What (NOT) to do when your child falls out of love with books.

Somewhere in those tweens and early teens, our children pull all kinds of surprises on us. Suddenly, they want to hang out with different friends, wear a different style of clothes, or speak a completely (to parents, anyway) foreign language. Case in point, here’s my 10-year-old’s latest adventure in expressing herself:

CHloe blue hair You’ll find plenty of articles about how to handle these things with patience and understanding, about when to draw the line and when to give them rope. But there isn’t much advice on what to do when your child, who has previously been an avid (or at least average) reader suddenly shows a complete disinterest or disdain for books.

There’s a lot of competition for kids’ attention – from sports, electronic devices and games, movies, and the increased freedoms that come with age. Something’s got to give to make room for the new. Often, reading is one of those things that drops by the wayside.

So what do you do when your child falls out of love with books? Let’s take the opposite tack. What should you NOT do?

1. PANIC! 

Yes, that would be my  initial reaction, too. All those bedtimes spent reading and re-reading his favorite board book, all those hours of patiently dragging your finger beneath each and every word of each and every Junie B. Jones, the countless reading logs and vocabulary words, and now this kid ISN’T INTERESTED IN READING? How is she going to pass Brit. Lit.? How is he going to get into college? Oh my god, she’s going to live at home forever!!! 

Breathe. It’s OK. You’d be amazed at how many kids go through this, and how many come back around in their own time. I recently listened to an interview librarian Matthew Winner did with Kwame Alexander. Kwame (if you don’t know him) is a Newbery Award-winning author, poet, educator, and literacy advocate who actually teaches teachers how to teach reading. His parents are, like, reading experts. And when he was twelve, he fell out of love with reading.

Clearly, he found his way back.

2. DEMAND THAT YOUR CHILD READ

Again, oh-so-tempting. But this time in a kid’s life is ruled by a need for independence and choice. Forcing something like reading (beyond that required for schoolwork, obviously) is not going to make you – or books – any more popular. 

Reading has to be choice, or it becomes a chore. Whether your child is three or thirteen (or if the “child” in question is actually your thirty-something husband…), you have to let him/her choose to read.  Don’t make this a big deal or a source of tension between parent and child.

3. TAKE AWAY THE ELECTRONICS

I’m all for limits, but if you think removing a high-interest activity like video games is going to convince your child to revert to a love of books – out of boredom or lack of options, maybe? – you have another think coming. Again, this is just contributing to the idea of reading as a chore or, worse yet, a punishment.

Instead, make certain that books and reading material are available options. Make it hard for your child to ignore books by keeping them in high-profile areas (including the car, the bathroom, and the breakfast table.) Make a stop at the library (for yourself, or the younger siblings, of course) on the way home from soccer practice. Drop by the bookstore – or the comic book store – while running errands together. Subscribe to magazines about your child’s interests, whether that be video games or basketball or fashion. Talk books in front of your kid.

4. INSIST ON ONE TYPE OF READING

So the 8th grade teacher sent home a “recommended reading list.” Great. There are likely a lot of amazing books that your child would enjoy on that list – but they are not the only things he/she should be reading. In fact, in this developmental stage, your child may be much more averse to books selected by authority figures. So encourage your child to explore other options.

Think of all the other things your child could be reading: poetry, graphic novels, news stories, non-fiction, novelizations of favorite shows and movies, fan fiction, blogs! It’s all valid. Or check out this awesome list on the Nerdy Book Club blog, Top Ten Books that Hook Teen Readers into Reading Again.

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5. GO IT ALONE (NO ONE NEEDS TO KNOW YOUR SHAMEFUL SECRET)

Maybe you’re embarrassed that other parents will judge you – or that teachers will judge your child – if they know s/he doesn’t read much anymore. School can be pretty competitive these days, and you want your child’s academic reputation to shine. But this tactic is not helping your child – or you.

At this age, kids often respond better to suggestions from influencers other than their parents. A coach passing along a book he loved about a favorite sports figure, the guitar teacher your child adores recommending a great music magazine, that really cool librarian (you know librarians can be super-cool, right?) saving the newest volume of the hot dystopian trilogy just for your kid – all go over better than you giving your kid the same suggestion. Sorry. It’s kinda sucky. But it works. And in parenting, what works, wins.

