Build resilience through books


A session at the virtual 2021 American Academy of Pediatrics National Conference & Exhibition shared how books can help families build the resilience that can aid in weathering stressful times.

Books offer a way to explore the world, different times, and even different worlds. They also offer a way for families to build resilience to tackle a stressful world. At the virtual 2021 American Academy of Pediatrics National Conference & Exhibition, Perri Klass, MD, FAAP, professor of pediatrics at New York University in New York City discussed how promoting parent-child reading time early in the child’s life not only encourages learning and literacy in the child, but also provides the tools to protect against adverse childhood experiences, which can lead to negative health outcomes.

The Reach Out and Read program was started 32 years ago as a project for both pediatricians and early educators. The intervention was initially targeted at children in families dealing with poverty, but was extended to all children. It was designed to promote literacy development, but over the years has come to also include school readiness, promoting brain development, and encouraging early relational health as its goals. Practices involved in the program have literacy-rich waiting rooms, which include volunteers to read books to children and gently used books. During the visits, the clinician offers guidance on creating routines, reading aloud, and incorporating developmentally appropriate interactivity. Additionally, a developmentally and culturally appropriate book is given to a child at every health supervision visit until age 5 years.

So what findings has the program found? Parents are more than twice as likely to read to their children and families are more than twice as likely to enjoy reading together. The likelihood of reading to a child more than 3 times a week also doubled after the invention. For the child, language development was improved by 3 to 6 months after initiation and the language ability also improves with more exposure. For the clinician, there is improved job satisfaction and overall the compliance for well child visits also improves.

Encouraging family reading time with small children also:

  • Promotes the development of routines, which can provide predictability when stressful situations arise
  • Develops loving and supportive relationships, which can buffer against toxic stress
  • Fosters lap time and face time, which encourage physical affection
  • Encourages parental feelings of self-efficacy due to routines
  • Decreases screentime and replaces it with a positive alternative
  • Develops early language skills that can give children the words they require to share their needs and feelings

Klass closed her session with a reminder that reading is a triumph of the early brain, requiring a whole variety of neural processes such as memory, cognition, and phonemic awareness to come together. Using that triumph by including family story time in a daily routine encourages the child to discover that books are source of fun and information that can open up a world of possibilities, all while being supported by family.


1. Klass P. Books build buffers: supporting family resilience through literacy. American Academy of Pediatrics 2021 National Conference & Exhibition; virtual. Accessed October 10, 2021.

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