Dr. Vivienne Smith: How Reading Supports Mental Wellbeing

Dr Vivienne Smith, a Senior Lecturer from the University of Strathclyde, explores how reading impacts positive mental health and helps children develop empathy.

Full Transcript

I’m Vivienne Smith, I work at the University of Strathclyde in the Department of Education. I’m really interested in literacy, and how the messages we give children about reading from the very beginning influence the way they develop as readers.
If we get early reading right, there will be more children who are prepared to read and do well in school. All sorts of wonderful things happen if you read. Your vocabulary increases; your ability to use language increase; your range of ideas increases; your general knowledge increases – all of that is important.

Another thing that reading will do for you, though, is not just increase your ability to learn but also it can increase your mental wellbeing. One of the things we all know reading does for us is gives us a space away from the real world, and that’s important.

Children who are experiencing stress, for whatever reason, can use reading as that breakout space. The mini-break where they don’t have to worry about whatever it is that’s worrying them.

If you think of a fairy tale where magic might happen, or a wicked witch might appear, or a giant, or a wicked stepmother. The child who reads those knows that that isn’t real. But it gives them another way of looking at life. And if you can say, ‘okay, that world is not quite like my world’, you can then say, ‘what if my world was different?’ So reading is presenting an alternative way of seeing reality, a suggestion that there might be other ways of doing things.

Another thing that’s important is that reading helps children understand their own lives – and there are lots of lovely picture books about real children who have real emotional crisis. And I don’t mean big things; it might just be realising that another girl in your class has the same dress as you. But actually reading and seeing that other people have the same emotions as you, the same experiences as you, is very important for children. Very important for everyone! Because it makes you understand you’re not alone in the world.

Even more important: reading teaches you empathy so you don’t just see your own world, you see somebody else’s. You learn that other people have other ways of thinking, other problems, other ways of dealing with them, and we need that. We need children to be able to see the world from other people’s perspectives.

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Filed In: Bookbug Tags: Ideas from Early Years Experts, reading, development