New research suggests storytime might just help parents too.

January 25, 2017
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Reading does more than pass the time away. Research has shown that reading can make you more empathetic and increase longevity, but according to a new study published in the Journal of Clinical Child & Adolescent Psychology, reading can also help men become better fathers while also improving preschoolers’ school readiness and behavior.

The researchers at New York University’s Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development recruited 126 fathers and their preschool-aged children across three Head Start centers around the city. (Head Start provides programs that look to increase school readiness in young children from low-income families.) The families, a majority of whom spoke Spanish, were either asked to participate in eight weekly sessions lasting 90 minutes each, or put on a waitlist as a control.

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During the weekly sessions, small groups of dads watched videos of fathers reading with their children but with exaggerated errors. For example, a father might ignore a child trying to correct him about a mistake he made. The dads then identified the mistakes and had group discussions about how to better handle them. The participants were also encouraged to practice the strategies (e.g., offering praise and encouragement, asking questions) at home with their child during shared book reading.

After eight weeks of sessions, both father and child benefited. Based on the researchers’ observations and parent questionnaires, the dads’ parenting skills—like establishing routines, rewarding good behavior, and issuing fewer time outs—improved by at least 30 percent. The children’s overall behavior also improved and standardized tests showed a 30 percent increase in the children’s language development and school readiness. 

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The researchers also saw a whopping 79 percent attendance rate for the weekly sessions, a notably high amount for a parenting program geared towards fathers. The researchers attributed this to how the program was framed—as academic readiness training versus a parenting class.

“When someone tells you they're in a parenting course, the first thing that comes to mind is, ‘Well, what’s wrong with their parenting?’” Anil Chacko, an associate professor of counseling psychology at New York University and lead author on the study, told NPR. “It assumes there is some deficit present.”

By taking the focus from the fathers’ potential deficits as parents to their children's academic readiness, the researchers were able to engage the fathers in the program, which benefited both parents and children.

“Unlike other parenting programs, fathers in this program were not recruited to work on parenting or reduce child behavior problems, but to learn—with other fathers—skills to support their children’s school readiness, which may remove stigma and support openness among fathers in supporting their children,” Chacko said in a statement.

That extra bedtime story doesn't sound so bad now, does it?

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