The value of reading fiction is receiving much attention these days and research suggests that people who read fiction are better at thinking creatively and they have more insight about others and their perspectives. In addition, brain science tells us that fiction, reading and talking about a story is an activity that helps integrate the brain. Parents reading and talking with children about a story is at the heart of the matter.
Our brains have many different parts, each with their own job description. The left side helps us logically organize our thoughts into sentences and the right side helps us experience emotions and read nonverbal clues. Each part of the brain does their unique job but they also need to work together as a whole to function well, for a child to thrive both emotionally and intellectually. Children are right hemisphere dominant, which is interested in emotions and the meaning and feel of an experience. During the first 3 years, children have not mastered the ability to use logic and words to express their feelings, which explains why they live in the moment. When a child begins to ask “Why?” all the time you know that the left-brain is beginning to really kick in. The left hemisphere likes to know the linear cause-effect relationships in the world and uses language to express that logic.
When a child’s brain is not integrated, the child becomes overwhelmed by their emotions, which feels chaotic and confusing. Re-telling the story of a frightening or painful experience helps integrate the brain. Talking with children about what happened and how they felt when they fell and scraped a knee, or faced a bully at school, or were disappointed they don’t make the team, or a friend disappointed them—all these experiences bring on strong emotions. The re-telling of what happened brings the left side of the brain into the picture and helps a child tame and name the emotions they are experiencing. Empathy springs from that experience and permits them to understand their own and other people’s feelings. The same can be said for reading and talking about a story.
Research indicates that parents can directly shape the unfolding growth of their child’s brain according to the experiences they offer— experiences shape brain growth. Parents can help their child’s brain develop to work to full capacity, and become integrated by giving their children the experience of reading and talking with them about a story.
The goal is to help children lean to use both sides of the brain together. To thrive, children depend on both sides of the brain to work in harmony. Perspective comes when our emotions are working along side the logical and linear part of the brain.
In addition to the important benefits of how stories work to integrate the right and left hemispheres of the brain, the rewards for the parent child relationship is incalculable. The relationship between parent and child is part of the reading experience. Parents who Conversationally Read— read and talk about a story with children— feel more connected to their children and more satisfied in their role as a parent. In turn, the reading experience for the child gives a clear message they are loved and understood.
We can begin to see how important it is to make sure children have high literacy skills, the use and command of language, so they can tell their own stories and understand the stories of other. Stories help us regulate our emotions, consider consequences, think before acting, and consider how others feel, all of which help us thrive in all aspects of our lives.