By: Clare Bruce

If you can get a child to love reading, you’re giving them a gift for life—and fulfilling all kinds of psychological needs at the same time.

The Power of Reading

That’s the strong opinion of international fantasy author Kate Forsyth, who experienced the power of reading as a child herself, and now sees it in her own kids as a mother.

Kate says that reading enables children to develop confidence, by trying out new ways of imagining life.

When a child is tucked up in bed reading, she says, “all sorts of extraordinary things happen, and they face dangers, and they struggle with dragons and go through dark and difficult places, and yet in themselves, they are still warm and safe”.

“The book is like an imaginary platform where they are acting out their fears and desires, while still remaining in a place of safety,” Kate said.

“This is incredibly important for a child to know that once they’ve worked something out in the imagination, then when they’re faced with those kinds of things in their real life, they’re much more empowered to actually know how to deal with them.

A Place of Safety

“That place of safety that they feel when they’re reading a book, when their body is at rest and their mind and their imagination are travelling and fighting and dancing and having all sorts of adventures, that is so good for their brain.”

Reading is very empowering for children, who don’t often get to make their own choices about life.

“When their body is at rest and their mind is travelling, fighting, dancing and having all sorts of adventures, that is so good for their brain.”

“Children are told what to eat, when to go to sleep, what to wear and what to do, every second of the day. A book provides them this place of endless possibility and endless freedom, where they can be anything. And that helps them imagine themselves into other lives and into the future,” Kate said. “I can’t say how important I think it is that every child is given a safe, warm place to be read to, but also to read on their own, every single day. It’s psychologically crucial, I think.”

Getting Your Child to Enjoy Reading

The challenge many parents face in a world of electronic amusements, is getting their child to love reading. Kate’s advice is to have a period just before bedtime when electronic devices are put away, and reading is the only option for entertainment.

Her other tip is to let the child choose what they read.

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“You should not choose what books they’re reading,” she said. “Take them to the local library, to the book store, to their school library, and let them borrow whatever they like. If they’re really into reading books about how cars are made, let them. If all they want to do is read a graphic novel, let them. Because this is a time for them to be empowered, to make choices of their own.”

The worst thing a parent can do is ‘force’ their children to read, and choose books they don’t enjoy.

“If they read for pleasure, then you will create readers for a lifetime,” Kate said. “But if you force reading on a child and make it a chore, and something they are struggling with or that is difficult for them, they won’t like it.”

Reading, a Comfort in Times of Stress

When children go through change or times of stress, often they will go back to their old, favourite books over and over again—even if they are capable of reading at a higher level. It’s not something to worry about, says Kate. In fact it’s a positive sign that reading is helping them handle the stresses of life.

“Books have many different functions in the psychological health of your child, and one of them is to give comfort, as well as to challenge and extend them,” she said.

She also encourages parents not to feel that they have to censor their childrens’ reading too heavily for scary content, because children tend to self-regulate very well.

“If a book is too dark, or too frightening, or too violent for them, they will put it down.”

Article supplied with thanks to Clare Bruce, a digital journalist for Hope 103.2.