There are two kinds of kids—kids who love reading and have their nose in a book at dinner, past bedtime, and when they’re supposed to be leaving for school. And then there are those who would rather do anything than read.
For parents who look to reading for relaxation, it can be frustrating to see how disenchanted their child is with reading—and a lack of literacy early on can make school a struggle.
Spark some enthusiasm that lights a reading habit in your child, from toddlers to teens, by using these five tips below. You just might find yourself saying, “Please put your book down!” to get your new reader to brush her teeth.
Ham It Up
When your children are babies, it can feel natural to use silly voices to get them interested in books. But even as they move from toddlerhood to grade school age, putting in the extra effort (and letting yourself have fun with the material) when reading to them can make books seem less like work and more like play. Says Dav Pilkey, author of the blockbuster Dog Man and Captain Underpants series: “Take on the voice and characteristic of the character—the kids will get into it more.”
Let Kids Choose the Material
Bringing young readers to the library or a local bookstore and letting them choose their book is one of the best ways to get them into reading. “With teens and tweens, you already know, independence is the coin of the realm,” says Michael Northrop, the New York Times bestselling author of 16 books for kids and teens, including the classic Young Adult survival tale Trapped and the critically acclaimed hit graphic novel Dear Justice League.
“Same goes for reading: Let them read what they want to read. Even if it may not look like Great Literature to you, or even literature at all,” notes Northrop. “Time spent with manga or a slim volume ‘by’ an online influencer is still time spent with their head in a book and their imagination working over time—and who knows what they’ll pick up next?” he adds.
Be a Reading Role Model
Looking at social media might be cathartic at the end of the day (guilty as charged!) but step away from doomscrolling to show your child that you love reading, too. “Kids want to model your behavior. If you can read together or they can see you reading, that’s a great thing,” says Pilkey. Maybe you read the paper on the couch while they read a book for school or maybe you’ve both chosen your weekly pick from the library for bedtime reading. Whatever it is, don’t underestimate the power of your example.
Utilize Screens If You Have To
As adults, Kindles, iPads and even our phones can be a convenient way to read, and if that helps you, go for it—even if you’re swiping rather than turning a page. “For young kids, it’s important to feel the pages, to turn the pages, and connect with the ideas inside a book. But I don’t think a kid is going to see a difference in you reading a Kindle or paperback,” says Jeff Kinney, author of the famed Diary of a Wimpy Kid series. Make sure you tell them, “I’m reading my book now” or “I’m reading the Wall Street Journal” so they don’t think you’re texting or on social media. If kids think you’re playing on a device, they will want to pick up their electronic for reasons other than reading, too.
Never Judge Their Picks
While letting youth choose books that appeal to them, avoid making judgements about their choices, whether over subject matter (Pokémon, Minecraft, etc.) or materials (football cards and comic books). It’s all about getting them interested in the written word. Says Northrop: “The more ownership they feel for what they’re reading, the stronger the connection will be.”