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Reflections from Dr. Nneka Hendrix, M.D, ROR NC Medical Director

As my family and I breathe a collective sigh of relief for the ending of another jam-packed school year and look forward to the promise of  a fun and engaging summer, I can’t help but reflect on the tremendous strides that Reach Out and Read has made on national, regional, and local levels and how grateful I am to be on this journey with you all as we work to improve the lives of children.

As an organization, we are championing the idea that we can teach families to create “moments that matter” by encouraging nurturing routines and emotionally safe spaces at home centered around reading and relationship building.

The highlight of this year for me was the Reach Out and Read Summit in Raleigh/Durham where these strategies were highlighted. The speakers shared their expertise in the topics of healthy mental and emotional development, the impact of shared reading and cultural pride on brain development, and the power of moments to name a few, all within the context of early relational health.

The messages that were most impactful to me centered around the theme of positivity. Using positive dialogue and encouraging parents to share their positive thoughts about their child as the first point of discussion rather than beginning with a complaint or problem. Learning that there is an antidote to ACEs! I admit there is a certain degree of over-simplification in this statement. However, PCEs (Positive Childhood Experiences) are cumulative and can provide a powerful and equal counter effect on mental health.

Clinicians are perfectly situated to help parents and caregivers understand that their child’s mental well-being depends on a variety of factors that they can choose to foster in their homes.  Keeping doors of communication open so that children feel comfortable sharing their emotions without judgement.

Creating an environment where the child feels safe and protected by at least one adult in the home. Focusing on the strengths of the family and how they use it to build resilience in the face of difficult life circumstances. Using books where children see their images, their struggles, and yes, their triumphs reflected back to them is such a great way to start!

So, let’s use this summer to practice these techniques with the ones we love. Here are a few suggestions. Create cozy reading spaces—include your child’s favorite plushy or a blanket. Use long car rides as a time to unplug from the screens and enjoy reading. Make reading a family affair.

When my children were in their early elementary years, we enjoyed “side by side” reading. I would read one side of the open book and they would read the other. As they got older, we tackled shared reading of “big books” by each taking a turn reading a chapter. What a thrill it was for all of us as we enjoyed the adventure and a sense of accomplishment for reaching the end.

Have fun making memories this summer in all the ways that matter!

Nneka Hendrix, M.D

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