Growing up, I was always a fan of bedtime stories with my mom. Looking back, I realize she had quite a talent for picking some good ones (like my favorite, Where the Wild Things Are).
According to a recent study by researchers Dorit Aram and Sigalit Aviram, published in Reading Psychology, these stories weren't just a nice treat before bed; they may have actually had a lasting impact on me.
In the study, Aram and Aviram looked at the mother-child reading habits of 40 middle-class Israeli families with kindergarten-aged children. Within these families, they examined the relationship between the amount mothers read to their children, as well as their choice of what to read, and the children's empathy, social-emotional development, and language skills.
The researchers asked mothers to identify authors' names and key sentences from books to determine how frequently they read to their children. They also rated the mothers' expertise in selecting books by asking the mothers to explain why they selected their books, then comparing their criteria with that of experts in children's literature.
The children's empathy was measured by their kindergarten teacher, who also looked at their ability to manage their emotions. Aram and Aviram also asked teachers about the kids' abilities to stay on task, their levels of persistence and confidence, and the basic social skills they displayed during their daily classroom activities.
The results show that when mothers read to their children more frequently, those kids showed stronger emotional and language development skills than their peers. What's more, there was a strong link between mothers' skill in choosing books and their children's language and development skills. Children who had mothers with a knack for selecting good books were also better at understanding others' feelings, expressing their emotions, resolving conflicts.
The authors suggest that mothers with higher expertise in selecting books have kids with stronger emotional skills because those mothers tend to choose books that present more emotional situations, with more emphasis on social relationships.
Experts agree that books with these attributes stimulate children emotionally and allow them to identify with characters. They advise that when choosing a book, parents should look for stories with interesting events and logical connections between events in the book, and they should read the entire book before reading it to their kids, to make sure that it's suitable.