Menu

The scientific benefits of dads reading bedtime stories

A better behaved kiddo and a more engaged parent? What's not to love? 📚

The scientific benefits of dads reading bedtime stories

It's so cute I don't dare interrupt, so I stand in the doorway of my son's room watching while his dad reads his favorite story—a book from his own childhood—and acts out the parts. “Cover your eyes," my husband says in his first language, French. Our cheeky toddler son covers his ears instead and they both laugh and turn the page.

These little father-son story sessions benefit the whole family.

I already knew they gave me a bit of a parenting break before bedtime and helped instill a love of reading in our little boy. It turns out they're also making my husband a better dad. (Not that he needed improvement. 😘)

FEATURED VIDEO

According to a study published in the Journal of Clinical Child & Adolescent Psychology, fathers who engage with their children through shared book reading see a boost in their own parenting skills while also raising their preschooler's school readiness and behavior.

A better behaved kiddo and a more engaged parent? What's not to love?

The study evaluated 126 New York City dads who joined a program called Fathers Supporting Success in Preschoolers, which encouraged shared reading or—more simply put—story time with dad.

Most of the families spoke Spanish and were randomly assigned to either participate in the program or go on a waitlist (the control group). According to the researchers, parenting behaviors, child behaviors and language development of the pairs improved significantly compared to those who were wait-listed.

The simple act of sharing a book made a big difference for the dads: According to a release by New York University, they made fewer critical statements to their preschoolers and amped up positive parenting techniques like praise and affection after telling stories. On top of that, these improved discipline techniques promote better psychological growth for the kids, according to researchers.

I don't have to look far to see the positive benefits of father-son story time in my house. Our toddler looks forward to bonding with his father over their special French books—which I cannot read at all despite my taking French in high school and college—and my husband is a better dad because of it. Now, if only he could teach our son the difference between eyes and ears, I would really be impressed.

[This piece was originally published on August 24, 2017]

You might also like:

This is how we’re defining success this school year

Hint: It's not related to grades.

In the ever-moving lives of parents and children, opportunities to slow down and reflect on priorities can be hard to come by. But a new school year scheduled to begin in the midst of a global pandemic offers the chance to reflect on how we should all think about measures of success. For both parents and kids, that may mean putting a fresh emphasis on optimism, creativity and curiosity.

Throughout recent decades, "school success" became entangled with "academic achievement," with cases of anxiety among school children dramatically increasing in the past few generations. Then, almost overnight, the American school system was turned on its head in the spring of 2020. As we look ahead to a new school year that will look like no year past, more is being asked of teachers, students and parents, such as acclimating to distance learning, collaborating with peers from afar and aiming to maintain consistency with schooling amidst general instability due to COVID.

Despite the inherent challenges, there is also an overdue opportunity to redefine success during the school year by finding fresh ways to keep students and their parents involved in the learning process.

"I always encourage my son to try at least one difficult thing every school year," says Arushi Garg, parenting blogger and mom of a 4-year-old. "This challenges him but also allows me to remind him to be optimistic! Lots of things in life are hard, and it's important we learn to be positive during difficult times. Fostering a sense of optimism allows kids to push beyond what they thought possible, like biking without training wheels or reading above their grade level."

Here are a few mantras to keep in mind this school year:

Quality learning matters more than quantifying learning

After focusing on standardized measures of academic success for so long, the learning environment this next school year may involve more independent, remote learning. Some parents are considering this an exciting opportunity for their children to assume a bigger role in what they are learning—and parents are also getting on board by supporting their children's education with engaging, positive learning materials like Highlights Magazine.

As a working mom, Garg also appreciates that Highlights Magazine can help engage her son while she's also working. She says, "He sits next to me and solves puzzles in the magazine or practices his writing from the workbook."

Keep an open mind as "school" looks different

Whether children are of preschool age or in the midst of high school, "going to school" is bound to look different this year. Naturally, this may require some adjustment as kids become accustomed to new guidelines. Although many parents may wish to shelter our kids from challenges, others believe optimism can be fostered through adversity when everyone is committed to adapting to new experiences.

"Honestly, I am yet to figure out when I will be comfortable sending [my son] back [to school]," says Garg. In the meantime, she's helping her son remain connected with friends who also read Highlights Magazine by encouraging the kids to talk about what they are learning on video calls.

Follow children's cues about what interests them

For Garg, her biggest hope for this school year is that her son will create "success" for himself by embracing new learning possibilities with positivity.

"Encouraging my son to try new things has given him a chance to prove that he can do anything," she says. "He takes his previous success as an example now and feels he can fail multiple times before he succeeds."

There's no denying that this school year will be far from the norm. But, perhaps, we can create a new, better way of defining our children's success in school because of it.

This article was sponsored by Highlights. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

Our Partners

This is my one trick to get baby to sleep (and it always works!)

There's a reason why every mom tells you to buy a sound machine.

So in my defense, I grew up in Florida. As a child of the sunshine state, I knew I had to check for gators before sitting on the toilet, that cockroaches didn't just scurry, they actually flew, and at that point, the most popular and only sound machine I had ever heard of was the Miami Sound Machine.

I was raised on the notion that the rhythm was going to get me, not lull me into a peaceful slumber. Who knew?!

Well evidently science and, probably, Gloria Estefan knew, but I digress.

When my son was born, I just assumed the kid would know how to sleep. When I'm tired that's what I do, so why wouldn't this smaller more easily exhausted version of me not work the same way? Well, the simple and cinematic answer is, he is not in Kansas anymore.

Being in utero is like being in a warm, soothing and squishy spa. It's cozy, it's secure, it comes with its own soundtrack. Then one day the spa is gone. The space is bigger, brighter and the constant stream of music has come to an abrupt end. Your baby just needs a little time to acclimate and a little assist from continuous sound support.

My son, like most babies, was a restless and active sleeper. It didn't take much to jolt him from a sound sleep to crying like a banshee. I once microwaved a piece of pizza, and you would have thought I let 50 Rockettes into his room to perform a kick line.

I was literally walking on eggshells, tiptoeing around the house, watching the television with the closed caption on.

Like adults, babies have an internal clock. Unlike adults, babies haven't harnessed the ability to hit the snooze button on that internal clock. Lucky for babies they have a great Mama to hit the snooze button for them.

Enter the beloved by all—sound machines.

Keep reading Show less
Shop

Want to be a happy parent? Let go of these 15 things to find joy

5. Your need to look perfect. There’s no such thing as a perfect parent. Embrace your imperfections.

Because parenthood is challenging, we can sometimes forget how to just be happy in the midst of it all.

Keep reading Show less
Life