Seeing Our Strengths, Transforming Childhood Trauma

When you’re in pain, support is essential. So is releasing sorrow and anger. But we can get trapped in these emotions, too – ruminate and recreate them in our lives, over and over and again.

One way I know that the kids I counsel are getting healthier emotionally is when I see them begin to identify with their strengths more than their wounds. So, I find it helpful to encourage them to develop practices that help them connect with their gifts.

Here, I think about a boy in a middle school class I once taught. He had a really hard time expressing his strong emotions, rooted in early childhood trauma. He often had fits of anger and was easily triggered. The other kids would often tease him about this, which only led him to act out more and wind up in detention.

But in yoga class, he excelled in some of the harder poses. His peers noticed, and during our compliment processes, they often acknowledged his skill.

His transformation was beautiful to see. He would come into class with his head slumped forward – and leave tall and strong, carrying his mat over his shoulder with an obvious sense of pride. You could see him starting to “own” the positive attributes he could now see in himself. You could see him moving toward the beauty of the fierce passion that lived inside of him.

Planting Positive Seeds

new plantsThere can be no growth – and certainly no flourishing – when our focus is mainly on confronting the negative. As my husband Jim, an avid gardener, likes to say, “You can’t just weed all the time. You need to plant lots of new, desirable plants, too, to outcompete the weeds.”

That’s why, as we wrote in our first book, Yoga Calm for Children,

One of our goals…is to plant and strengthen positive seeds and provide support and education about the negative seeds that have already been planted. If, for instance, alcoholism is present, it is not effective to push that memory away…. To do this can actually strengthen the seed’s power. Secrecy develops fear and curiosity, and may in fact draw a person toward that seed. Consider the phrase, “Don’t think of a brown bear.” Immediately, the mind goes to the image, however hard you try not to think about it.

At the same time, it is important not to overemphasize a seed by discussing it daily—which can also add power to a negative influence. Telling the story of alcoholism over and over in a family system strengthens the fear and belief that the pattern will be repeated.

The idea in Yoga Calm is to acknowledge the negative seeds, allow the feelings to emerge, then plant many positive seeds to help the individual walk a path leading toward a constructive rather than destructive lifestyle.

Working from Places of Strength

Over and again in my 30+ years of working with youth and adults, I have found this strength-based approach to be extremely effective. And since the broad emergence of such approaches back in the last decades of the 20th century, a wide variety of studies have confirmed their benefit.

Strengths have been linked to prediction of positive outcomes. In a study, providing the multi-disciplinary team with strength-based data resulted in better academic, social and overall outcomes for students with emotional and behavioral disorders as compared to traditional socio-emotive report that focused on the problems that students were facing.

This suggests the possible usefulness of strength-based assessment. Indeed, in another study on children and adolescents living in residential homes, the level of strengths significantly predicted success in the reduction of risk behaviors. Even in the community, studies have shown the importance of focusing on strengths rather than deficits. Strengths assessments were associated with good behavioral functioning and greater competencies.

A strengths approach offers a genuine basis for people taking control of their own lives in meaningful and sustainable ways. These include

  • Focus on trusting and workable relationships.
  • Working in collaborative ways on mutually agreed upon goals.
  • Drawing upon the personal resources of motivation and hope.
  • Creating sustainable change through learning and experiential growth.
  • Empowering people to take a lead in their own care process.

Transforming Childhood Trauma

young girlThe statistics on stress and trauma are daunting, but there’s new hope with strength-based approaches that include self-care tools such as yoga to complement existing approaches.

Since stress and trauma reside in, and manifest through, the body’s physiology, learning to notice, tolerate, and manage somatic experience can substantially promote emotion regulation and self-efficacy. Yoga, mindfulness and Trauma Releasing Exercises (learn more about TRE) do just that — promoting somatic regulation and interoceptive awareness.

For as trauma expert Bessel van der Kolk has noted, trauma is not a cognitive state. It’s a physical experience. And just as a body was once “reset” to respond to the world as a dangerous place – traumatized – so it can be reset again through somatic therapies.

