Reading And Playing With Young Kids Can Impact Their Behavior Years Later

dad reading to daughter

Every parent knows that reading to your kids at a young age not only helps you bond with your child as you spend quality time together while helping to cultivate a love of reading and language, but a new study has shown that it can also positively impact their behavior as they grow older.

The study, Reading Aloud, Play and Social-Emotional Development, published in the journal Pediatrics shows that reading to a child and engaging in interactive play when they're younger helps limit behavioral problems like aggression, hyperactivity and lack of attention as they grow older.

“We think of reading in lots of different ways, but I don’t know that we think of reading this way,” principal investigator on the study Dr. Alan Mendelsohn, an associate professor of pediatrics at New York University School of Medicine, stated.

The study followed almost 700 families who had children who ranged in age from newborn to 5 years old. 225 of the families were selected randomly to participate in the Video Interaction Project (VIP). These families were given books and toys to read and play with and then they'd be filmed reading and playing with their children for approximately 5 minutes when they visited the pediatric clinic. They would then watch the footage immediately after with a "study interventionist," The New York Times reports.

“They get to see themselves on videotape and it can be very eye-opening how their child reacts to them when they do different things,” study co-author Adriana Weisleder stated. “We try to highlight the positive things in that interaction — maybe they feel a little silly, and then we show them on the tape how much their kid loves it when they do these things, how fun it is — it can be very motivating.”

The VIP study first began working with infants between the ages of birth up to 3 years, and previous findings stated that the 3 year olds who participated in the study had less aggression and were less hyperactive than the 3 year olds who weren't selected to participate in the study. This study, which followed the same children but a year and a half later found the positive impact on the behavior to be sustained.

mom reading with child
Credit: iStock / AND-ONE

While not surprising, it is eye opening to see just how much of an impact taking those moments to read or play with your child has on them, even as they get older.

“Maybe engaging in more reading and play both directly reduces kids’ behavior problems because they’re happier and also makes parents enjoy their child more and view that relationship more positively,” Dr. Weisleder said.

“The key take-home message to me is that when parents read and play with their children when their children are very young — we’re talking about birth to 3 year olds — it has really large impacts on their children’s behavior,” Dr. Mendelsohn told the NYT. “All families need to know when they read, when they play with their children, they’re helping them learn to control their own behavior.”

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