You’re embarrassed to admit it. After all, you keep hearing advice about daily reading to your kids from day one. Or the book lists your kids are supposed to love. And story time at your local library is jam packed with kids—every single one who loves reading.
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Yet you can’t seem to coerce yours to even sit on your lap for one book. Or maybe your kid would rather play with Legos, crayons, or run around in the backyard—anything, except read.
You can’t believe this has happened, but somehow, your kid hates reading.
With research listing the benefits of reading to children—many that serve them well into adulthood—you’re left at a loss. Reading is good for your kids, but how do you get them to like it?
If you’re like some parents, you may unknowingly be making well-meaning mistakes that turn your kids away from reading. In an effort to encourage reading, could you actually be discouraging it? Take, for instance, these five mistakes and the reading tips for each one:
#1: Not telling them what a word is when they ask.
How often has this happened: Your kid is reading aloud a starter book when she stumbles on a difficult word. So she turns to you and points, “Um… how do you say that word?”
Your response? “Well, let’s see here… What sound does that ‘m’ make? Uh-huh, that’s right, ‘mmm.’ Okay next, the ‘a’—you know that one right?” and so forth.
When really, it probably would’ve been much better to just say “machine,” and move on.
Because not every word has to be a lesson in phonics and reading. We learn best in context, so that even if your preschooler can’t sound out the word “machine,” with enough repetition and reading, she will have pocketed that bit of information for future reference.
Plus, in going over every single word like this, it devalues the other times she has been able to sound out equally challenging words correctly. They’re not getting a “free pass” for being lazy.
#2: Making reading a chore.
I’m not oblivious—I know there comes a time when reading and homework isn’t going to be the most exciting thing to happen in a kid’s life. But how much of that is based on your reaction or perception of reading?
If you nag your kids about reading, homework and learning, they’ll likely regard them as a chore—something to get out of the way to move on to something else.
Not to say we should regard reading with the same zeal as a birthday party, but we should acknowledge and reinforce its positive benefits.
To avoid nagging, make reading a regular part of your bedtime routine. After bath and pajamas, read four books every night. Or bring home books from the library every week. Reading will be ingrained in their day just like brushing their teeth or eating dinner.
#3: Forcing books they don’t want to read.
Corduroy may have been your all-time favorite children’s book growing up, but that doesn’t mean your little guy has to agree. Or maybe you hear everyone recommending Where the Wild Things Are so you plop your kid in front of the book expecting he’ll love it.
He may or he may not. Don’t force the issue.
#4: Reading non age-appropriate books.
Babies and toddlers do well with board books they can grasp. These books also tend to have fewer words per page and a quick story line.
Once your kids are older, they can start reading hardbound picture books with longer passages. But if you find your kid is more likely to tear the pages than read paragraph-long pages, hold off. The more words sit on a page, the older the age of the child normally should be.
Learning to read and sound out words by herself is an exciting skill, but one that can be easily squashed when given a difficult book or burdened with unrealistic expectations.
How do you know if a book is challenging but not overwhelming for your child to read on her own? If she struggles with five words or less per page, then the book is appropriate.
#5: Not saying ‘yes’ when asked to read.
I’m embarrassed to admit, but there was a day when I actually got mad at my son for asking me to read.
It was a crazy kind of day, with my infant twins needing constant attention. I asked him if we could read it another time, even though we both knew ‘another time’ wouldn’t likely happen. He pressed. I got mad. And before you knew it, I was reading the book in the maddest voice ever.
Yeah, big ol’ mom fail.
I realized before we even finished the book how immature I was acting. Getting mad for reading a book?
I apologized immediately and now I know better. Even during busy days, I’ve made reading a priority, and will almost always drop everything I’m doing to read to my kids.
#6: Not reading often enough to your kids.
There was a time when my husband and I worried our twins weren’t as keen on reading as their older brother was. “Where did we go wrong?” we asked one another. I wanted all my children to love reading and learning.
Then we realized how little we actually read to the twins. With our eldest, he had his parents all to himself. We were less pressed for time and read to him often. I clearly didn’t have that much time now that I had twins.
Still, we took baby steps. We started incorporating reading into their routine. We also lay books everywhere around the house, making it easier for impromptu reading.
Don’t feel bad if your kids don’t like reading—there’s still hope. What else can parents do to make sure kids don’t hate reading? Let us know in the comments!
Ninais the writer behind Sleeping Should Be Easy, a blog offering useful tips and insightful discussions about parenthood. She’s a working mom to three boys (a five-year-old and toddler twins) who loves reading, cooking and dancing. Click here to read Nina’s 14 Principles of Effective Parenting.