Resilience can be learned. And strength is where we begin.


You can learn new tools for a strength‐based approach in classroom and therapeutic settings with our newest course, “Transforming Childhood Trauma: Healing Heart, Mind and Body.” Join Yoga Calm co-founder Lynea Gillen and Yoga Calm national training manager Kathy Flaminio for a two-day workshop in St. Paul, March 18 – 19 or in Portland, April 29 – 30, 2017.

In this two-day course, you will learn a strength‐based approach for working with childhood trauma that engages the whole child, including their physical, mental, and emotional resources to promote healing, develop resilience and support growth.

You’ll learn to integrate evidence-based tools such as yoga, mindfulness, Trauma Releasing Exercises (TRE), and social-emotional learning activities into your work with youth (ages 3‐18) to safely release stress, regulate the nervous system, express and integrate feelings, and attend to the present moment.

Putting theory into practice, you will also learn how to build resilience “toolkits” and lesson/treatment plans from identified family and cultural strengths, community support, and self‐care practices.

Register now!

To get word on other courses and resources like this, subscribe to our free weekly newsletter – or connect with us on Facebook or Twitter!

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Cultivating More Positive Emotions

the limbic lobeThe idea of an “emotional bank account” isn’t just a nice psychological metaphor. Science backs it up.

Just last month, a new study in Nature Neuroscience shed new light on the relationship between positive and negative memories – memories that are processed in the amygdala, a cluster of neurons deep in the brain. By inhibiting the activity of either fear- or reward-encoding neurons, the researchers found that they could affect the formation of memories in mice.

They found that when [fear-encoding] neurons were inhibited, mice could not form fearful memories, and when [reward-encoding] neurons were inhibited, they could not form positive memories.

The researchers also discovered that each population of neurons can inhibit the other: When they stimulated activity in the reward neurons, activity in the fear neurons was suppressed, and vice versa. This suggests that the brain constantly balances activity between these two populations of neurons.

“Ultimately what we have is a seesaw between positive and negative,” Kim says. “It’s highly speculative, but anxiety and depression symptoms may be the result of an imbalance between these two populations.”

We Need Both Positive & Negative Emotions

The idea of balance is borne out in the psychological literature, as well. While psychologists such as Dr. Gottman have recommended an ideal ratio of 5 good experiences to each bad one, a 2005 study in American Psychologist found that the “tipping point” was 3 to 1. That was the minimum needed, the authors suggested, for a healthy and happy life.

But there’s a role for negative emotions, as well. According to the author of the tipping point study, Barbara Frederickson,

Negative emotions…are necessary for us to flourish, and positive emotions are by nature subtle and fleeting; the secret is not to deny their transience but to find ways to increase [the quantity of positive emotions]. She recommends that, rather than try to eliminate negativity, we balance negative feelings with positive ones. Below a certain ratio of positive to negative, Fredrickson says, people get pulled into downward spirals, their behavior becomes rigid and predictable, and they begin to feel burdened and lifeless.

It’s all about balance. And mindfulness is where it begins.

SEL Starts with Mindfulness

meditation tagAs we’ve noted before, mindfulness is the foundation for the full range of social and emotional skills we’re called to nurture in children. After all, you can’t even begin to develop emotional intelligence without first having basic awareness of your thoughts and emotions – and the fact that we can control them and that they can affect our performance.

This is also why yoga is such a good match for SEL. It, too, rests upon mindfulness.

Frederickson, too, notes that mindfulness may also help us cultivate more positive emotions, helping keep our emotional bank account properly balanced. As she said in a 2009 interview in The Sun,

One way [to cultivate more positive emotions] is to be aware of the present moment, because most moments are positive. We miss many opportunities to experience positive emotions now by thinking too much about the past or worrying about the future, rather than being open to what is.

In these anxious, uncertain times, we could all benefit from this – and helping the children in our lives develop the emotional intelligence that will help them stay strong, resilient, and capable.

