An important goal of parenting is to build a relationship with our child. We want to have shared memories and be a source of influence in our children's lives. An excellent way to grow relationships with our child is by enjoying picture books as a family.
Spending time together and seeing the world through their eyes will deepen our relationship and build a foundation for future trust and appreciation. So how can picture books play a crucial role in relationship development?
Love Languages and Picture Books
When you read books to children who can't yet read fluently on your own, you are sharing an experience. Shared experiences are good for relationships. (Not sure how else you would build a healthy relationship!)
You've probably heard of the five love languages and how people tend to receive love either from quality time, physical touch, words of encouragement, acts of service, or gifts.
Reading aloud could easily hit all of these love languages. If you give a book to a child (gift), and the child sits on your lap or next to you (physical touch). You read the book aloud (acts of service), that take a while (quality time), and you find something good to say about how well the child listened or what a good observation the child made (words of encouragement), then you've addressed every love language.
You've probably heard that children spell love as T-I-M-E, so yes, reading aloud is good for bonding. However, there's more.
Picture Books Help Explain Life
Tomie dePaola has a stunningly lovely, gentle explanation of death in Nana Upstairs, Nana Downstairs. I might wish that death does not come for us all, but since it does, I'm grateful to have some talking points with my sons.
Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel, by Virginia Lee Burton, is, on the surface, about the value of perseverance. However, underneath there's a subtext about technological advancement, the pain of becoming outdated, and the necessity of creative thinking and the ability to make adjustments on the fly. That's an astonishingly current message, considering it was published before WWII!
In A Bargain for Frances, Frances finds herself manipulated by a "friend." Most of us have probably been suckers at some point, and it doesn't feel good. Frances comes up with a creative solution to the problem, but ends by asking, "Do you want to be friends?" She's not a pushover, and keeps her desire for friendship at the center, and manages to deal with an unpleasant situation.
Grandpa Green shows the story a grandpa's life through topiaries, even when the grandpa's memories themselves go missing.
As a parent, you get to introduce some of these harder topics to your children. Using picture books is a way to introduce these more difficult yet important topics gently.
Picture Books Give Children a Voice
As an English major, I tend to preserve the text. That's how the author published it, so let's keep it exactly as it was passed to us.
Yet if you've ever read with a young child, you know that the child does not have an inherent respect for the text.
The child wants to point to things of interest and share their own story.
The text isn't a sacred object, but a springboard to interaction.
When my mom reads with the youngest grandchildren, I see she reads the page. However, she'll then ask, "What do you see? Do you see the ball? What color is the ball? Blue, right? Good job!"
She'll look at the picture and point out things that the grandchildren may have missed at first glance.
The grandchildren probably won't have an exact memory of those times, but those experiences become part of the fabric of their childhoods. They develop by sitting with an adult who loves them, who interacts with them, and who respects their lives enough to listen to their opinions.
As my friend Jill says, "We don't need more kids who can read at a fifth-grade level when they are four years old. We need more kids with imaginations who get to cuddle up with mom or dad on the couch to share great picture books.
It makes me weep to think that we are so busy trying to get our kids ready for college that we miss the joy of childhood and family and relationships along the way."
A Childhood of Memories
There is plenty of time for our children to read independently and to mature and grow. It will happen no matter what we do. So instead of pushing them ahead at a young age to read the longer, more challenging book, let's pull them into our lap and enjoy a story together.
Picture books play an essential role in not only the life of a child but also in their relationships with their family. Don't demand your child join the race to get ahead; instead, enjoy where they are now.