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Why reading to your kids boosts self-esteem, dyslexic or not.

I just read a fantastic quote from Albert Einstein...

"If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales.  If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales."
Albert Einstein

OK, I saw this on Twitter and there is every chance that Einstein may not have said this, after all, he was not famous for his advice on early years child development now was he?

That said, something resonated with me when I read it and it took me right back to when my girls (both who are neurodiverse, one with dyslexia) were aged around 6.  Every night, to help them go to sleep I would read to them.  My wife and I would get them ready for bed, and then we would snuggle in with a good book and spend about half an hour reading together.
We would read books that were fantasy based and what I remember vividly was reading the complete set of the Narnia Chronicles to BOTH of them!

My girls are 18 and 20 now and despite challenges that they have experienced in education, especially with dyslexia with my youngest, they are both on degree courses studying subjects that totally match what is important to them and what makes them passionate about life.  They seem motivated, keen and appear to be living a dream that perhaps I never had the imagination to pursue in my younger years.

So what have I learnt as a parent about those countless hours of reading to my kids, many years ago and how can I apply it to the lifestyle of families today some 10 to 15 years later regarding boosting the self-esteem of your kids, dyslexic or not?

Quality time between parent and child.

My wife and I had our children fairly early in life.  I was 25 and my career was starting to get busy.  By the time, I was 30, my career was starting to send me to different places around the world that meant staying away a lot.  Working from home also meant that it was difficult to switch off from work, the boundaries where getting blurred.  Mobile technology, phones and internet were starting to get more and more popular.  Mobile technology seemed to be a brilliant concept, and in the enthusiasm of using it, it was extremely difficult to see how it could erode quality time with the family.  I can see how this has become steadily worse over the years and with children being born over the past ten years, increasingly, technology is being used to pacify kids at night in order to get them off to sleep.  Online content is so freely available that with busy parenting lifestyles the temptation to give your child a tablet or phone to watch a cartoon on in order to help them be quiet or go to sleep is becoming more common rather than interact with the child.  Don't get me wrong we played countless DVDs to our kids on the telly, but there was something about the non-mobile nature of a telly that meant we were forced to switch it off and have the one to one time with our kids.  Mobile technology seems, to me, to be a challenge in this regard.

So, reading Narnia and other books (Harry Potter series etc), I got to have time with my kids that was peaceful, caring and present.  It forced me as a parent to switch off from the rest of my life and focus on my child.  As I read, I would be aware of my child's breathing, I would smell their hair and the warmth of the cuddle whilst snuggling up around a book.  I would learn that one of my kids, makes a cute little clicking noise when they have fallen asleep and I would feel the heaviness of my child that comes from a child dropping off in a safe pair of arms.

With my youngest, I started to discover how she struggled with reading and how she would start reading one line only to skip a few and finish with the end of another line.  I would discover that she 'hated' reading but loved being read to.
It was an experience that simply would not have happened if I had let her have half an hour of 'screen time' before bed (not that that was possible back then).

It was these experiences that lead us to eventually get a diagnosis of dyslexia for Jess and if we had not had that time together my wife and I would not have seen her struggles first hand.

So what is is the impact on self-esteem on our kids if we read to them?

Fueling imagination fuels purpose in life.

Firstly, I believe that reading books to my children helped to fuel imagination and I believe that this does it in a tangible way that sitting watching Netflix doesn't.  Being read stories forces you to think about other worlds and imagine how they look and feel.  I am a huge fan of watching films and box sets, but they tend to not leave a lot to the imagination, it's all given to you and the brain doesn't have to work it's imaginative ability hard.  Listening to stories just seems to develop imagination in a very personal way.

Why is this important?  
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I believe that now, many years on, my kids are now young adults and they have a very real vision of what their future looks like.  OK, it's real life and it may not work out exactly like they are imagining, but their imagination fuels their day to day activities and informs their everyday decisions.  Somehow, their imagination turns into purpose and that leads to engagement and focus.  It also means that when dyslexia gets in the way academically, there is a greater desire to self-advocate, to get the things that Jess needs to get her to where she wants to be.  Imagination seems to have empowered my kids.  They seem to believe in themselves so much more than I did when I was their age.

Reading stories to our kids strengthens our bonds but empowers them to be amazing people.

I truly believe that reading to our kids has resulted in a stronger bond with our kids which empowers them to be who they want to be out in the wider world.  If you are into psychology, John Bowlby who developed 'attachment theory' talks about giving kids a 'secure base' from which to do great things i.e whilst there is a strong bond between parent and child, the child starts to explore the world more knowing that their parents have their back.  Our kids, live away from home and are loving it but they know that we will always be there if they need us.  Initially, this means a lot of dependence but over time this lessens as they grow into their own versions of amazing people.

Final Comments

As someone who personally struggles with reading, in my whole life, the most pleasurable times when I have read a book was when I was sharing it with my children.  Not only did it enable me to see my kids develop but personally it also made me feel good.  I enjoyed those times of sharing with my kids and felt a deep sense of love and relationship.
In a world that is so busy when we as adults are constantly processing information from work, social media, reading to our kids could also give us some very important downtime that helps us to refuel whilst also empowering our kids to imagine what life could be like for them in the future.

It seems to me that everyone involved wins!

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