Summer reading is in full swing at public libraries across the country. Our library is mostly filled with eager readers and happy parents. However, there are a few sad, frustrated, and embarrassed children that would rather the floor open up and swallow them than be at the library. Why?? Because of their parents.
Most parents are supportive and wonderful with their children. Then there are some that just don’t get it. Or my personal favorite (cue epic sarcasm) the extra pushy jerk parents. I get that sometimes it is very frustrating to get your child to read. Kids can be stubborn. Why read when there are 10,000 other things that are bright, shiny, and distracting?! Maybe they struggle with comprehension or haven’t found anything interesting. Maybe the parents struggle with reading and don’t know how to help a reluctant child. There are lots of reasons that kids give up on reading. That being said, one of them shouldn’t be you.
Here are some tips that are guaranteed to make your children hate books and reading.
1. Compare them to a sibling– “Who is the best reader in the whole world?”
Being compared to someone who seems to excel at everything and happens to be related to you just plain sucks. Think about it. How do you feel when you are compared to someone who is fitter, makes more money, has a better car/house/job, etc… No one likes feeling like they will never measure up, especially kids. You might think that you are encouraging them but trust me you are not. If anything they want to run for the hills.
Instead of telling me how your son or daughter “sucks at reading” or how you can’t understand how one kid is a perfect reader and above their reading level yet, you have a child that is so far behind that it’s embarrassing; try telling me something they are good at. It’s okay to tell me about your child that excels. Just don’t forget the one that struggles. Tell me what they are good at besides reading. Sometimes that can help me find something they might like.
One boy hated reading but loved sports and video games. We found some books in the Non-fiction section with baseball tips and player facts. He also picked up a book about his favorite video game. His Mother was very supportive and encouraged him to get whatever he wanted. I almost gave her a gold star sticker for being awesome.
2. Talk for your child when I am asking them what they like to read or interrupt them when they are telling me–
Want to turn your child into an instant clam? Talk over them or for them. I have watched so many kids go into forced clam mode when this happens. Yes, you know what your child likes or you think that you do. Yes, I get that you’re excited to tell me that they read such and such book and found it amazing. For the love of little readers everywhere, STOP IT! Let your kiddo answer me first.
Sometimes kids are shy around other adults. I totally understand that phenomenon because I used to be that kid. Sure my mouth would never stop going at home. Get me out in public and I hid behind legs or stared at the floor. Sometimes I am still intimidated by adults. However, my job is to make your little one feel welcome and safe. I know what questions to ask and I am pretty good at getting the shy ones to talk. I also know when to back off and let them look for a while.
Let your librarian talk to your child and let your child answer. I had a Dad that followed me all over the library while I was talking to his daughter. She would start to answer and he would interrupt her. You could see the frustration on her face. His phone rang and when he went to answer it she chatted up a storm. I helped her find some books and when Dad came back she had an armful and a very smug expression on her face.
Another parent came in and tried the same tactic with her teenage son. I rarely do this, but I ended up just ignoring her and making eye contact with him until he answered. She finally got the hint and backed up a bit. He found a few books and she apologized for interrupting. She was just so excited that he actually wanted to read something for a change.
3. Tell your child that what they like to read is stupid-
No.. just no… Yeah, I don’t really like Junie B. Jones either and Captain Underpants is not on my top 10 list. Still, I would never ever tell a kid that what they love is crap or stupid. (Yes, I have heard both) Just like I don’t judge you for indulging in the latest trashy romance or tell you that reading only Cosmo is stupid and will rot your brain.
Parents it is okay for kids to read something cheesy or silly every now and then. Especially during the summer months. They have been at school all year working really hard. The end of the year is nothing but test after test. Kids need a brain break. Heck, I need a brain break now and then. Let them read something fun. They are still reading. Yeah, Sponge Bob is not a literary classic and Garfield will never win the Pulitzer Prize. They have plenty of time to read the classics. Letting them read for fun just enhances the whole experience.
So many people (librarians included) think that kids need to only read classics or high level literature. Yes, this is important because it gives readers lots of new skills like decoding and comprehension. But they have their whole life to read those kinds of books. Reading can be fun too. If you force a kid to only read what you deem worthy you are taking away their freedom of choice. Kids need to have options. They need to know that they can try something new. Let reading be fun for a change. They might be more willing to pick up something harder in the future.
Let me add that in no way am I suggesting that home rules don’t apply. I understand that families might have certain things that they don’t allow in their homes because of personal or religious preferences. Give me that guideline and I can search for something fun that falls within those perimeters. There are billions of books, comic books, and magazines out there. We can find something that almost everyone can be happy with.
4. Make your kids finish a book even if they hate it-
Guess what? Librarians sometimes put down books that they don’t like. There are dozens of books that I have never finished. Most of the time it is because I just didn’t like the story or it didn’t keep my attention. If I don’t care about the characters then why continue? There are so many other books out there waiting to be read. I am not going to waste my time on stuff that in my opinion sucks.
Your child doesn’t have to finish every single book they pick up. Yes, they do have assigned reading for school and they have to finish it even if they hate it. (curse you “Wuthering Heights”) However, this is summer. If they hate it they can return it and get something else. The library is free people, and full of all kinds of books for all kinds of readers. There is something for everyone in our stacks.
Want to help your child enjoy reading? Try some encouragement and understanding. Belittling, shaming, forcing, and comparing make small readers and big readers want to give up. The best thing that you can do is support your child. One Mom told her kids the following when they came into the library:
Pick whatever you want! Lets find something fun that we can all read together this summer. Yes, even a comic book! Let’s get a bit crazy!