As a pediatrician, I dish out parenting advice regularly. During well child visits, I routinely discuss everything from car seats to sunscreen to childproofing and parents rarely question or challenge this advice. There has been enough media attention and word-of-mouth coverage of most of these topics that they are already familiar to most new parents. However, one piece of advice raises some skepticism: reading with infants.
I remember recommending a dad read to his 6-month-old daughter and he laughed at me. Another mom lamented that her 4-month-old must have something wrong with her because she didn’t like TV, but had never considered trying a book. New parents of a baby girl raised their eyebrows when I suggested reading as an activity appropriate for a newborn. Why was reading to an infant more unbelievable than stating that sleeping on ones back prevents Sudden Infant Death Syndrome or that wrapping a baby like a burrito is calming?
Well, as a new parent myself I read with my infant and discovered that it seemed he wasn’t interested in the book as anything other than a chew toy. It took months before he started to engage with the books in a way that I recognized as reading. So I understand the hesitancy of these parents. Why would one read to a child who doesn’t understand story time, who doesn’t have the attention span to listen to a full book, and who can’t follow a plot? So I encourage parents to think of books likes toys, allowing their kids to manipulate them, flip through the pages, and even chew on them. They can read the words or just discuss the pictures and point to objects. Simply sitting together and holding a book increases the language that a child is exposed to and teaches them an important lifelong love of reading.
My practice gives out a Reach Out and Read book at each well child visit from 6 months to 5 years of age. This creates an opportunity for us to discuss the benefits of reading with children and allows me to model age-appropriate reading behaviors in the office. Yesterday, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) announced a new policy that will encourage pediatricians to advocate reading to children from birth and that CGI America, Reach Out and Read, and Too Small to Fail will be helping to expand our book giveaway programs to these younger infants as well. I am excited that we can expand our efforts to get more books into low-income families’ homes. Nothing makes me happier than when a child asks for a lollipop at the end of a visit and when I say that we don’t have any but they can have a book instead, I see a huge smile across their face.
Older posts about reading and Reach Out and Read books:
What N is reading now:
What G is reading now: