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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