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Help a Child Open Up and Read With Them

It’s those moments, on Saturday mornings when it’s too dark and chilly to venture out, and then after dinner, when the day has tugged at their feelings, that what a child might need most is a story. A story, and you.

At a time of change and time apart from some of the things that help kids thrive, it is reading with a caring adult that can help children feel calm and secure. And that’s if everything in family life is otherwise stable. If a child has also had to face tough experiences, such as loss or abuse, that regular one-on-one bonding time and the soothing sound of your voice are more necessary.

What are the benefits of family reading, and how can you foster conversations with a child so they can share their own story?

For all families, reading has a remarkable, positive impact on mental health and well-being. Both parent and child benefit from a strengthened relationship. Somehow, tuning out the world and tuning into one another’s breath and words of a story helps parents understand what their child needs, it improves caregivers’ confidence and warmth, and it can even lead to more positive, less physical parenting styles.

For children, the chance to cuddle up and read with a caring adult brings a sense of calm that can relieve feelings of anxiety, depression, stress, and loneliness. Stepping into the shoes of a hopelessly sad elephant or a dinosaur whose parents have divorced helps children move through the darkness knowing others have, too. Reading aloud also improves a child’s empathy and understanding of others, creating emotional intelligence that will help them make friends and thrive socially in school.

Of course, learning new words and ways to overcome obstacles, like little girls and brave dogs in storybooks, also helps children develop essential skills, such as problem-solving, communication, self-regulation, and brain functioning.

As a child, do you remember feeling the warmth and drowsiness of your parent’s words as they turned another page, and then another? With the rhythm of your voice and all those bonding vibes, both child and parent are ready for sleep - and everything is better with sleep!

In short, children need attention. They need physical contact and affection. They need to feel loved, cared for, and protected. And they need routine to feel safe and secure. Family reading is a free and simple way to give all of this to a child.

If a child is going through some especially hard times, how can you read with a child to help them feel safe and open up?

Open-ended prompts. Focus on books with rich, detailed illustrations. While looking at a page, you could say, “Tell me what’s happening in this picture.” This type of prompt helps increase a child’s vocabulary and attention to detail.

“Wh” questions. Ask a few ‘what, where, when, why, how’ questions. They help begin important ‘back-and-forth’ conversations, but let a select few questions feel like natural curiosity rather than like a test.

Recall. Ask the child what happened at the end of a book. Help them understand the story’s key message. Read it again.

Distancing (more challenging). Ask the child to relate the pictures or words in the book to their experiences outside the book. Stories can act as ‘mirrors’ to reflect a child’s own experiences and act as ‘windows’ to allow them to see experiences different from their own. This builds empathy for others.

Books to help children read through hard times

  • The Color Monster: A Story About Emotions by Anna Llenas
  • Talking About Feelings: A Book to Assist Adults in Helping Children by Jayneen Sanders
  • In My Heart: A Book of Feelings by Jo Witek and Christine Roussey

So come on, everybody! It’s story time!

Steacy is the CEO of Calgary Reads, an organization changing children’s lives with the magic of reading. The Little Red Reading House is an entire home dedicated to the joy of family reading. Enjoy a family reading visit or view the Little Red Reading House website for inspiration, book recommendations by feelings, and resources, including Comfort Collections that brings together children’s books and tips for hard-to-discuss topics. Visit



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