I posted a video on Facebook Live last week that got a lot of reaction. The subject was how to get your children reading and it really seemed to strike a chord. I relayed the story of my teenage son who announced to me a couple of years ago that he didn’t really like books anymore. I was, and this is not an over-statement, devastated. My son is the eldest of three and I think it is fair to say that he had the best of me! Those of you with children will perhaps empathise with my experience that I found I spent less time reading with my second and third child, simply because I had less time and opportunity to do so. My eldest was read to every day virtually from birth, until at least the age of nine or ten. And I didn’t read to them out of some sense of duty that I ought to be doing it (like taking them swimming which, as a non-swimmer until very recently, I always found stressful), it was the thing I most loved doing. So, where did I go wrong, I asked myself, and what more could I have done?
Well, panic over, of course I didn’t do anything wrong; it was probably my son’s mini-rebellion, and if that’s the worst of it, then we’ll be doing pretty well. It was my teenager defining his own identity and his own interests and preferences. I think it was also a reaction against the academic pressure he perhaps felt under – once he started his GCSE courses, his whole life became about books. Why would he want to read for pleasure? I can identify with that; after I finished my English degree I couldn’t look at a work of fiction for months! There are so many competing demands on our children today, particularly in the teenage years, and multiple distractions, not least socialising, social media, computer games, television, etc. None of these are necessarily bad things, in moderation, but it’s easy to demonise them.
With all the pressure on young people today, I feel reluctant to add another ‘should’ to the pile of things they have to do. But I am also firmly of the view that reading can actually help in coping with the pressure:
- reading at night can help you sleep, and many of our teenagers are chronically sleep-deprived
- reading can help you relax
- reading can create a space for reflection
- reading can provide a safe, temporary retreat from the demands of everyday life
What’s not to love?
So, if there is a young person in your household who has turned away from reading, here are some tips to get them back into books:
- Don’t panic and don’t put pressure on them to read. It may be a ‘phase’.
- Don’t let them see you care too much – if it’s a rebellious act this will only reinforce their determination to do the opposite of what you want.
- Whatever they read, don’t judge their choices – even magazines and comics will help to get them back into a habit and they are not screens!
- Leave reading material lying around, such as newspapers, quality magazines, supplements, even leaflets. You could try leaving them open on pages covering issues that you know they are interested in, such as technology.
- Are you planning your Summer holiday? Leave a guide book around.
- Engage in conversation about anything they have read. Take an interest, discuss and listen without judgement.
- Model desired behaviours. How often do your kids see you reading? Someone wise once said that children listen to almost nothing you say but they watch everything you do.
- Be clever – if you are out and about with your kids, choose this time to pop into the bookshop or library to get what you need. Spend a few minutes browsing and observe what they do, which shelves they go to.
- Have a ‘screen off time’ in the household, or even a ‘reading’ or ‘quiet time’. It doesn’t have to be very long to begin with, even 10 minutes at the weekend is a start.
- Allow reading at the table!
I am happy to say that my son is now gradually getting back into books, thanks in part to being given lots of Amazon vouchers as Christmas and birthday gifts. He quite likes having the opportunity to order his own books, completely bypassing Mum and Dad’s scrutiny (don’t worry, we do look at what he buys!) and without needing to ask us to use our credit cards to order things for him.
For more tips and ideas you could look at Alison David’s Help Your Child Love Reading, a fabulous little book I reviewed here a few months ago. I picked it up in my local library. It is divided up into different age groups, as your strategies may need to vary depending on the age of the child.
Good luck, and I’d love to hear how you get on, or if you have any other tips and suggestions.
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