When we think about reading, we tend to mainly think about the information we derive from reading, and this is certainly one of its values. But we often fail to think of the many side benefits of reading; for example, the opportunities it gives us to shift our minds to other places, times and topics, to take short holidays anywhere a book might lead us.
Yet, important as this is, there is something special which happens when we share a book with others. Reading is a source of connection between people, and a very important one at that. Writing is how people have traditionally communicated their ideas with others, and reading is how people have received the thoughts of others communicated to them.
It is how friends have said hello, and lovers have said ‘I love you.’
It is the sharing of our minds, our experiences, our discoveries, our lives. It is the thought of a philosopher, the report of a scientist, the order form of a businessman. Reading binds us to each other, and to the world around us. It connects minds separated by distances, or united by living under one roof and in the same household.
The power of reading to foster human understanding and the attachment of one individual to another can hardly be understated. In learning of others’ worlds, we learn of their minds and lives, and this education infiltrates their lives with ours.
We cannot live all human experiences, and that is no doubt for the best, but through reading, we can come to understand so many people in so many places that we can absorb and learn from their experiences, and allow their lives to enrich ours.
It is not accidental that older individuals spend time preparing their memoirs, as they do not want their life lessons to be forever lost, and through reading and writing, we can make a contribution to those around us which can in fact outlast our own lifespans.
One very special but often neglected contribution which reading can make is the connection it can forge between parent and child. For parents wishing to become closer to their children, reading together becomes a powerful tool to enhance attachment.
Many of us will recall with nostalgic pleasure those quiet evenings in our childhoods when, the day done, the evening meal finished, the final chores completed, the television and computers turned off, our parents sat close to us, perhaps even held us, whilst they read a book to us. Together, with them, we co-created the author’s world, whether it be an adventure fighting dragons, a wardrobe which like the book itself was a portal to another world, or simply a moment whilst we laughed together at the school principal who thought he was a superhero. With our parents, we explored the Amazon, went into deep space, discovered the Antarctic, learned about atoms and molecules.
But exciting as they are, these adventures were not what we remember most. It was that quiet time, when for a moment, we seemed to be the sole focus of our parents’ attention; in that moment we learned what we meant to them and they meant to us.
Yes, we were sharing a book, an adventure, new knowledge, but even more so, we were sharing love, and reminding each other at the end of a busy day, filled with so many distractions, what was really important in our families, the love we had for each other.
If you are in a place in life where you have children, and where you would like to improve your relationship with them, consider reading to them.
Make up and write stories with them, re-tell them stories of your life or their own lives. This, later, is how memories are created and consolidated; children who are told about their childhoods tend to remember their childhoods later in life.
So pick a time of day, probably at night before they go to bed, and make it a special time. Everything stops; the phone is not answered, screens are shut off, tablets put away (unless you intend to read from them), no one is allowed to infringe on this time or interrupt – this is a sacred, special time you are sharing with your children. And read to them. Or have them read to you. Or both. Or tell them stories, but use the time to co-create worlds, lives and adventures with your children.
You will find that your relationship with them improves, even if it needs only a little improvement, and you will find that bedtime routines are easier, as your children end their day in the knowledge that they are the most important things in your life, not tablets, or screens or work. We all know they are, yet how often do we forget to let them know this! But a nightly routine of reading to your children is a way of ending each day with love.
I know of no better way to end a day, or a short essay.
Dr. Ron Frey is a developmental psychologist and a child and family therapist who specialises in assisting children and families affected by trauma and family violence. He is a visiting fellow in the School of Psychology and Counselling at the Queensland University of Technology and a Adjunct Senior Researcher at the Tasmanian Institute of Law Enforcement Studies Here, Ron writes for Communicating: The Heart Of Literacy – find more at chattermatters.com.au.
What memories will your children have of special times with you?