Learn more about how to bring positive emotions into your classroom, home and therapeutic sessions with Lynea Gillen’s free Social/Emotional Learning (SEL) webinar this Sunday, November 27, 4-5pm. In it, you’ll learn three stress busters for you and your students, how to develop SEL skills with preK-12 youth, how to deal with disruptive behavior and how to develop Grit – emotional strength and resilience. Register now!

Brain image by OpenStax College, via Wikimedia Commons;
kids image by Todd Fahrner, via Flickr

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Investing in Your Emotional Bank Account

The run-up to Thanksgiving can be a frantic, stressful time – preparing for guests or preparing to travel, trying to get everything done that needs doing. But once the holiday comes, it’s a welcome opportunity to relax for a few days, connect with family and friends, have fun.

For a lot of folks, “fun” involves at least a little movie time. Maybe you’ll take your kids out to catch Moana or Fantastic Beasts or another new release. Maybe you’ll hunker down at home, nosh on leftovers, and watch some old favorites.

Pixar's Inside OutOne movie our granddaughter Anna is apt to ask for is Inside Out, a favorite since she first saw it last year. It really made quite an impression on her, though we didn’t really realize this until a few weeks later. Out of the blue one day, Anna asked Lynea if she wanted to know what her “core memories” were. Lynea curiously said yes.

“My core memories are riding bikes, skiing, and swimming with you and Grandpa” – fun family times!

If you’ve seen the film, you may remember how “core memories” were the moments that defined the young heroine Riley’s personality – scoring her first hockey goal, playing with her best friend Meg, making cookies with her parents. Core memories are the root of self-esteem (or lack of it), of security (or lack of it), of who we understand ourselves to be.

The psychological truth in this film – though necessarily simplified – is a good part of its power and makes it an excellent tool for helping kids understand how their emotions work. In fact, one of the scientific advisors to the film, UC Berkley psychology professor Dacher Keltner, shared a powerful anecdote about this in an interview with Pacific Standard:

I got an email from a mom who took her highly functioning autistic boy to the movie, and seeing the movie was the first time that this young guy had insight into his emotional difficulty. He said: “Mom, I know I have anger, fear, and disgust, but I really struggle with sadness and joy — I don’t know where they are.” And she said it was their breakthrough moment. I was blown away.

Throughout the film, we see the effect of emotions on memory, learning in the process that there’s a role for them all, even sadness. Coming to understand this is the foundation of emotional maturity and emotional intelligence. And just as key is creating positive memories to guide and sustain us.

emotional bank accountDr. John Gottman, professor emeritus of psychology at the University of Washington, has spoken of memory as kin to a banking account. We need to “deposit” lots of good experiences and memories with each other to make up for the hard times that life will inevitably throw at us and can occur in our relationships, as well. He recommends “investing” in our important relationships to try to get to at least five good experiences for each “bad” one.

It’s a great way of looking at it. What can you do today to build up your emotional bank account?

The movie reflects this quite well, and Gottman has even blogged about how to extend the its benefits, too. We encourage you to check out his post “12 Ways to Use Inside Out to Teach Emotional Intelligence” (as well as this excellent post by parenting specialist Dr. Laura Kastner) – and then add a new good experience to your memory’s bank account by watching the movie together this Thanksgiving holiday!

We also encourage you to join us for our next free webinar on Sunday, November 27, when Lynea will talk about – and answer your questions about – social-emotional learning as the foundation for success in school and life. Sign up now!

Bank image via The Marriage and Family Clinic

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You Don’t Have to Agree with Someone to See the Goodness in Them

tween boySeveral years ago, the children in the 6th grade classroom I was visiting as a school counselor started to talk about the dangers in the world and how many “bad” people there were “out there.” I asked them to tell me more. They told me about stories from the news, movies they had seen, and the scary things their parents talked about.

“Do you think there are more bad people in the world or good?” I asked them. Bad, they strongly agreed.

This was the inspiration for rich discussion (and ultimately my book Good People Everywhere).

