Being stressed and overwhelmed is sadly becoming the norm for many children. Our 24/7 must-be-connected culture is taking a toll on them. Then add school pressures like getting good grades and extracurricular activity overload. And we can’t forget all of that social pressure to look a certain way, act a certain way, own certain toys and gadgets—which often leads to bullying. Our children are also growing up in a time when we are constantly bombarded by bad news, whether it be school shootings, terrorism, or illness.
Life is filled with stress, and there is no way for our children to avoid it. It is inevitable that they will experience the ups and downs of stress throughout their lives. It’s amazing that one of the best ways to help our kids settle down and de-stress is something that parents have been doing for generations: reading a good book together. According to a study from the University of Sussex in the United Kingdom, reading is the best way to relax–even more so than going for a walk, listening to music, or sipping some warm milk. The study found that just six minutes of reading can be enough to reduce our stress level by more than two thirds. Researchers even observed participants’ heart rate slow down and a reduction in muscle tension.
How Reading Reduces Stress
Why is reading such a powerful way to calm down? Here are some of the main reasons:
Serves as a Healthy Distraction. Reading is a healthy distraction. Psychologists believe that reading helps reduce stress so effectively because our brain has to concentrate on the words on the paper, therefore creating a distraction from the constant chatter in our mind. Books help our kids escape from the present moment into a literary world of imagination that intrigues them and captures all of their focus. The benefit comes from them getting engrossed in the story to escape their worries. Basically, our worries fade away because it is almost impossible to keep ruminating about our problems when we are so focused on the story we are reading.
Creates Flow. When we read, we essentially enter an altered state of consciousness, or what is often referred to as “flow” like when artists get caught up in their projects. This is the sense of being completely engaged in an activity to the point of being in a near-meditative state. When we are in a state of flow, we forgot about all of our thoughts and lose track of time. This can be beneficial to calming our nerves and reducing stress.
Improves Sleep. Reading is a great alternative to electronics at night to help our kids relax before bedtime. All of that blue light from electronics can disturb melatonin levels, which can prevent our kids from getting a good night’s sleep. Poor sleep can trigger anxiety, so it’s critical that children get a good night’s sleep. Learn more tips to help your kids get a good night’s sleep.
Allows Families to Bond. According to Sleep Lady, bedtime stories bring you closer as a family by helping you foster an emotionally rich relationship with your child. Over time, reading together will help initiate meaningful discussions on a variety of subjects. There are also benefits to snuggling during this special reading time. This bonding helps our children to feel safe and secure so they can get to sleep easily.
Types of Books To Read
When it comes to tapping into reading as a relaxation tool, it’s important to choose books for children that are about happy topics, especially if they are reading before they doze off at bedtime. The best books are light and positive, and interesting without being overly exciting. Books that have a whimsical fairytale feel or transport the reader to beautiful and serene locations (e.g., gardens) are also a great option. This will ensure that children have colorful imagery swirling around in their minds as their head hits the pillow. For children who have trouble falling asleep, these images can also be a good jumping off point for working on visualization.
Believe it or not, non-fiction books about benign topics that won’t upset children are also a good way to get calm while reading. When I asked my daughter what type of book makes her the sleepiest, she said non-fiction. One of my therapists suggested that I get a non-fiction book about a bland topic to read at night. I chose a book about how cities work—about traffic lights, subways, pipes, etc.—and boy did that do the trick! My eyelids got very heaving after reading a couple pages of that book. I suggest non-fiction books about nature since it will be both soothing and uneventful at the same time.
I also highly recommend nature poetry books. When we think about and visualize the beauty of nature, it makes us feel calm and a sense of awe. Nature poetry does a wonderful job capturing the beauty of nature. Some of the most famous nature poets include Robert Frost, Alfred Lord Tennyson, William Wordsworth, P.B. Shelly, and John Keats. Consider reading some of their poetry to your children. You can also look for some of these lovely children’s nature poetry books:
- Handsprings by Douglas Florian
- Poetrees by Douglas Florian
- National Geographic Book of Nature Poetry: More than 200 Poems With Photographs That Float, Zoom, and Bloom! by J. Patrick Lewis
Please check out all of the wonderful books that I have reviewed, which cover happiness topics like mindfulness, gratitude, resilience, and kindness.
What To Avoid
In order to keep the mood uplighting, try to avoid the following types of books:
- Scary books, especially about monsters, illness, or death.
- Books that are filled with excitement that will keep the reader awake.
- Books with challenging vocabulary that require a great deal of concentration to understand.
- Books about complex topics that children will keep asking questions about.
- School books because kids really need to have that chance to unwind and connect to the book without worrying about having to discuss it at school.
If you want to learn more about how reading can help your kids reduce stress, please check out my interview with Jed Doherty on Jedlie’s Reading With Your Kids Podcast–the #1 iTunes Kids and Family Podcast. It has also been listed on Feedspot.com as one of the “Top 20 Kids Podcasts You Must Subscribe and Listen to in 2019” and their blog posts are listed as one of the Top 100 Children’s Blogs and websites for Parents, Teachers, and Kids. The iHeartRadio Podcast Awards also nominated the show as one of the Best Kids and Family Podcast in January 2019. Jedlie is an award-winning children’s author of “The Great Maritini!!!” & “REAL Magic!!!” and internationally acclaimed educational magician.
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What are your family’s favorite relaxing books to read together?