Behavioral Psychology

Read To Your Kids

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My mom often babysits my one year old niece and this weekend I got a chance to observe their ritual, which basically revolves around eating food, taking naps, waking up from naps to point out all the objects of interest around the house, and then reading books. Lots and lots of books, though her favorite right now has got to be the baby book, which is just pictures of different babies hiding behind a flap on each page that, when you lift the flap up, you say “Peek-a-boo!” and she laughs hysterically.

When we think of the value of reading to kids from an early age, we’re usually thinking in terms of giving them a head start, helping them build their vocabularies, getting them familiar with letters and words and the sounds these letters and words make. But as I observed the simple joy on Ellis’ face while being read to, the way she would naturally pick out a book and then plop down on my mom’s lap, the behavioral psychology wheels started spinning as it became obvious to me that she will¬† have a lifelong love affair with reading, just like I do and just like my siblings do. As an aside I don’t want it to seem like I’m throwing her parents under the bus, who read to her all the time too.

The most classic and well-known example of behavioral association is Pavlov’s dogs, which was where he rang a bell every time he fed them. Before long he could ring the bell and his dogs would start salivating, whether or not the food arrived at the same time. They had come to pair the sound of the bell with the food.

Ellis is learning to pair the act of reading with love, attention, safety, fun, and learning. Is it any wonder that she’ll have a favorable image of books and reading when she gets older, even if she doesn’t really know why? Her neural pathways are forming and strengthening right now, and the ones that have to do with books and reading also cue off a lot of positive feelings.

From a behavioral point of view this is the best reason to start reading to your kids very early, even if they don’t fully get what is going on yet. It’s likely there is a great deal of learning happening too, but even if developmentally speaking the learning trajectory is identical with or without the aid of books, you’re still setting your kids up for great success in life because sitting down with a book will come naturally and effortlessly to them, it will be a pleasant experience rather than a painful one, and this will in large part be thanks to the positive behavioral associations you help them make with reading right now.