As soon as I get home from work with my 21-month-old daughter, the first thing she does is race to the TV and make little fishy noises with her mouth. Yes, she wants to watch "Finding Dory"… again. My husband and I look at each other and groan. This is one of the most common and frustrating parental experiences we all share—our children’s obsession with certain books and movies they never seem to tire of, no matter how many times they’ve read or watched them.
If variety is the spice of life, is it detrimental for our kids to repeat the same media over and over? Well, it may drive parents batty, but science says that this repetition is actually good for your little one!
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It Builds Vocabulary
Children who read the same book over and over again or who watch the same show or movie multiple times acquire vocabulary presented in those stories at a faster rate than kids who consume a wider variety of media. In a study conducted by Dr. Jessica Horst of the University of Sussex, children were divided into two groups. One of the groups read the same book with new vocabulary multiple times. The other read a variety of books with new vocabulary. At the end of the study, the children were tested, and those who had been exposed to the same story over and over demonstrated understanding of many new words, while the other group retained very little new information.
Though having a big library at home is a great thing, Dr. Horst says, “It's not the number of books, but the repetition of each book that leads to greater learning. We know that children who watch the same TV program over and over again do better in comprehension tests afterwards.”
For a while, my daughter was obsessed with the book “Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?” It bored me to tears, but we read it over and over again. Before long, she could identify all of the animals in the book by name or the sound they make. By watching "Finding Dory," she's able to learn and pronounce difficult sounds for a child her age, like “Hank."
Being a kid can be tough. Children face challenges every day that they're not developmentally ready to deal with, and overcoming them is part of growing up. However, a day full of growing can be pretty exhausting. Repeating books and movies can be a child’s attempt at self-care.
I’ve noticed that reading my daughter’s favorite “repeat books” before bed soothes her to sleep faster than a new or less familiar book. Also, when the whole family battled the flu this winter, the only thing that kept her from fussing and focusing on her discomfort was our dear blue friend Dory and her buddy, cranky Hank the octopus.
But I’m Going Insane…
Not gonna lie—our children’s media repetition is tedious. I’ve said several times, “If I have to watch that movie again, I’ll claw my eyes out!” So how are parents to survive our tots' fascination with one book or movie? Here are some tips:
* Get involved. Narrate the movie as it goes and ask your child questions. “Why is Dory sad? Who is that character? What’s Nemo’s daddy’s name? Where is Hank?” This can evolve into “What do you think happens next?”
* Engage while reading, too. Stop and ask your child what they think the characters are feeling at particular points in the story, and track how those emotions change. This can help develop your child’s emotional intelligence. “How do you think Gerald the Giraffe felt when the other animals laughed when he tried to dance?” Take it a step further by noting changes in character’s moods. “Now that he’s learned to dance, how do you think Gerald feels?”
* Do funky voices. I’ve read "Ernie's Bathtime Book" in a British, Irish, Australian and Southern accent, as well as practicing my alien and robot voices. My daughter thinks it’s funny, and it keeps me entertained!
* Choose media you can stand to view over and over. If there’s a particular show or book that you absolutely can’t stand, to the point where it makes you upset or angry, just get rid of it. Your child will attach to something else soon enough.