Being cooped up, away from in-person social interactions for nearly a year has left me full of unexpressed emotions. I have to believe it’s the same for others, including kids.
I wouldn’t describe myself as being overly emotional, so I’m surprised when lately I find myself getting weepy about simple things I see online. For example, a troupe of darling teens from South Africa in a choral group joyfully singing in marvelous harmonies had me reaching for a box of tissues. Binge watching Schitt’s Creek episodes makes me cry and laugh at the same time. I’ve read that such emotional outlets are healthy, which makes me feel a bit better.
One of the most important contributions of books to the growth of a child’s personal literacy is to expose them to rich content that gives them the opportunity to connect with their feelings about people and events in their day-to-day lives.
Books are one of the most portable, easily personalized and enduring tools for families to access and validate kids’ emotions. Reading books together offers a bridge to strong and rewarding personal relationships, the stuff of a “good life.”
Fully expressed emotion, both positive and negative, is a critical ingredient of life’s richness. Emotional outlets, like books, are not the same as emotional support–systems that help us process our responses to life and the world. Yet when we read books together and then talk about what we read, we’re much more likely to gain a better understanding of the world and our place in it.
The dynamics of emotional connection to a book’s content help humans leap the gap between merely turning pages to being mesmerized, fully drawn into a touching story, a dazzling mystery, or an amazing exposition of new ideas or information. Helping a child to appreciate emotion in response to daily life adds to their existence and is a primary responsibility of those of us charged with “bringing them up right.”
Reading inspiring, exciting, scary or hilarious books with children and then inviting them to discuss their personal, surprising and maybe even troubling feelings about the characters, their actions and experiences validates kids’ innermost selves. And if young children are encouraged to share their heartfelt responses to a book, they may be much more likely to share emotions around real-life experiences and interactions as they mature into teenagers and young adults.
Expressing to others our confusing, vulnerable emotions can be very difficult yet very valuable. Learning to do that in the accepting context of reading books with family, friends and loved ones and then talking about what we read offers a small, safe way for children to learn the power and value of using emotions to know others and for them to be fully known.