For World Book Day, we've partnered with an organisation bringing free reading resources to kids and an author to find out why reading is so important and how you can encourage kids to dive in.
Children and young people have had a tumultuous year: almost two-thirds (60%) of children aged 8-11 say they feel stressed, sad or worried at least once a month. The Reading Agency recently launched Read, Talk, Share - an initiative to tackle loneliness and support mental health and wellbeing through reading. As part of a £3.5 million award by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport, the Reading Well programme is expanding so that books from its mental health schemes for children, young people and adults will be available in every library in England and in eBook or e-audio formats, so that as many people as possible can benefit.
The fastest way to de-stress
"Researchers at the University of Sussex have found that even six minutes of reading can reduce a person's stress levels by two thirds," explains children's therapist and author, Becky Goddard-Hill. "They believe this is because the distraction of entering a new world lets people step away from their own worries, and this releases tension in both their minds and bodies. In fact, they have found that reading works faster than any other way of de-stressing such as listening to music going for a walk or even enjoying a warm drink."
The Reading Well for children scheme provides books that can help children deal with worries, feel better and get through tough times, with a book list chosen and recommended by leading health professionals and co-produced with children and families. Opening up conversations with children about anxiety and worry through reading can be really important to support children in identifying and coping with how they're feeling. The books in the scheme can also provide the parents, carers or teachers around them with the best tools to help.
Somewhere to escape
"We're all able to think more clearly when we're calm," says Becky. "That's true for children, too. They will be able to make much more sense of their feelings once they've chilled out and therefore be able to talk about them more easily. Away from others, noise and distractions, a reading hub is a great place to have difficult or emotive conversations in private while still feeling comfortable. Build them a designated reading corner to give them all the space they need and a chance to calm down while still feeling safe. This can be as simple as putting a throw or a blanket, a cushion and some library books in a corner."
The Reading Well initiative has been hugely successful - 91% of people surveyed found their book helpful. So far, 2.6 million Reading Well books have been borrowed from libraries. Regularly reading for pleasure has been shown to boost self-esteem, give a greater ability to cope with difficult situations, and improve sleeping patterns. Studies also show regular readers for pleasure report fewer feelings of stress and depression, and that reading creates stronger feelings of relaxation than watching television or engaging with technology intensive activities.
"Books can act as great prompts to get children talking about feelings and enable you to ask useful and revealing questions quite naturally. This can provide a child with a wonderful opportunity to explore their feelings and emotions - and to share them, without it feeling awkward or strained," Becky says.
The free mental health eBooks put together by experts working with the The Reading Agency are available from your local library. Find out more here.
Becky Goddard-Hill is a children's therapist and author of Create Your own Calm and Create Your Own Kindness, (Harper Collins) wellbeing activity books for kids age 6-12.
Nip in the Bud works with mental health professionals to produce short films and fact sheets to help parents, primary school teachers and others caring for and working with children to recognise potential mental health conditions. Find out more at their website.