One recurring theme that I seem to encounter with many of my clients is that they grew up in households where emotions were rarely discussed. Now, as older teens and adults, they are ill-equipped to deal with the strong emotions that come from many of life’s twists and turns. They want to “feel better” and are searching for any means to do so, but they have no idea what to do with the emotions that seem to get in their way.
As we conclude our look into Social Wellness Month, it is important to bring up an often-overlooked social circle we are all a part of – family. The family is our first context for social wellness and sets the stage for how we will interact with others well into adulthood. Being raised by nurturing and responsive caregivers in a highly supportive environment is essential for developing the social and emotional wellness of children, and failure to provide this could result in children who are unable to regulate emotions, control behavior, and bond appropriately with others. No doubt about it, being a parent/caregiver is a HUGE responsibility!
Thankfully, there are a lot of resources out there that address the importance of family bonding, such as this website from the National Institute of Health about positive parenting and this video from the Head Start program that highlights parent-child interactions. One easily accessible activity that I’d like to discuss in this blog is the family read-aloud. In my experience as a former teacher, most parents/caregivers will read out loud to their children until they begin reading independently around 2nd or 3rd grade.
As a teacher, I would advocate that more parents continue to read aloud to their children well through elementary and beyond as it has been shown to have clear benefits for children’s mental growth and language acquisition. As a therapist, I would encourage parents to keep reading to their children as it can strengthen the parent-child bond and help engage their emotional development as well. Here are 3 ways that reading aloud to your children can benefit the entire family bond.
1) IT HELPS TO CREATE FAMILY RITUALS.
It’s often easy to get swept up in the business of modern life and neglect family time. Having a low key, relaxing activity like reading together ensures that the family has time set aside each day for bonding. Make it a part of a bedtime ritual, gathering together just before the kids go to bed to read a few chapters of a book and mindfully engage with each other. Rituals like this help foster the family bond by providing unique experiences that the family can share together.
2) IT GIVES A SAFE PLACE FOR THE FAMILY TO EXPLORE EMOTIONS TOGETHER.
It can be hard to discuss emotions as a family, particularly when they are big emotions like anger, sadness, fear, or shame. Discussing the emotions of the characters in the book and applying them to personal experiences provides a safer way to discuss these emotions. When the main character is sad because a pet dies, pause and reflect on sadness and grief with your child. If they express anger in the book, take the time to talk through times you were angry or ways to deal effectively with anger. Use the situations the characters face to discuss emotions in a calm, safe setting.
3) IT FACILITATES DISCUSSION ON DIFFICULT TOPICS.
Here is a brief list of books that I highly recommend that can bring about some good discussions and are fun as well!
- Stand Tall, Molly Lou Melon by Patty Lovell and David Catrow: The diminutive star of this book, Molly Lou Melon, remembers the advice of grandmother and stays true to herself despite the bully Ronald Durkin at her new school.
- Hooway for Wodney Wat by Helen Lester: A young rat who has trouble pronouncing his Rs learns that his “weakness” might actually be helpful in warding off the big, mean Camilla Capybara.
- Zen Shorts by Jon J. Muth: A friendly panda named Stillwater befriends three siblings and teaches them lessons in forgiveness, understanding, and perspective.
- Rumpelstiltskin’s Daughter by Diane Stanley: In a twist on the traditional tale, Rumpelstiltskin’s daughter encounters the same greedy king from the original story and teaches him a lesson in thinking of others.
Chapter Books/Books for Older Children:
- Savvy by Ingrid Law: This book is one of my all-time favorites! Centering on a young girl from a family who gets a magical ability known as a “savvy” on their 13th birthday, it explores themes such as grief, hidden emotional pain, and self-acceptance. You can’t read this book without wondering what your own “savvy” might be!
- Rules by Cynthia Lord: Twelve-year-old Catherine must face her own feelings and expectations when dealing with her younger brother with autism and a couple new friends who are not exactly what she wanted.
- Matilda by Roald Dahl: In this classic book, young Matilda uses her intelligence and a newly discovered secret power to outwit her neglectful parents and an abusive headmistress known as the Trunchbull.
- Smile by Raina Telgemeier: This autobiographical graphic novel chronicles the author’s recovery after she accidentally knocks out her two front teeth. Touching on themes such as self-confidence and finding friends who accept and support you, it is a frank look at the ups and downs of being a preteen girl.
Just a reminder that ANY book can be helpful in creating and maintain that family bond during read-aloud. The goal is to use the time to mindfully reflect on what the characters are going through. Use that as a springboard to family discussion. Also, just a reminder that we are here for you at Heartland Therapy Connection for both parenting and family support. Feel free to reach out to us at (816) 287-0252. Or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org today and let us help you and your family navigate life’s challenges today!