Strength in storytime: Reading aloud to young children triples their resilience

ADELAIDE, Australia — The pandemic has upended life as we know it and researchers say the people most affected were those barely able to fully understand the crisis — children. However, a new study suggests reading aloud helps to ease the effects of trauma. Researchers from the University of South Australia found reading aloud tripled a child’s resilience, especially for those who experience maltreatment.

Children who experience abuse and neglect are developmentally more vulnerable than their peers at school. While reading leisurely has been strongly associated with greater success in school, the current study is the first to expand the benefits of reading in lessening the effects of child maltreatment. The findings also show that reading before children start school is a key factor for success.

“A good start to school is predictive of later outcomes, so it’s vital that we not only identify those at risk early on, but also find ways to support children’s emotional, social and physical development, before they start school,” says lead study author Professor Leonie Segal in a university release.

Boys may need more support than girls

Understanding what can help young children become more resilient can help in forming treatments or interventions for victims of child abuse. Prof. Segal explains the benefit comes from a shared experience between parent and child. Additionally, it enhances child development with early exposure to words and stories.

“Children in families that are struggling to create a nurturing environment will especially benefit from reading with a parent or carer, improving their resilience and keeping them ­developmentally more on track, despite their adversity exposure,” she explains.

The researchers looked at the results of over 65,000 children between ages five and six who completed the Early Australian Development Census at the start of elementary school. The census identified 3,414 high-risk children who experienced maltreatment.

Results showed boys exposed to abuse or neglect had more developmental issues than girls. The findings suggest the educational system should look at strategies that would better support boys in early learning environments. Other groups in need of support included children living in rural areas, and those with a physical, sensory, or learning disability.

“Paying particular attention to boys, especially those who are victims of child maltreatment is critical. Encouraging parents to read to their boys while valuable, is not enough, the onus is on the education sector to identify other mechanisms to support boys,” explains Prof. Segal. “This could include recruiting more male educators into early childhood settings and ensuring learning approaches are sensitive to the specific needs of boys.”

The study is published in the journal Child Abuse & Neglect.

About the Author

Jocelyn Solis-Moreira

Jocelyn is a New York-based science journalist whose work has appeared in Discover Magazine, Health, and Live Science, among other publications. She holds a Master’s of Science in Psychology with a concentration in behavioral neuroscience and a Bachelor’s of Science in integrative neuroscience from Binghamton University. Jocelyn has reported on several medical and science topics ranging from coronavirus news to the latest findings in women’s health.

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