Early Literacy Research Library (ELRL) - Article

Beyond Language: Impacts of Shared Reading on Parenting Stress and Early Parent–Child Relational Health

Canfield, C., Miller, E.B., Shaw, D.S., Morris, P., Alonso, A., Mendelsohn, A.L.. (2020) Beyond Language: Impacts of Shared Reading on Parenting Stress and Early Parent-Child Relational Health. Developmental Psychology, 56(7), 1305-1315.,

Access: FREE/Open Access

Publication year


study description

Cross-lagged longitudinal design within a larger randomized controlled trial (RCT).

core topic(s)

Early Relational Health , Shared Reading

Population Characteristics

Poverty/Low-Income , Pregnancy/Postpartum

Exposures, Outcomes, Other

Clinic-Based Programs and Interventions , Mental Health , Parent Behaviors and Skills , Parent-Child Relationships/Interactions , Positive Parenting , Programs and Interventions (other) , Smart Beginnings


To extend findings from previous studies of collateral effects that have been conducted in parenting interventions, we examined parenting behaviors in a broader context to determine whether shared book reading would confer collateral benefits to the parent and parent-child relationship beyond those expected (i.e., language and literacy).


Smart Beginnings RCT (positive parent interactions).

outcomes evaluated

Parent outcomes: shared book reading, parental stress, parental warmth.


Mothers/infants recruited from postpartum units in large urban hospitals in NYC and Pittsburgh to participate in Smart Beginnings RCT.


It was hypothesized that positive parent–child interactions, such as shared reading, would have positive impacts on parent outcomes such as parenting stress, parental warmth, and sensitivity. The sample consisted of 293 low-income mothers and their children who participated in a randomized controlled trial. Shared book reading, parenting stress, and parental warmth were assessed when children were 6 and 18 months old. We computed a series of cross-lagged structural equation models to examine longitudinal interrelations among these three factors.

sample size

n=293 (mothers and their children)


Measure of Shared Book Reading: READ subscale of StimQ Cognitive Home Environment, including assessment of caregiver cognitive stimulation via Parent Verbal Responsivity (PVR), Parental Involvement in Developmental Advance (PIDA), Availability of Learning Materials (ALM), Reading Activities (READ).


Measure of Early Relational Health:

    • Parental Warmth using the Supporting and Enjoying subscale of Parenting your Baby questionnaire.
    • Parental Sensitivity using the Parent Child Interaction Rating Scales-Infant Adaptation (PCIRS-IA).
    • Parenting Stress using the Parent Child Dysfunctional Interaction subscale of the short form Parenting Stress Index (PSI).


Results indicated that shared book reading at 6 months was associated with increases in observed and reported parental warmth and observed sensitivity and decreases in parenting stress at 18 months, controlling for baseline risk factors and treatment group status.


These findings suggest that early parent-child book reading can have positive collateral impacts on parents’ stress and the parent-child relationship over time.


Although there were significant impacts of shared book reading on relational health and parenting stress, the effect sizes were relatively small. Still, these effects may have clinical significance and provide the motivation for future studies, especially for parenting stress, as a 1 point increase in the parent-child reading score reduced the odds of meeting the clinically at-risk cutoff for parenting stress by 10%. Additionally, although our assessments of parenting warmth and sensitivity were bolstered by the inclusion of both parent survey and observational data, the observational activities were not strictly designed to elicit parental sensitivity. Nevertheless, the observations of play used in the current analysis may be a more ecologically valid measure of parental sensitivity, as they are more likely to be activities that parents engage in with their child outside of the laboratory. Finally, although the current study was able to examine shared book reading and parenting longitudinally, we cannot fully determine causality in the relation between these factors, based on the observational nature of this analysis.