Projects |

Benefits of Early Book Sharing (BEBS)

We are testing a parenting intervention focused on training caregivers to share picture books with their young children in Khayelitsha.

WHAT Benefits of Early Book Sharing (BEBS)
WHERE Khayelitsha, South Africa


Conservative estimates suggest that in excess of 200 million children, primarily in Sub-Saharan Africa and Asia, are failing to reach their developmental potential as a result of poverty. What makes healthy development so difficult for these young children is that they have to contend with a destructive combination of adverse factors that impair cognitive, social and emotional development, as well as physical growth and health. This predominantly occurs from within a context of severe community deprivation, often characterised by aggression, violent crime and lack of opportunities. These early child cognitive and socio-emotional deficits in low and middle income countries (LMIC) have profound implications for literacy and future educational success.

Aside from cognitive delays, a major problem that disproportionately affects those in LMICs is a high rate of violence and aggression. This problem is one of the leading causes of premature morbidity and mortality, demonstrated by homicide rates often up to ten times higher than in HIC. Evidence from longitudinal studies in HIC indicates that children who develop heightened and pervasive patterns of aggression in childhood often go on to become perpetrators of such violence in early adulthood.

Extensive research has looked into the relationship between pro-social behaviour/empathy and later aggression and externalising behaviour problems. It is particularly relevant that, in addition to reducing aggressive behaviour, pro-social behaviour is also a very strong predictor of later intelligence, expressive and receptive vocabulary, and theory of mind.

Parents play a critical role in the social and emotional development of their young children. Secure attachment, caregiver responsiveness to child cues, and disciplining strategies are all particularly salient predictors of child socialisation. Social skills can be taught and are learned in various ways by young children. An important area in this regard is the nature of parental discourse with children as this is internalised and been shown to shape child socio-emotional development.

Training parents in sensitive book sharing has the potential to benefit both child cognitive development and socio-emotional development.

What we are doing

The Benefits of Early Book-Sharing (BEBS) study is a randomised controlled trial that tests a parenting intervention delivered to families in Khayelitsha, South Africa. It involves training parents to share picture books with their children, encouraging simple techniques such as pointing and naming things on a page and following their child’s interest. The intervention is designed to produce improvements in the children’s cognitive development, including their language and attention, advance their social understanding, and increase their pro-social behaviour.