****And now it’s your turn, my friends. Please leave a comment and let me know about your experiences with kids falling out of love with reading. How did you handle it? How did it work for you? What else should parents in the same situation be doing – or not doing? I can’t wait to tap into the collective knowledge of this fantastic group. 

 

 

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50 thoughts on “What (NOT) to do when your child falls out of love with books.

  1. My kids never did this, but if they had, I think I would have ignored it outwardly and just keep buying new books to leave on coffee table. If the books looked fun to read, I’m sure they would crack before I did.

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  2. reading still occurs – menus, websites for concert tickets, fb notes, tweets, etc etc.
    it’s just books that are set aside for awhile.

    and remember – older kids who can read will usually have no issues with reading materials in book form or more likely online, in order to pass their learners’ permit to drive & then to obtain the drivers license.

    your daughter’s moxie is to be applauded. reminds me of when i as a kidrefusnik wouldn’t go along on any more parent visits to historic sites, markers, graveyards, battlefields, outhouses, etc. etc.
    and then imagine the parental delight later when i began enjoying my work – as a writer of travel guides emphasizing… historic sites.

    xx my special best reading & writing days to you, katey, ~ j.g./bookseedstudio

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  3. My theory is that this stage is specifically linked to when required reading increases in school. Elementary school tends to favor self choice or group/read aloud situations but in middle and high school, books come from a mandatory book list (often old fashioned and overwhelmingly stories by and about whites and men). Money seems to be the reason these book lists are not updated with the wonderful books authors are creating today, but I would urge teachers to use their libraries to find comp lit titles that explore similar themes instead of focusing on the hardship of purchasing class sets. (On the other hand, my public school kid has to write in each book and therefore purchase it.)

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    • That’s a valid point. Some schools and teachers do overwhelm kids with required reading in ways that take a lot of the enjoyment out of it. I like seeing that this IS changing, with great educational programs for teachers and school administrators, and with people like Kwame Alexander and Donalyn Miller and school librarians everywhere pushing for new attitudes toward reading education.
      And you are right, there are lots of ways to find new, innovative and interesting titles that explore tried and true themes.
      Thanks for your input!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I have 9 year old like this. Left to his own electronic devices, he would probably be glued to an iPad. I have to take it away. I keep introducing books to him, and he does like to read, but I have a problem building his stamina. He won’t read unless it’s required and he will never do more than the minimum. So frustrating. Signed, Bad Mom of the Year.

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    • “Left to his own electronic devices.” You’re too funny, Robin! And you’re not bad mom of the year. Wait til you hear about my kid’s cavities! Odds are, he will read more when it becomes important or exciting to him, especially if you keep on modeling reading and being non-judge mental about his choices. Thanks for sharing with us!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. For my son I purchased rue joke books, books on slang, play tricks on people books none of them worked, until i found a book about go karting how to build, drive championships etc… couldn’t get a look in for months. By that time he forgot he wasn’t reading.😇 you just have to find an interest.

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  6. We always thought it was keeping them in the loop on stories and the spoken word that would bring them back to print so car radios on chat, news and stories, books (on disc back then but now podcasts I guess). And gradually my non reading son devoured all the Potter books and then vast tracts on history that became his passion.

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  7. Solid advice! I especially love the last one, about tweens/teens and influencers playing such a large role. I’ve noticed that my oldest child who is a voracious reader (he’d read all day if I let him) has started to push back a bit when I overtly recommend a book, but if that same book is just sitting around the house, he’ll pick it up and read it. He is also more likely to read a book his older cousin was reading.

    I haven’t been through this with my kids (yet) but we did go through a patch with our youngest when he was reading early chapter books where he was frustrated by the content of the books at his reading level. We’ve read aloud to the kids their entire lives, and he wanted to be able to read (on his own) stories like Harry Potter, Narnia, Series of Unfortunate Events and he just wasn’t quite there. We used audio books to bridge the gap and keep his love of reading alive and well until his skill level matched the books he wanted to read.

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    • That’s a wonderful idea. I have similar issues with my 6 yr old now. She’s so used to “big kid books” that the “just right” books she’s reading at school frankly bore her. We let her choose anything at home or library – and if she can’t read it alone, one of us helps. Thank heavens for big sisters who read!!

