Five ways to use literature to encourage positive changes in children

By Ken Myers

It is well-known that children who read well experience greater progress in their academic studies. However, literature also is a valuable tool for teaching and reinforcing positive social skills that can help keep children on the right track when it comes to behavior. In fact, the power of literature is so strong, that many juvenile correction systems are implementing the use of required reading as an alternative to other types of punishment. Because literature has the potential to inspire positive change in children, parents and other adults who work with youths may want to try a few of the following ideas in order to begin seeing the effects of literature on a child’s social and emotional development.

1. Create a ritual. Children thrive on routine. This is especially true for children who come from rough backgrounds or who have been forced to overcome significant challenges. Younger children may benefit from having a set bedtime story ritual, while older children can find a regular reading schedule calming. This way, there is a portion of the day set aside that they can depend upon always being the same.

2. Use a book to approach a difficult issue. Working with children can lead to a need for some difficult conversations. Often, adults and children may struggle with ways to bring up particularly challenging topics. For this reason, books are often the perfect way to introduce specific topics for conversation. Through literature, you can seamlessly ease into topics such as divorce, death, and abuse.

3. Explore a common interest. For many children, bonding is a difficult process. However, when a child shares a common interest with an adult, the child is more likely to trust the adult for advice. This can be especially vital for juveniles to make progress towards their goals for better behavior. For this reason, try finding a common interest that you and your child can explore through reading specific literature and books.

4. Make a memory book. When children attempt to learn how to make better decisions, you can help them learn how to focus on the positive aspects of their lives. In these instances, encourage children to create their own literature. By making memory books, children develop powerful resources to track the positive changes occurring in their lives. In a group setting, each member can choose to create a page that everyone can read.

5. Extend reading through activities. Children learn best when they actively participate in an experience. For this reason, extend a literary assignment to include a physical activity. For example, a child who reads a sports-themed book may then enjoy taking part in a real-life game. This can reinforce the concepts the child learned in the story, such as the importance of teamwork.

When children read books, they are able to enter into a world where learning can take place regarding a variety of subjects. Not only is literature an excellent tool for teaching academics, but it is also a valuable resource for helping children learn positive social skills that will enable them to make better decisions. This is especially true for children who may not have had positive role models in the past. Literature should be an important part of any child’s life and supported through the efforts of adults who are dedicated to ensuring the child will have the best opportunities for success.

Ken Myers is the editor in chief and frequent contributor of Ken helps acquire knowledge on the duties & responsibilities of nannies to society. You can reach him at

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‘Dead by 25, So Who Cares?’ Anticipated Early Death and Youth Crime

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Timothy Brezina is Associate Professor of Criminal Justice at Georgia State University.  He has published numerous studies on the causes and correlates of youth violence and delinquency.  This post summarizes his latest research study, titled “Might Not Be a Tomorrow: Anticipated Early Death and Youth Crime”, co-authored with Volkan Topalli and Erdal Tekin, and forthcoming in the journal Criminology.


“I saw my first dead body when I was five, man.  It was my uncle.  Some crackhead stabbed him straight in the eye.  Blood all over,” recalled a young offender of his earliest childhood memories.

Many people would have difficulty comprehending the pervasive violence that young people confront in our nation’s economically-deprived, inner-city communities.  A survey of school children in inner-city Chicago revealed that nearly one-quarter had witnessed someone being killed.  In a similar survey of public high school students in inner-city Cleveland, one-third reported that they had been shot or shot at.


How do these experiences with violence affect the social, emotional, and educational development of young people?  What does it mean to witness killings at an early age and to attend the funerals of other young people?  What impact does it have on their sense of a future, and on their willingness to engage in risky behavior, including crime?


To gain answers to these questions, I teamed up with key research colleagues at Georgia State University, including Drs. Volkan Topalli and Erdal Tekin.  A portion of our research involved in-depth interviews with “hardcore” offenders from the streets of Atlanta.  We wanted to learn, as best we could, how the world looks through their eyes, and how their perceptions and beliefs affect their decisions to pursue crime.  For the purposes of our research, we regarded our offender intervieweesdrug dealers, robbers, and carjackersas the “experts” on criminal decision-making.


Our interviewees typically reported long and early histories of violence.  Many had been shot or stabbed and bore visible scars of physical trauma.  They also expressed what criminologists refer to as a “coercive” worldview; in their eyes, they occupy a dog-eat-dog world where it is acceptable if not necessary to use force to intimidate others and to prevent victimization.


In the words of one offender: “In my neighborhood, it’s rob or be robbed.  I prefer to be on the robbing end.”  He explained to us how he had learned to rob people effectively (e.g., how to immobilize victims and catch them off guard) from the experience of being robbed himself.

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Instilling Hope with After-School Programs

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LaVerne DaCosta is a Ph.D. student and faculty associate, teaching education and society courses at Arizona State University.  Her Master of Science research focused on youth services.  Her current research interest is in youth culture and technology.


From my brief profile above, I am sure you already know where my passion lies.  I believe in the creative potential of young people, and I believe strongly in the value of after-school programs as a resource to help foster and sustain that potential. 


The research on after-school recreation programs, which includes my own Master of Science research, has shown that after-school programs can be beneficial to students, particularly children from underserved communities and/or adolescents who are trying to form their individual identity and are particularly vulnerable to structural or environmental factors that leave them exposed to risk.  Such students tend to act out their aggressions, mistrust and hopelessness in a myriad of counter-productive ways. 


The public school classroom is the one place that such students seldom get the help they need.  The structure of schools and classroom discipline only serve to exacerbate the problem.  Regular participation by young people in after-school recreation programs, however, can have an impact on reducing their negative behaviors.


Additionally, the numerous literature indicate that because the factors that affect young people’s behaviors are inter-related, after-school recreation programs which help to reduce negative behavior, juvenile delinquency, and violent crime also help to build self-esteem, ego-resiliency and ultimately impact their academic achievement.  After-school recreation programs can help maltreated children and transitional foster-care children cope with a variety of issues in their lives and contribute to goals such as self-efficacy and positive development.  Practice is the key to building confidence and these programs provide this space through enrichment curriculum with the exclusion of any grand theory of success and failure.


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