People may not be aware, but there is a direct link between children’s ability to read and their social skills. Reading is all about letters, sounds, and words and is a solitary activity, so how could it help with social skills? Surprisingly, the answer is that it can benefit a child socially in myriad ways. Reading gives children access to a broader world than their own; it boosts their confidence, gives them something to discuss with their peers, and makes them more successful. Reading opens a series of social doors; let us take a more in-depth look at how and why reading is fundamental to a child’s social development.
Children with strong reading skills tend to have more confidence, at least within the academic and school setting, where children spend most of their time.
Children who lack basic reading skills are more likely to:
- Become aggressive
- Be teased or bullied
- Receive lower grades
When children possess appropriate reading skills for their age, they can:
- Participate more in class discussions
- Talk about stories and books with their friends
- Pave the way for independent learning
- Choose books on topics that appeal to them the most.
Even if your child is on the quiet or shy side in school, listening to the class discussions and realizing their understanding and comprehension align with the group or the teacher will boost their confidence!
Confidence in school also leads to engagement in more activities. For example, they may join the choir or the debate club or decide to write for the school paper or online journal. Confident children will develop more friendships and be more likely to try new things. When children feel confident, they will step outside their comfort zone from time to time, which will increase social experiences.
Reading helps children develop a sense of empathy as they are exposed to characters, cultures, and ideas outside their experience. This is especially the case when they read literary fiction. Children’s books tend to feature characters experiencing strong emotions for one reason or another.
When children read about characters who are forced to go through these experiences, it requires them to further their thought processes.
Children will actively think and ask themselves questions such as:
- “How might I handle this situation?”
- “How would I feel if this happened to me?”
- “How could I help if I saw someone having this problem?”
Parents and educators can further that development by asking open-ended questions while reading.
- “How do you think she is feeling right now? Why?”
- “What would you do if your friend said they didn’t want to play with you?”
. Questions like the above give children a chance to process their feelings and reactions.
Adults should be reading children’s books that contain:
- social stories
- helping others
- conflict resolution
These themes are especially beneficial in developing young children’s empathy; It is never too early to read to your child. Reading to children in infancy stimulates the part of their brain that processes and develops language.
Children who are read to and who read are more adept at problem-solving skills. Dialogue and text within books show children appropriate and inappropriate ways to handle problems and conflict. Reading provides children with social competence, meaning they will learn how to react in certain social situations. Reading competence means that children are also better equipped to read social cues given by others. Similar to asking questions related to empathy, adults can ask children open-ended questions about the character’s solutions or reactions, such as:
- “Do you think their behavior was OK?
- Why or Why Not?”
- “How would you react if another child took your toy?”
Asking open-ended questions requires children to expand their thinking and develop language and problem-solving skills. Therefore, it is always more beneficial to a child’s development to pose open-ended questions when possible. Since open-ended questions encourage children to include more information than closed questions, it requires them to think beyond the obvious.
Reading with children creates an opportunity for them to ask their own questions about the world. They may have no experience with someone being unkind to them and may have never seen people who look or dress differently. They may have no fundamental concept of the world outside their neighborhood, city block, or small town.
The more that children have access to the outside world, the more they grow socially. There is the old phrase “Knowledge is Power,” and reading is an example where that phrase is one hundred percent relevant. More knowledge about the outside world gives children the power to make their own decisions and opinions about that world. When they are enticed and encouraged to ask questions and seek further understanding, they create a larger, more socially diversified world to live in for themselves.
Adults should encourage children to ask questions while reading. Constant interruptions can become frustrating, but these interruptions are how a child makes sense of the story. If the questions become so frequent you can barely read a sentence, try to have them wait until the end of a page to ask questions or make related statements. Asking questions is a way they can further their understanding and develop a larger schema on the topic at hand.
Reading introduces children to language, which introduces them to basic communication skills. We all know that talking to infants and babies is how they learn a language, but if we only expose them to how we speak and use words, their communication skills will be limited. Children pick up new information quickly and then try it out in various situations to see how it works.
Young children will repeat phrases they’ve heard adults use or heard in movies and books. How often have you observed a little one looking at a familiar book and attempting to repeat the dialogue or narration accompanying that text? The more children are read to, and the more they read themselves, the more their lexicon will grow as they absorb and audition new language skills.
The more words a child has at their disposal, the better they will be able to communicate, which in turn means the better their social skills will be. Strong communication skills are at the crux of strong social skills. Communication, language, and social skills are what set humans apart from other animals. The human ability to share everyday experiences, emotions, and experiences through language creates our communities, friendships, and bonds.
Any and every chance you get to read to your child, you should take it! It doesn’t have to be long and involve storybooks or famous children’s books. Anything you read to them will benefit them. If your child loves dinosaurs and wants to read about nothing but dinosaurs, you’d be surprised at how many dinosaur books are out there! Social stories, fiction, and non-fiction dinosaurs that talk, and dinosaurs that go to school. Children’s books run the gamut of themes, topics, and characters. Just read. Read, encourage questions, ask questions, and have discussions. Every interaction a child has with a book will benefit them socially.