“Look around,” I encouraged them. “Look at all the teachers, the cooks, the janitors. Look around at your friends, your neighbors and your parents. Do you really think there are more bad people?”

It was hard to convince them. I then realized the impact that the media had on their perception of the world. They believed the stories they heard more than they believed their life experiences.

Believing the Media More Than Experience

Today, we’re in even greater danger of this. Not only do we believe the media stories more than our own experiences, there are forces at play that have capitalized on our willingness to believe them. The more sensational the story, the more we pay attention. We get caught up in it, whether light or dark.

Since Tuesday’s election, it’s been impossible to escape signs that suggest all is bad with the world. I can’t help but wonder how children are processing it all. We’ve heard stories of bullying by emboldened bigots. We’ve seen images of public unrest. We’ve heard grief and fury and deep fear. Witnessing this through the news and social media, it has sometimes felt a little unreal.

Yet we can also see that unreality as a reminder that our norm is civility and cooperation.

The Illusion That We Need Enemies

I have had people tell me that my message of “good people everywhere” is idealistic. They misunderstand. Just because I find goodness in people doesn’t mean I agree with them.

I believe in strong discussions in which people have different opinions. Conflict can create dialogue and, ultimately, change. I’ve benefitted greatly from those who think differently than me. It’s essential that we can discern between a difference of opinion and villainizing someone because they don’t think like us.

Yet the current media landscape teaches us that we must have an enemy, a villain. Think of kids who play fight-based video games for hours every day – and how much money the game companies make in the process. Think of political pundits and talking heads who have reduced “debate” to yelling at and over each other, each seemingly convinced of their own rightness and the villainy of the other – and the profits corporate media makes from this.

Do these companies have a social conscience?

One of the dangers in all this is that we can wind up turning our enemies into two-dimensional characters. We don’t know their backstories. We don’t know the pain in their hearts. We don’t feel the experience of their lives.

In the comfort of our warm homes we can shoot out vitriol on Twitter, in a snarky email, or in a hurtful Facebook message and never see or know the impact.

We Can Disagree & Still Find Goodness

Yes, there are bad people out there – people who will let greed override their goodness; who will take advantage of those less fortunate; who will capitalize on the hardships of others. And there are good people who, believing someone has their best interests in mind, embrace things that aren’t good for them.

So what can we do?

discussionWe can have the difficult conversations. We can disagree with others and still find the goodness in them. We can take a moment to appreciate those who got up this morning and taught children whose families disagreed strongly with them. With garbage collectors who take your garbage despite the difference in political views. With farmers who are still getting up and growing food for all of us, no matter our political affiliation.

We can get off the computer for a little while and look each other in the eye, listen to each other’s stories and points of view. We can listen to the anger of the young people who are protesting and the workers who feel disenfranchised.

And perhaps together, the good people in the world can find solutions to our most pressing problems.

Top image by ~leah g~, via Flickr

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Plugging into Family Relationships, Not Just Devices

Anna in treehouse“Grandpa, this is much more fun than playing on the tablet!”

My 6-year old granddaughter’s observation seemed so obvious and true. We had spent the afternoon together, building a ladder for her new treehouse. We used a tape measure and her budding math skills to determine where the rungs would go. We used a saw to cut them. We used a screwdriver and drill to put the ladder together.

As I can attest, tablets are really good babysitters. Kids often seem entranced by them – literally. But they also know the difference between virtual and real. Give them the chance, and they’ll show you that they would rather actively engage with a loving adult than be handed off to an electronic device.

This points to perhaps the most fundamental issue with technology. When uncontrolled, it can steal too much from what children need to grow into physically and emotionally healthy adults: time in nature, play and other physical activity, quality face time with family and friends.

Do the New AAP Media Guidelines Give In?

About a year ago, the American Academy of Pediatrics issued a statement acknowledging that media has become “just another environment.” “Screen time” was becoming “just time.” They considered whether their old guidelines – no screen time under the age of two, two hours a day max for older kids – might be “obsolete.”

Enter their new guidelines.

