex energy drains, so I have to be responsible for ensuring that when I’m with the kids, I’m joyful. I do this by being aware when I’m feeling low and having a plan ready to help.

This can be as simple as having your favorite songs on a Spotify playlist to help bounce back to being more focused or something more organized like having days off in your diary to recharge the batteries. If you can take 2 minutes to write down what you would like your children to talk about when they visit you at your tombstone, you’ll have a map that points to the type of parent you aspire to be.

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When you’re clear on this, you can design the habits needed to help you become the best version of yourself.

2. Legos

My childhood was very different—not your typical family environment. I grew up in a hotel in a seaside town, with my parents working more hours than they should. They were tired, busy, and angry more often than most parents because every day was a struggle to keep the business running as it was a tough time and a tougher clientele.

But the happiest memories I have of my parents were when they would play with me. This did not happen often enough, but we had a computer game table in the bar. It was an electronic pool game, and I loved to play against my dad in this 8-bit challenge. Remember, this was even before Nintendo consoles! Dad would get me a Pepsi from the bar, and we did not even talk. We were just both fully present in the moment and the game.

There’s a lot of bad press in the media about games and screen time. But you can make it a positive experience if you can immerse yourself when sharing this time.

One day, my dad came home with a big black bin bag full of Legos. I had never seen Legos before as it was not on TV adverts and school was for work, not play. Dad emptied the bag on the floor and we just played. No rules, no small talk, and nobody explained what to do. You just instinctively know.

It was probably the best day ever. Games and Legos are timeless. So, find the time, and just play. This is the step towards proper positive parenting.

3. Try Not to Bring “No” Into Play

This is a small thing, but when you bring no into play with your kids, it can feel like a win-lose situation, even if you are trying to keep them safe or just showing that you care. Instead, seek a win-win situation.

There is this balance between positive parenting and preparing kids for the real world. But probably the hardest of all positive parenting techniques is “avoiding bringing no into play” (ABNITP).

Going a little further, the technique has two parts—ABNITP and the use of positive language.

It does not mean never to use the word ‘no.’ But in the rare cases that it slips out, it’s more powerful and the kids are more wired to accept it.

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Here’s an example. Have you ever been on the phone and the kids wanted to talk to you? When you have a child asking you questions and trying to get your attention, it’s easy to say ‘no’ straight away. But rephrasing this to ‘when I finish the call, we’ll talk’ is a win-win mindset. When we feel most tired is when we’re most open to going into a win-lose mindset.

One small phrase had a big impact on my parenting, especially for those days when I felt drained:

“My coffee mug is drained, can you help me fill it up.”

I could get less resistance if I genuinely needed a little time or the kids would come up with a way to help. As the kids got older, this also turned into a great habit of them making me coffee in return for some time—a nice win-win situation.

4. Empathy

As a black belt in martial arts and growing up with busy parents, emotional intelligence was never that high on my radar, mostly because I never experienced much empathy growing up. There probably were not opportunities for it. Life was practical and you picked yourself up if you fell over, shook it off, and got on with life.

But as a martial arts coach in charge of a large number of kids aged 4 to 6 years, I’m not serving my students if I don’t have empathy. Young kids understand more words than they can communicate. Their view of the world is very different to us as adults, and they can teach us a lot if we are open to listening.

When your coaching a class and a 4-year-old is talking about their pet dinosaur, it’s not necessarily disruptive. It may be their way of communicating with you.

Taking a little time to communicate back pays dividends for your relationships. This can be the same for parenting.

For example, when your child falls over and cuts their knee, they can instantly start crying, sniffing, sobbing—you get the picture. As dads, we like strong cars, strong houses, and tough kids. Telling them to grow up, stop complaining, and be quiet can be our first thoughts. But it’s never constructive—and neither is cooing them.

Remember, young children understand more than they can articulate. Letting them know that “they’re brave as it must hurt, but they’ll be alright when they stand up” shows empathy and understanding of our child’s stage of development. Empathy is an essential aspect of positive parenting.

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5. Gratitude

What have you ever done together for other people? When my kids were young, we raised money for a children’s hospice. At the time, they did not really understand what a hospice was, but they understood that they were helping other children.

As a martial arts club, we had several volunteer children and parents spend an afternoon at a supermarket packing people’s bags. Many people would then donate some money to charity. It was a great experience for the kids as they got to help, which they enjoyed more than I thought they would.

The shoppers were really positive towards them for helping, and we all went to the hospice together to hand over the money. When we were in the hospice, we were allowed a tour of the parts that had no kids.

As a parent, this hit me more than a right cross. We’re going back 19 years, and I can still remember the smell from the sterile environment. It was a fun experience and a nice way to build habits with the kids to think about helping and giving back. Plus, this example helped me reflect on how lucky I was to be a parent. Teaching your children gratitude is key to positive parenting.

6. Adventure

Most kids love being active and having an adventure. We forget that a lot of the things that we may do or take for granted can be an adventure for the kids, such as meeting our friends, shopping for a car, fixing computers, etc. Involving your kids in these activities can be a change in their routine and fun.

Looking for a car had a big impact on my son. He would flick through the used car magazine while potty training. He would visit the showroom and sit in the passenger seat to let me know if it was comfortable. He was quite cute and would usually get a few treats from the sales team as well for asking good questions.

To this day, my son loves to remind me about the time he had to get help as I got stuck in the seat of a Lotus Elise. He also drives a sports car now that he’s grown up, and he was so proud to take me with him when he purchased it. Effective positive parenting should involve adventures.

7. Not All Strangers Are Bad

This comes from a place of opinion, so feel free to disagree, but I wanted my kids to talk to strangers.

Within this technique are many skills that will teach my kids to become strong in life and help keep them safe, too. The problem is that many kids think that they should not talk to strangers—that they are all bad and dangerous people. But I’ve always taught my kids that they can speak to strangers if they want to.

My kids grew up watching me talk to strangers all the time. From watching this activity, they’ve learned how to make friends. They’ve learned about the good questions to ask. They watched me listen, smile, and use my body to help communicate. Teaching kids that there is good in most people is a positive way of building their confidence and teaching them a nicer way to live.

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I’m not suggesting letting kids wander around unsupervised, being trusting, and chatting with everyone. There are real dangers in the world, from cars on the road, sharp objects, hot things, and—especially where my kids have grown up—the sea.

I see a danger in everyone I meet, but my kids did not need to see the world this way when they were young. Most people would awe me with kindness to our kids. There was a time when a lovely German lady held my son while I had my head over the deck of a ship from seasickness.

I believe our kids will grow up happier with less judgment if we start teaching our children not to fear what they don’t understand but to approach it with curiosity.

They also should know how to trust their instincts and—if something is not typical or does not feel right—to go with that intuition immediately.

There have been times that strangers have wanted to do me harm in life. But more times, they’ve helped me when I’ve been lost, in need of kindness, or in need of someone to talk to. This is why I believe that we should face our fears as a parent every day and let our children talk to strangers if we want them to grow up happy.

Final Thoughts

I hope to be a granddad one day and continue the techniques I started with my own kids. The Danes have a great word that expresses how I think—”hygge.”
This is about the power that being fully present brings to being a great parent. It’s a drama-free way to be together.

It’s not easy to be a parent in today’s crazy world, but if you begin with the end in mind, you can try to craft this into your daily routines until it becomes the habit of raising happy kids. And this is what positive parenting is all about.

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Featured photo credit: Kelli McClintock via unsplash.com

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