Literacy and Emotional Development in Children

Learning to read and write is a crucial part of a child’s development.  What this means is that people can understand and follow written instructions, find out information online or in books, write letters and emails, and send text messages.  It also means that a child or adult is able to participate fully in their education and learning.

How do children learn to read and write and what are the best ways to get children to learn to read and write?  This is a hotly debated topic.  Research has found that there are three essential skills children need to help them learn to read and write.  First, is phonological awareness.  This skill involves an understanding that words are made up of sounds and in order to read we need to hear these sounds.  Second, is phonics.  This relates to learning that letters represent sounds and that children need to remember the sound of each letter quickly and easily to be able to speak or write.  Third, is the understanding that written words can be understood and when written in a particular order can mean different things.

Why do some children have difficulties with reading and writing? Research has shown that about 10% of school children have problems with reading and writing.  There are a number of reasons why some children have trouble reading and writing.  For example, some children may be learning English as a second language.  These children will generally catch up as they put in more practice and become more skilled in English.  Furthermore, children have difficulties in reading and writing when schooling in interrupted during the crucial early years when reading and writing skills are developing.  It is also possible that literacy development is hindered due to learning or intellectual difficulties or due to underlying speech and or language difficulty.

Difficulties in learning to read and write have a major impact on a child’s schooling, their ability to form friendships, and self-esteem.  There are certain signs that parents need to look out for to see whether their child has problems with literacy.  Some of the signs during the early years of a child’s development include being late in starting to talk; having difficulty in learning and remembering new words; finding it difficult to provide simple information clearly; needing instructions to be simplified; not being able to recognise the alphabet; and showing no interest in listening to stories.

During the early school years your child may have difficulty in developing confidence with letters and sounds and may not want to have a go at spelling; they may be mispronouncing several long words; have immature grammar; not being able to read grade appropriate texts fluently and accurately; have trouble reading ‘between the lines’; and have difficulty in developing the skills to tell the stories and give explanations.  This can be linked to social difficulties and feeling left out with other children, behaviour problems, poor communication, and not participating in class activities.

A lot of parents ask us when should they get help for literacy problems and emotional difficulties?  It is very essential to intervene early and provide the children with the help they need.  If your child is showing any of these potential problems, please see a speech pathologist, psychologist, or your GP and paediatrician if there are underlying developmental difficulties for the problems at hand.

By Dr Raj Khillan

Director Western Specialist Centre


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Dr Malini Singh, Psychologist, Change for Life


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