Reading to Toddlers Has a Happy Ending

HYANNIS – Reading aloud to young children has a long-term payoff, resulting in fewer attention problems and fewer disruptive behaviors, such as hyperactivity and aggression, according to a new study.

Published recently in Pediatrics, the study done by researchers at New York University School of Medicine confirmed what one local pediatrician has long believed.

“Early exposure to books and reading sets the stage for better attention in later years,” said Sharon Daley, MD, of Seaside Pediatrics in West Yarmouth.

Parents participating in the study received books and toys from their pediatricians and met briefly with a parenting coach. The children were followed until age 3, and those who received the intervention were far less likely to be aggressive or hyperactive than children in a control group. And when the children were re-evaluated 18 months later, closer to the age when they would enter school, the positive effects remained.

“The take-home message is that parents need to read to their children from a very early age and spend time with them,” said Dr. Daley. “I like to say to parents, ‘It’s all about the relationship with your child.’

“When people come in complaining that their kids don’t pay attention, they don’t always realize that paying attention is a learned attribute. If you teach babies and young children right from the beginning, ‘This is quiet time,’ on a parent’s lap or reading a story together and they’re interacting, that’s setting the stage for later success with school and academics.”

Seaside Pediatrics is part of the nationwide Reach Out and Read program. The practice gives away about 20 age-appropriate books a day and has given away thousands of books since 2007.

“We start when the child is six months old, and we show the parents how to look at a book with a child, how to talk about the pictures, how to share the story,” said Dr. Daley. “If the baby puts the book in her mouth, that’s OK because she’s learning about textures as well. By the time the child is in kindergarten, they actually have a little library of books of their own that came from here.”

Dr. Daley and her colleagues encourage parents to read aloud to their children every day.

“You can incorporate story time into the bedtime routine, and it’s a nice way to get kids to settle down for the evening,” she said. “It’s a good time for parents to spend some time with their kids. Sometimes parents are working and someone else is putting the child to bed, but older siblings or other relatives can help out.”

Reading to children has a number of long-term benefits, she said.

“I tell parents when a child likes to read, they’ll never be bored,” she said. “They don’t need to depend on electronics for entertainment or whether a friend can come for a play date. If they can cultivate a love of reading, that’s a lifetime skill that will carry them a long way.”

By BILL O’NEILL, Cape Cod Health News

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