My kids are needy.
Sure, they need food and water and a roof over their heads. Of course, they need semi-regular bathing and semi-clean clothes and a semi-safe home. (Let’s face it though: a toddler could figure out a way to turn an empty room into a complete mess and a safety hazard.) All of those basic needs are normal and to be expected.
But my kids often (so often!) make it clear – at times with loud (so loud!) voices – that they need more from me.
They need me to watch them go down the slide. They need me to admire their sidewalk chalk drawings. They need me to listen to the very-long, melodramatic story of how they got an owie. And then kiss it.
They need to be seen and heard and understood and known and loved. My kids are so needy.
Aaaaaaannnnnnnd my kids are just like every. other. person. on the planet.
Children, with their emotional freshness and innocence, are experts at expressing what the rest of us can take for granted or stuff inside or get too busy to notice.
We all need love and relationships. We all need bonding with others.
We all need connection.
It’s not always easy though, is it? Real life happens and real life isn’t always a lovey-dovey hugfest. There are projects to finish and meals to get on the table and places to go. It’s easy to let the minutes and hours slip by without pausing for some meaningful words or affection.
But connection is too precious and life is too short and kids grow up too fast.
And so I read to them.
Wait! What?? you might be asking. That’s a bit of a leap. What do books have to do with all this gushy talk?
I’m so glad you asked.
It’s my firm opinion that reading with children is one of the best ways to connect.
When they hand you a book. When they climb up on your lap or snuggle in next to you on the couch. When you laugh together at the funny story or turn the page in anxious anticipation. When you’re accepting and affectionate and sharing emotions together. It’s all love and togetherness and relationship.
Reading together offers connection. And that alone is enough to make reading together worth it.
But there’s an incredible two-for-one effect in reading with a child. Not only are you and your child connecting with each other, you and your child are connecting with the book’s characters and story.
Multiple scientific studies have shown that reading fiction is directly related to having empathy for others. In her book Unselfie: Why Empathetic Kids Succeed in Our All-About-Me World, Michelle Borba writes, “People who read fiction are more capable of understanding others, empathizing, and seeing another person’s point of view than those who read nonfiction. … The more stories young children had read to them, the stronger their ability to imagine what other people are thinking and feeling.”
Guess what? People don’t even have to like reading to reap these benefits. They just have to do it, and it will unlock and cultivate empathy.
If that’s what reading will do for my kids, sign me up! There is plenty of science about what reading does for our kids’ brains (and it’s amazing!), but I’m convinced the world needs kind people much more than it needs smart people.
And so I read to them.
Leo the Late Bloomer gives us patience for anyone moving through life at a different pace (and for their oftentimes anxious parents). We appreciate Ferdinand and Gaston and anyone like them for their non-conformity and individuality. Alexander is a great reminder that sometimes other people are just having a really, really bad day. And Mrs. Twinkle dares us to be a hero for others just like she is for Chrysanthemum.
The best part?
I’ve never asked my children to sit with me and build empathy. We don’t have understanding time right before bed and we don’t keep kindness shelves in their rooms. We just read stories together and allow ourselves to connect with them and each other.
My kids enjoy and grow from reading together so much they don’t just want it. They need it.
My needy kids.
And honestly, I’m glad my kids are needy because I’m needy too. And right now I need to go kiss an owie.