Study Finds Reading With Toddlers Reduces 'Harsh Parenting'

by Clint Edwards
Originally Published: 

172 nights. We began reading The Wheels On The Bus in March, and finally stopped reading it in September. By my math, Aspen (my then 3-year-old) and I read that book for 172 consecutive nights. As I write, I’m struggling to find a simile that fits how sick I was of that story, which to me means that it’s comparable to nothing. It was just that painful.

I was sick of the driver, sick of the horn, sick of the babies crying, and sick of the “Shh, shh, shh” that the parents say. But here’s what kept me going: each night I’d carry her to bed on my shoulders. She’d find the book, and hide it behind her back, and then I pretended to be surprised by the book (I’d like to thank the Academy). She always sat on my lap as I sat on the edge of her bed. When we’d get to the end, and the bus parked at a birthday party, and Aspen screamed “Happy Birthday”… well, my heart melted.

Now Aspen is 5, and we still read together each night before she goes to bed, only we haven’t read The Wheels On The Bus in a good long time, thankfully. Probably because we lost it. (Hmmm… wonder how that happened…)

As it turns out, reading with my daughter each night isn’t only benefiting Aspen’s literacy development, apparently it’s also making me a better father. According to new research done by Rutgers University and published in the Journal of Developmental & Behavioral Pediatrics, additional benefits from shared reading include a stronger parent-child bond and less harsh parenting. As a father of three, I like the sound of that. I think we can all benefit from a stronger parent-child bond, and curbing that urge to park our minivan on the side of the road and run off into the wilderness.


Now keep in mind that this is a preliminary study, so it really is only making suggestions that need further research. But I must say, it is an interesting flip on the old idea that reading with your child each night is beneficial to the child only.

The study reviewed data on 2,165 mother-child pairs from 20 large U.S. cities, in which the women were asked how often they read to their children at ages one and three. The mothers were re-interviewed two years later about how often they engaged in physically and/or psychologically aggressive discipline and about their children’s behavior. What they found was that frequently shared reading at age one was associated with less harsh parenting at age three, and frequently shared reading at age three was associated with less harsh parenting at age five.

The mothers in the study who regularly read with their children also reported fewer disruptive behaviors from their children, which I must say, probably contributed to the lack in harsh parenting. It’s kind of hard to get angry with an obedient child, am I right?

“For parents, the simple routine of reading with your child on a daily basis provides not just academic but emotional benefits that can help bolster the child’s success in school and beyond,” lead researcher Manuel Jimenez, an assistant professor at Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School’s Department of Pediatrics, and an attending developmental behavioral pediatrician at Children’s Specialized Hospital, said in a press release.

This study does make a lot of sense in hindsight. My children are older now, and it would be a lie for me to say that I never said, “And everyone lived happily ever after” halfway thought The Cat In The Hat because the book is just that long and I was toddlered out. But I will also admit that some of the most tender memories I have of my young ones is them sitting on my lap, or snuggled next to me on the sofa, or sitting on my shoulders, little legs dangling across my chest, as I read to them. Each and every time I read to my children, I did it for a few reasons, but all of them were rooted in their benefit. I wanted them to grow up to become active readers. And each of them threw huge fits whenever I tried to save time in the evening by skipping story time.

Now, my older two are reading on their own each night before bed and I do miss those shared moments of reading. So maybe reading to my children has made me a little more understanding, and a little more in love with my kids, and probably a little less likely to fly off the handle when they do something disobedient or boneheaded.

Naturally, the authors of this study feel that their findings don’t only apply to parents, but also caregivers. Reading to young children as a daycare provider, preschool teacher or grandparent can have the same benefits. All of this boils down to realizing the power of sitting down with a little one and sharing a story. It’s a simple and timeless activity that has benefits for the children — and the parent.

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