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    • Oh, Julia, thank you! I feel your pain. My youngest used to deliberately read aloud “wrong” to convince me she couldn’t do it. Made me CaRayZy! When I stopped caring, she started reading on her own more and more. I sure hope it helps you!

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  8. My granddaughter taught herself to ready before she was five. Now at 12 she rolls her eyes when I ask if she’s ready anything good lately. I’ve given her hundreds of books but now they are collecting dust. She stopped being interested about two years ago. *sigh*

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  9. Ah, I remember the days of trying out different temporary hair dyes much to my mother’s horror.
    You’ve shared some really great tips. I was never a big fan of reading when I was younger whereas my sisters would devour anything and everything in book form. Little did I nor my parents know it was a symptom of undiagnosed Dyslexia. The only thing that would have got me interested in reading when I was young would have been to make reading less difficult. I now have reading glasses which help hugely and know to avoid books with certain fonts which encourage the words to jumble up #twinklytuesday

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    • Thanks for dropping by from #twinklytuesday. You bring up a great point – sometimes kids don’t love reading because of the challenges they face with it. It’s so important to address these early and I’m so glad you’ve found what you need to compensate & overcome!

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Reblogged this on Teachezwell Blog and commented:
    Here’s an insightful and funny post on parent survival skills. The author’s focus is on reading but I can imagine some of her tips being useful if a child no longer wants to draw, collect teddy bears (oh no!), or play endlessly with Legos.

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  11. From the beginning, I tried to nurture a love of books in my children. Biting my tongue when they turned their backs on reading was so difficult. However, it has paid off and once again they are reading. My son has been visiting his brother and will return home to find some Hemingway and Steinbeck in his mailbox… While they aren’t what he is currently reading, Jules Vern, I think he will enjoy them.

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  12. This is great – I know I go through periods when I can’t get enough time to read, and others when it’s work to pick up a book. I just always take my kids to the library, sometimes books grab their attention other weeks they are into movies and music… but we keep going because there is so much there that can grab their eyes.

    #TwinklyTuesday

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Yeah you can never compete with other media. Interestingly, movies of books got one of my sons interested in reading again. The other, who is really good at reading, just won’t, and never has, whatever tactic I’ve tried.

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  14. Katey, I have a prime example.
    As a young mother, I read to my children EVERY night. We would go to our local library, rent a shopping basket, & fill it with piture books. Old stories, new stories, non-fiction, fiction, anything we could get our hands on. I would read at least three picture books every night for storytime.
    You would think I had set the stage for excellent readers. My bookends, Son#1 & Son#3 love to read still. But my middle monkey hated reading as he grew up. I’m not talking about being reluctant, I’m mean he hated reading. It was a struggle for him to get his AR points in every year.
    I finally had him go to the library with me one day & was browsing. I took him to several sections and found some topics he liked. He said something along the lines that I KNOW he doesn’t like to read. I told him that he just hadn’t found the right writer. That’s right, I took the blame off of him. I didn’t say he just needed to read, I said he needed to find the writer for him. He seemed relieved and started looking around. He took a few books home and asked to go along with me when I went back!
    I’m happy to report that I now have three raised readers. 🙂

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  15. My son isn’t a fluent reader yet, but he will listen to audio books for HOURS while building some contraption or another. I think your post applies to those reluctant or “late” readers too….making sure there is plenty of the written word available but not forcing or pushing it on them. #TwinklyTuesday

    Liked by 1 person

  16. I remember when I was in high school up through early adulthood I stopped reading for pleasure. I was so busy with school work, part time job, and learning how to read music (for the first time at age 17!), I was just too exhausted! I became very interested in magazines because it was shorter bits of reading I could finish in a sitting. Turns out, as someone who always preferred language and the arts to STEM disciplines, the break in constant reading was actually good for me. Music helped my math skills become stronger, and my interest in science increased as well. My parents were always supportive though, and let us purchase whatever books we were interested in. It was a wonderful gift they gave us – no pressure! Now that I’m no longer a copy editor or script writer for a marketing firm, I am interested in reading again. Though most of my time is spent reading oodles of books with my 4 year old son. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • I love hearing about your experience as someone who “lived through” a decreased interest in reading and came out the other side. What a great perspective. Thanks so much for sharing!

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  17. Pingback: Responsibililty, Readers and Rainstorms | kateywrites

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