Instead of recommending outright bans on screens, it directs doctors to ask parents about ‘family media use,’ to help families develop plans for using media with different guidelines for each child, and to educate parents on the importance of ‘hands-on, unstructured, and social play.’ It allows for video chatting no matter what a child’s age, citing new studies on how the use of FaceTime and Skype with distant relatives can benefit children.

And indeed, there has been some intriguing research suggesting some benefit to interactive media, even for the youngest kids. Yet not all pediatricians are jumping on that bandwagon.

‘There are some preliminary studies — and I emphasize preliminary — that babies as young as six months can learn from prosocial media,’ said Dr. Victor Strasburger, a distinguished professor emeritus of pediatrics at the University of New Mexico School of Medicine and a co-author of the original policy statement, ‘but they learn 20 times better from parents. I think very judicious use of technology for under-2s may be okay, but personally I don’t see the hurry.’

Ensuring Children’s Developmental Needs Are Met

Of course, it’s ultimately our responsibility to manage the screen time of our children or those entrusted to our care – to set limits; to decide how much and what kind of media is permitted and when; to ensure electronic devices don’t detract from our kids’ developmental needs.

And that’s really the gist of the new AAP guidelines. For despite all the headlines focused on toddlers getting the green light on screen time, the organization’s overall message is sensible and sober in our increasingly mediated world:

Multiple developmental and health concerns continue to exist for young children using all forms of digital media to excess. Evidence is sufficient to recommend time limitations on digital media use for children 2 to 5 years to no more than 1 hour per day to allow children ample time to engage in other activities important to their health and development and to establish media viewing habits associated with lower risk of obesity later in life. In addition, encouraging parents to change to educational and prosocial content and engage with their children around technology will allow children to reap the most benefit from what they view.

As digital technologies become more ubiquitous, pediatric providers must guide parents not only on the duration and content of media their child uses, but also on (1) creating unplugged spaces and times in their homes, because devices can now be taken anywhere; (2) the ability of new technologies to be used in social and creative ways; and (3) the importance of not displacing sleep, exercise, play, reading aloud, and social interactions.

That last point, to us, is paramount. And we add to that list “time outdoors.”

Adventures Make Memories

Anna in treehouseEven full of all the electronic toys imaginable, the insides of houses can pale in comparison to the adventures that await outdoors. And we don’t have to worry about entertaining kids when outside. Or cleaning up after them as much. Or them breaking things.

Now, one of Anna’s and my favorite things to do is to “camp out” overnight in our new treehouse, listening to the crickets and night animals, and looking up at the stars through the translucent roof as I read her favorite bedtime story aloud by our headlights.

Having helped build together is an accomplishment that she is proud of and a shared memory that neither of us will forget.

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Transforming Teachers, Revitalizing Teachers

students doing yogaOne of the most gratifying things we hear from teachers who bring Yoga Calm into their classrooms is how it changes their own lives – personally and professionally – as well as their students’. They say they find it revitalizing their teaching and rekindling the fire that led them to education in the first place – no mean feat in an era in which teacher burnout is rampant.

They describe a transformation in their teaching as they bring new tools, strategies, and perspectives to their work with children – things not taught in the standard education curriculum.

This was certainly the case for Iowa school counselor Karah Spahn, who recently blogged about her experience. Her story is beautiful. And powerful. And we’re grateful she said yes to our sharing it here with you now…

This Is What It’s All About

In grad school, we learned how to create lesson plans.

I learned how to choose an appropriate lesson name (or more specifically a unit and a title). I learned how to identify a learning objective, followed by a bunch of letters with colons and numbers to signify the standards and benchmarks (or excuse me, the mindsets and behaviors).  We were taught about the importance of lesson organization and how to create content and process questions after reading a picture book. I learned that reading picture books and talking about them in counseling is fancy and called “bibliotherapy.”  I learned about classroom management and how to get 2nd graders to sit quietly, legs criss-cross applesauce, spoons in their bowls.. wearing their listening ears.  I learned all this and then went out into the world and applied it.

