The emotional and cognitive benefits of reading have been heavily researched for many years. Reading has been proven to expand a person’s vocabulary, better recognition and attention spans, and boost critical thinking and analytical skills. Those who are so called “avid readers,” are also more likely to engage in civil and political activism. But what does this all have to do with bullying?
Children who bully are often less attuned to their own emotional understanding and that of others, and feel limited in their means of expression. These feelings of limitation often stem from failed academic success, social exclusion, bad habit reinforcement at home, and other environmental and genetic factors. What can reading do to help solve these issues?
Reading is the foundation to learning. Without the ability to read well, it is extremely difficult to succeed in other school subjects. How can you learn about chemistry, math, or physics if you can’t understand the information or word problems in the textbook? Increasing a student’s reading comprehension will give them the foundational skills necessary for overall academic success.
Having an expansive vocabulary gives people a greater and deeper means of expression. Imagine how frustrating it would be to try to explain complex problems without a large stockpile of words at your disposal. This is perhaps one of the reasons why many bullies refuse to talk to teachers and guidance councilors about the things that trouble them. They simply lack the vocabulary to put their feelings into words, and fear the embarrassment of being seen struggling to talk or form coherent complex thoughts. Having an extensive vocabulary also helps children discover and provide their own rationale behind their behaviors, and provoke healthy moments of introspection.
A study done at the University of Buffalo has shown that reading fictional books increases a person’s ability to empathize with others, and build cultural and emotional understanding. The reader often sees the characters in books as projections of his or her self or of others they know. The objective viewpoint that reading provides allows readers to closely examine characters and make assumptions about them as they follow their story. Assumptions may be proven right or wrong as the story goes, but it’s this type of open-minded engagement that brings on new thoughts and different ways of thinking: two things that children desperately need to experience during their cognitive development.
Once a person’s reading skills rise above a level that no longer makes it a strenuous task, the process of reading can become relaxing and therapeutic. This form of relaxation is called bibliotherapy by experts in the field of psychotherapy, like one Dr. Richard Singer. In an interview with Digital Journal, Singer talks about the transformative power that reading can have on the human psyche. “Books are amazing because they let us deep into the minds of fellow human beings,” he says. It’s this sort of “mind-meld” that experts say brings us understanding about the suffering of others. Reading good books shows us that we are not as different from others as we often lead ourselves to believe.
University of Buffalo Empathy Study: The Guardian
Dr. Richard Singer Interview: Digital Journal