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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Rethinking the Role of Gangs

photo by lanier67 on Flickr

John Hagedorn is Professor of Criminal Justice at the University of Illinois-Chicago. His most recent book is A World of Gangs: Armed Young Men and Gangsta Culture.

We read every day about the arrest of gang members or statements by police that some bust “crippled” the local gang.  Zero tolerance policies in schools and communities have as a goal the complete elimination of gangs.  In several Central American countries, a policy of “mano dura” or the iron fist, aims to smash gangs.

But despite these policies, filled jails, and one police campaign after another, gangs haven’t gone away. In fact, a quick glance at press reports from around the world finds gangs everywhere. What’s up with this? Do the failure of “hard line” policies mean that we should ignore gangs or treat them nicely and they will go away? What should we do?

Here’s what I think: Gangs aren’t going away no matter what we do. In other words, no matter if we crack down or lighten up, gangs are with us to stay. Let’s examine first why I’d say something outrageous like this and then think about what it means for what we should do.

There are six billion people in the world today and half are under the age of 24. More than a billion are between 18-24, prime gang age. In a world that has 1.2 billion people living on less than a dollar a day, the UN’s standard for extreme poverty, there are a lot of poor, and understandably angry, young people. The sad truth is the 21st century is not so much a century of hope but one of shattered dreams. It’s not that individually, you or your friend can’t make it — hard work, determination, and getting a few breaks can give even the most “down and outs” a way up and out. But looking at the big picture, for the one billion plus people living in extreme poverty, the good life will remain out of reach for this lifetime, at least.

That’s really where gangs come in. Gangs are destructive and violent, alienated and armed young men and sometimes women. But they are also rebels in the face of a world that is even more violent, unforgiving, and cold.  Unfortunately the response gangs most often choose is one that only makes things worse.

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