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How Reading Fiction Contributes to Emotionally Healthier Kids

Little Boy Reading

Anyone reading this blog would support the value of strengthening a child’s core reading skills. Now along with all of the obvious academic benefits that a child can derive from reading great stories, there is evidence of a strong correlation between reading literary fiction and an individual’s mental health and happiness. So we have to ask, could great stories also help young children grow their Emotional-Intelligence Quotient, or EQ, along with improving their IQ?

Although the research doesn’t prove a direct causal relationship, researchers like Dr. Maria Eugenia Panero at Boston College are seeing positive correlations between reading, emotional health and positive changes in behavior.

A recent study in 2012 at Ohio State University found that college students exhibited behavior they called “experience-taking” when students developed a strong emotional connection with a fictional character. In fact, the evidence has had such profound implications that the School of Life in London, has developed an innovative new service called bibliotherapy to prescribe specific literary works for people who want to make significant changes in their lives. This new service provides bibliotherapists who work directly with clients either in person or on Skype to define a unique reading list of books tailored to each individual’s specific needs and interests.

One important element that is consistent in the studies is that in order to have significant impact on emotional health and behavior, the stories needed to come from literary fiction and not popular fiction or nonfiction. So, it isn’t just reading time in general that has an impact, it is also crucial to read the right types of books – specifically literary fiction that is rich in language and plot lines – in order to impact emotional health.

In other words, just as a fast food diet regimen isn’t nutritious or particularly healthy, especially for children, the research points to the value of quality fiction to help people cope more effectively with stress and become emotionally healthier.

The implications for education are exciting. If we can provide children with stories that are rich in “language nutrition” and that actively engage their imaginations while immersing them in meaningful plots with characters worth emulating, then the research suggests that children will also develop a more positive outlook and potentially find ways to apply the lessons learned to solve problems that they may encounter in their lives.

As we know, not all stories are created equal: for every highly engaging, language rich story, there are literally hundreds of titles that provide little to no value in helping children strengthen their core reading skills (e.g. phonics, vocabulary, fluency & comprehension). The same principal appears to apply in developing children who are emotionally healthier and more resilient. Fortunately, it looks like stories that are richer in “language nutrition” and help develop stronger reading skills are also more likely to make a greater impact on a child’s sense of emotional well-being.

Now that this growing body of research is highlighting the connection between reading great stories, improving core reading skills and boosting more positive emotional health, why not pick up a timeless story that has survived for generations and share it with a group of children this week?

If you need any recommendations, you might want to consider Heather Forest’s new award-winning book, Ancient and Epic Tales From Around the World (Parents’ Choice Award and NAPPA) or use our Book Finder feature to search for other timeless books from specific cultures or books that demonstrate a particular character trait.

As our world grows increasingly complex and more challenging, isn’t it comforting to learn that science is now validating the unique contribution that timeless stories can make in developing a child’s emotional intelligence?


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