How Reading Curiously With Your Child Can Support Their Emotional and Social Wellness
The concept of Reading Curiously expands on story time to promote the development of empathy, build insight, cultivate perspective-taking, and strengthen your child’s moral conscience.
Making story time a normal part of your daily routine with your kids is beneficial on many levels. Reading together and following a story line helps with literacy, school success, focus, memory, and many other cognitive skills. However, there is an additional exercise that you can practice when reading together that has its own set of benefits, which I call Reading Curiously.
Reading curiously means expanding on the content that you are presented with in a book to increase reflective capacity, build empathy, foster the power to choose, as well as provide a platform to discuss morality and ethics.
By asking your kids to think deeply about the circumstances of characters in a book, they can freely and openly ponder choices when confronted with new, challenging, confusing, or questionable scenarios in their own lives. When this is done in a safe space that is not connected in any real or personal events, it helps them reflect on potential situations that may arise, which better prepares them to make good decisions in real life. This will also help your child reflect on not only their own situation but also that of others.
A case for Reading Curiously
Some great lessons can be learned vicariously. Of course, personal experience provides lots of opportunities for learning as well, but sometimes those personal experiences can feel just that: too personal. When an experience is lived, it can make it hard to be objective and even harder to avoid getting defensive or flooded by emotions.
For example, if you are trying to teach your child not to lie, it may not be as effective to apply this lesson right after they lie and are feeling upset, ashamed, or scared of the consequence. As another example, discussing alternatives to hitting when angry is always great, but it may be more challenging right after your child hits their little brother. In the heat of the moment, it can feel too personal to be objective. Don’t get me wrong, it is a good idea to talk about these incidents as they are happening, right after they happen, and then again when everyone calms down. However, there are other great moments to build in these conversations when the pressure is off and it feels less personal to the child. And that additional conversation can come from Reading Curiously.
The best part about Reading Curiously is that it can be practiced with any book, anytime. Even with the books that you have already read thousands of times together.
Every time you read your child’s favorite book or others you have at home, you can consider a different reflective question and process a new concept. The idea is to get your child to consider alternative perspectives and intentions, and to encourage them to empathize with different characters by thinking about the choices characters make and could have made. It also encourages them to reflect on what they would want to do in a given situation, while also considering moral and ethical issues, weighing pros and cons, and opening their minds to different elements that the characters and the content presents.
This type of mental flexibility, also known as cognitive flexibility, is very important. In fact, according to research published in the journal Trends and Neurosciences, “greater cognitive flexibility is associated with favorable outcomes throughout the lifespan such as better reading abilities in childhood, higher resilience to negative life events and stress in adulthood, higher levels of creativity in adulthood, and better quality of life in older individuals.”
Ready to try Reading Curiously with your child, students, or other young family members?
Here are some examples of Reading Curiously reflective questions that you can try:
Observation and interpretation questions:
- I wonder what made the (character) decide to (e.g. steal, scream, break, run away)?
- It seems like the (characters) are (e.g. excluding, showing off, teasing, not listening), what are your thoughts?
- I wonder why they are choosing to behave in that way?
- Did you notice how (character) shared her toys with (character)? What do you think about her choice to share?
Empathy and perspective building questions:
- How do you think that makes (other character) feel?
- What do you think is happening for (character) that is making him get into all this trouble?
- How do you think (character’s) parents feel about this?
- What would you do/how would you feel if (character) were your friend?
Considering morality, ethics, and fairness:
- What do you think about (character’s) choice to (hit, sneak, ignore)? Should there be a consequence? What would a fair consequence be?
- Can you think of any better choices that (character) can make?
- What do you think is the right thing to do in this situation?
- What do you think about that rule that Mommy penguin made for little penguin? What do you think Mommy Penguin’s intention was for setting that rule?
- What other better/more appropriate options might (character) have when he feels (e.g. angry, excluded, rejected, irritated)?
Reading Curiously is not meant to replace the simple enjoyment and benefits of just reading together. We want to expand on an already familiar activity and build in some elements of emotional and social wellness. Hopefully, by practicing reflecting on these questions, your child will begin to open their mind to alternative perspectives and options. Also, it’s a great way for you to learn more about your child’s process and offer them guidance, clarification, or correction when needed. In the years to come, this will empower your child to trust their own ability to make choices that represent their truest selves.
For more great social emotional conversation starters, check out my book, What a Feeling! The ABCs for Emotions.