If you’ve endured a toddler tantrum over which half of the banana is the "right" half (spoiler alert: it's neither), or you can remember slamming a door in middle school because your parents just didn't understand!!!, you've experienced firsthand that it can be hard to identify and name our emotions when we’re feeling like we have steam coming out of our ears.
None of us learn well in moments of intense emotion, but as parents we can often be left wondering how to address and teach coping strategies in an effective way. The answer? Books!
The books we provide to our young readers can teach coping strategies for how to manage big emotions, navigate social conflicts, and practice mindfulness.
When we read fiction with children - whether they’re our students or our own family - we help to support their social-emotional development. With entire units of curriculum devoted to the topic and its own emerging literary genre, social-emotional development is a complex concept.
To break it down, social-emotional development is a child’s ability to:
Understand the feelings of others
Control their own behavior
Get along with peers
When children read fictional stories, three important things happen. The first is that they might recognize themselves in the characters and plot. This helps children to feel connected. Not only that, when they observe and see how a character’s adversity plays out without having to actually wade into it, a framework may be provided for how to navigate challenging experiences that they may be experiencing like divorce, loss of a loved one, or feeling like they don’t fit in.
The second important thing that takes place when children read fiction is that they learn how to empathize with and understand the feelings of others - a key building block towards getting along with peers and social problem solving. Personally having taught many different age groups over the years, I’ve witnessed firsthand how fiction can evoke multiple emotions and promote really meaningful classroom discussion - all important aspects of learning to empathize and truly listen to what other people are saying.
Lastly, when our children read fiction, they're exposed to rich and descriptive language because the spoken and written word are often used in entirely different ways. The way one might have a conversation with a friend about the sun setting is far less complex than if an author describes for the reader what the sunset looks like from the perspective of a main character. The words an author uses to craft a story allow the reader to visualize what’s taking place and this serves to improve vocabulary.
We know that exposure to rich vocabulary supports all readers with the development of literacy skills. For many of our students with learning differences, reading books in which they feel seen as well as supported academically and socially can have a profound impact on their confidence. In case you're wondering, my current favorite SEL book is Thelma the Unicorn by Aaron Blabey. What a hoot!