And it was fine.  Really!  It was fine. But really, it was just…fine.

A few years ago (2013 to be exact), I had an extremely rough professional year. I felt stuck and uncertain and confused about what the hell I was doing in school counseling. I knew I loved my job – or at least I loved aspects of it.  I loved my kids. I loved my families. I loved all my work wives.  I loved the idea of helping and wanted to…but the vehicle to do this (my counseling skills) felt a little forced.

Now, don’t get me wrong – I admit to being pretty damn good with the puppets, and I can build rapport with even our toughest clients…but I still felt like something was missing. Something wasn’t clicking.

So, fast forward two years. I received some grant money to attend a training about utilizing yoga and mindfulness in the schools…and though it sounds incredibly cliché, something finally clicked.

students doing yogaNow, 18 months later, I realize that Yoga Calm has not only changed the way I do pretty much everything in school counseling, but it has revitalized me – and helped me fall in love with my profession all over again. Now, when I do classroom lessons, I don’t necessarily focus on a specific objective. Instead, I focus on one of five principles (Stillness, Grounding, Strength, Listening, Community), and I keep my focus on the pint-sized people in my audience. We sit quietly; we practice breathing; we give thanks; we give compliments; we set intentions – all this within the first five minutes of class. We use our bodies to show that we are strong for ourselves and our friends.  We use our bodies to show that we are here; we are present; we are focused.  We use our words to connect with each other; we use our minds to connect to ourselves; and we use our breath in unison to send well wishes and love to classmates or loved ones.

I’m much less concerned with the objectives of class now – and though I enter each room with a general idea in mind, rather than directing the class, I now let the class gently steer me.  I listen to what students are really saying and follow their lead. It’s a delicate thread to walk upon – giving and having control – but it’s proving to be quite powerful…which brings me to the story I needed to share today.

On Wednesday, I entered the second grade classroom, and many faces lit up when they saw my surprise: a student helper that some had been introduced to the year before. Several kids eagerly said her name, and another immediately approached her with a shy little hug. Students quickly bundled up their reading boxes and scrambled to the carpet, where we began with what has become my signature “start of class”: the Chime Challenge.

I asked students to focus on their breath, rang my chime, and sat in total silence (in a room full of 8 year olds!) for 50 seconds. Then another student helper led us in taking 10 breaths, while Terri Anne followed along.  Before my breathing helper sat down, we thanked him, and then he called on three people with raised hands – who each gave him a compliment about his leadership. “I like how you were calm.” “You stood nice and tall.”  “I like your smile.”  Cormick beamed and then sat down.

Then we did the same for Terri Anne.  The class thanked her and then gave her compliments.  “You were nice and calm.” “Thank you for coming to our class.” “You were breathing calm.”  And I’d be lying if I said that chills didn’t run down my spine when Terri Anne smiled wide, made a loud-excited shriek, and lunged back in her chair.  This is it! I thought. This is what “guidance class” is about!  THIS is inclusion!  THIS is friendship!  THIS is the opposite of bullying!  This is it!!

Before I could allow my eyes to fill with tears, I began to reintroduce Terri Anne to the class.  We spent a little time discussing the ways in which she is different from us (she uses a wheelchair, she doesn’t speak, she moves her body differently than ours, etc.) and then spent time (a loooong time) discussing the many ways she’s the same.  I actually found it funny that I needed to cut the conversation off so we could continue with class. Some kids had questions – so full of sincere, sweet curiosity – which we answered as simply and truthfully as possible. Does she sleep in her wheelchair? How does she change clothes? Does she like to go swimming? (She sleeps in a bed, someone helps her change her clothes – just like your mom or dad might help you – and she doesn’t really like swimming unless the water is nice and warm.)

students with teacher

We finished class with a few yoga poses that focused on strength and community.  We stood in star pose, formed a circle with hands touching – and created a galaxy, right there in the 2nd grade classroom, full of positive energy for the day ahead.  As our hands dropped back to our own bodies, a little girl approached me and asked if she could hold Terri Anne’s hand next time.  I smiled.  Yes, definitely. This is it.  That day, I left the 2nd grade classroom with a full heart. I was so proud of my students for embracing Terri and so proud of Terri for giving these kids the gift of getting to know her. This is what it’s all about.

Edited; Original post

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The Gift of Reading Aloud to Your Kids

magical book Storytelling, as we saw a couple weeks back, can fire the imagination and open up new worlds to children. It does this whether you make up stories on the fly, as you might with a guided relaxation, or simply read to children from books.

It’s the exchange between storyteller and listener that makes the magic.

The Practical Benefits of Being Read To

Over the years, much research has been done on how being read to affects children’s development. The benefits go far beyond just nurturing literacy. For instance, a 2013 study in Perspectives on Psychological Science found that “reading to a child in an interactive style raises his or her IQ by over 6 points.” Meanwhile, data from Educational Testing Services shows that students who do more reading at home score better in math proficiency.

boy reading outdoorsAnd the earlier book time begins, the better. Research consistently shows that kids who are regularly read to at home start school better prepared than those who are read to seldom or not at all.

After all, even though our culture has become more image-driven than ever – “chatting” via emojis, gifs, and memes; video dominating text – literacy still matters. It’s the foundation for all other learning.

Reading, like storytelling in general, also stimulates and nurtures the kinds of soft skills businesses value more than ever in their new hires – things like communication, creativity, and overall emotional intelligence.

Some research even suggests that reading aloud can be a useful intervention for kids with autism in particular. One very small but intriguing study published last year in Topics in Early Childhood Special Education looked at the effect of regularly reading to children on the spectrum.

Following intervention, all four participating children decreased the frequency of incorrect responding and gradually improved their correct, spontaneous responding to fact- and inference-based questions about story content. In addition, three of the four participants increased the frequency of their initiations.

Reading Aloud – Even to Older Kids

While we think of reading aloud as something we do just with little ones, older kids benefit just as much from being read to. As Jim Trelease, author of The Read Aloud Handbook, notes,

A child’s reading level doesn’t catch up to his listening level until eighth grade. You can and should be reading seventh grade books to fifth grade kids. They’ll get excited about the plot and this will be a motivation to keep reading.

A fifth grader can enjoy a more complicated plot than she can read herself, and reading aloud is really going to hook her, because when you get to chapter books, you’re getting into the real meat of print — there is really complicated, serious stuff going on that kids are ready to hear and understand, even if they can’t read at that level yet.

Reading aloud to your kids is also are good way to grapple with difficult issues. For example, you can tell your child, “I don’t want you to hang out with so and so,” but that’s a lecture that will probably go in one ear and out the other. But if you read a book about a kid who gets in trouble by hanging out with the wrong crowd, your child is going to experience that directly, and she’s going to experience it with you at her side, and you can talk about it together. You can ask questions like: “Do you think the boy made the right choice?” “Do you think that girl was really her friend?” When you talk about a book together, it’s not a lecture, it’s more like a coach looking at a film with his players, going over the plays to find out what went right and what went wrong.

All the while, reading is reinforced as something interesting, pleasurable, fun – not tied to schoolwork or anything obviously practical. It’s treated as an integral part of life and a source of wisdom and insight.

Stories Connect Us

father reading to daughterPerhaps one of the most underrated aspects of reading aloud with your child is the simple occasion to bond. The child who is read to feels valued and cared for through your gift of time and voice.

As we write this, Lynea is finishing work on the latest of her books for children, The Little Book of Healing – a gentle, lyrical walk through the ways grief can look and feel. Early experiences of loss can be hard, no matter who was lost – a relative, friend, or family pet. The tangle of emotions can be confusing. Routinely witnessing this in her work as a counselor, she knew that she needed to give children a story to help them through the process – and to give their caregivers a way to talk about the difficult emotions.

Stories connect us. In many ways.

Father/daughter image by Ldorfman, via Wikimedia Commons

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