How reading supports children's mental health: 'It takes their minds off the fear and anxiety they may be feeling'

Published on: 06 February 2023

Here, we take a look at how our books, resources and reading support are being used by our partners and families to support children's mental health and wellbeing - helping them become happier and healthier through reading.

An illustration of a woman and child snuggling up and looking at a book together under a blanket on an armchair

Illustration: Erika Meza

At BookTrust, we know as well as bringing children a range of benefits that can positively impact their lives, reading and sharing stories can play an important role in supporting children's mental wellbeing and self-esteem.

'During times of adversity, reading for pleasure can be a protective force, providing escapism and relaxation,' says Diana Gerald, CEO of BookTrust.

'Cultivating an enjoyment of books and stories from an early age can offer children a strong foundation for healthy emotional development as they grow, providing gentle yet vital support in helping children process how they are feeling.

'For young children, sharing a story with a trusted adult can be an enjoyable bonding experience that can reduce stress, make them feel more secure or create a safe space where they may feel more able to share their emotions.

'Books can open doors to an inviting new world that feels far away from the difficulties they may be experiencing, whether that's by finding solidarity in characters and storylines who might be facing similar challenges to them or exposure to new ideas and experiences.'

Together with our partners, we're working to ensure children from disadvantaged and vulnerable backgrounds can be supported on their reading journeys and have access and opportunities to share books and stories together.

The important mental distraction of enjoying a brilliant book

An illustration of piles of books

Illustration: Fiona Lumbers

Iqbal Lall is a Play Leader at Doncaster and Bassetlaw Teaching Hospital who supports children with long-term health conditions and prepares them for treatment. With her team, Iqbal offers ways for children to relax through play, caring for their mental health during traumatic times.

'A big part of our role is distraction therapy with the children,' Iqbal says. We offer them a way of coping or a distraction while procedures are taking place.'

BookTrust supported Iqbal to set up a children's book corner at the hospital.

'Many of the children in the hospital don't have many new books at home,' Iqbal says. 'We rely on book donations but sometimes the books that are donated aren't suitable for the children, or are too old or damaged.

'The books we received from BookTrust are brilliant. There are now brand new books for the children to look through and some for them to take them home.'

How books can help children cope during times of emotional stress

'When we can put the BookTrust books in front of the children, it takes their mind off the fear and anxiety they might be feeling,' Iqbal says.

'If children are in hospital long term, they're missing out on a lot of school and therefore socialising and learning.

'Reading helps with their mental health and gives them something else to focus on, as well as a sense of achievement.

'It's so important to get the kids engaged with something stimulating to help them cope with whatever they might be going through. Books can do that.'

Creating a safe space to talk about feelings

An illustration of a child and woman sitting at a breakfast table talking - the child is eating cereal while the woman is cupping a hot drink

Illustration: Erika Meza

Liz is a mum of three from Shropshire, who received a Bookstart Baby pack from her local library for her baby, Amelia.

'Reading is really calming for her,' says Liz. 'The sense of security that reading together as a family brings us is really important to me. With my oldest two children, if they've got any worries, or something's happened at school, reading time before bed gives them an opportunity to talk about it in a very casual way.'

Liz adds: 'There have been times where they've been able to relate to something that's happened in a story we're reading. This has opened up opportunities for them to talk about things on their mind.

'It happens sometimes without them even knowing, they're just sharing naturally during reading time. It really helps me as a mum, and I hope it helps them as well.'

Katie Tilley works as Early Years and Primary Consultant for Lambeth Virtual School in London, which uses BookTrust's Letterbox Club packs to support looked-after children.

'Books can be a vehicle for the discussion for pertinent topics,' Katie says. 'Books with emotional stories, for example, can provide explicit opportunities for a child and their carer to discuss painful issues but with the emotional safety of being one step removed. They can talk about the characters and events in a book without having to refer directly to themselves.'

Browse our booklists themed around supporting children's mental health

If you're a professional who works with children and would like to share your experiences of using books or BookTrust resources to support children's mental health please contact us on [email protected]

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