Your charming son: “I don’t wanna read ANYTHING!”
Caring Mum: “Come on, you have to learn to read, how will you get a job in the future if you don’t read? Come on. What do you like to read about?”
Your charming son: “Nothing.”
Caring Mum:“Nothing? There must be something you like…”
Your charming son: “Mrrrdunnerrrr? Nothing. Reading sucks. Leave me alone! I want to watch YouTube! YouTubers don’t read and they’re rich!”
Conversations like this (especially with boys) happen way too often with kids and parents. I get asked how I deal with ‘reluctant readers’ a lot. In this blog I will outline some ideas which work for me when kids don’t want to do something.
**Disclaimer: This is not a silver bullet, but you may find something that works **
Let’s start with thinking about what we want. The ideal end result. How about a book reading mega genius who wants to read and will end up working for NASA while playing rugby for the All Blacks and running for Prime Minister. Not impossible… But just for now, let’s dial it back a bit and aim for a child that will pick up a book without being asked/argued with/bribed or begged to do it.
In my opinion, the number one thing to remember with kids who don’t want to do something is… The road is long. Give change time. When introducing something new, you can’t expect it to work straight away so celebrate the small wins.
Imagine if your mum or dad walked into your house and said to you, ‘You have to change your diet right now.’ They won’t give you a say in what your new diet will be. They just kept telling you ‘It’s good for you!’ and pushing a salad into your face and all you want is wine and chocolate. Secretly they may be right, but, my diet is delicious.
By constantly pushing books upon our kids who don’t already want to read, we achieve the opposite effect to what we want. You have to play it cool… I try really hard to never force kids to do something when I know they are unsure about it. An example: A little champion I have taught in the past who didn’t want to come to kapa haka because at a previous school he had been singled out by the tutor. So I said, “I don’t mind if you don’t come. We will all be in there, we want you there but you can sit in the office and we will pick you up on the way back. Come in when you’re ready.”
This went on for three more weeks. He got to choose to go to the office and miss out. He also felt safe, listened to and like he was in control. One day his head peeked through the door and he sat at the back of the room. The next week, he opted to come with the class (no office today!). He didn’t sing or do the actions, but he sat with the class. The next week he sat with the class… and sang. Massive result!
I played the long game because in the scheme of things, he missed four kapa haka sessions but he got over whatever it was that was holding him back. The road is long and as the adults we need to provide an environment in which the child feels in control.
So, that’s all well and good. What now? Let’s start by not ramming books in their faces. Take a breath. The fact that you care enough to buy books for your child makes your child incredibly lucky. Seriously, if no one’s said it to you, you’re doing great.
Our first trick is role modelling. Not quite what people think though. Don’t read YOUR book in front of them, read THEIR book in front of them. Tell them they can’t read it and that it’s not even for them. Laugh at the jokes louder than normal (without making it awkward and obvious… This isn’t Shortland Street) and show people in your family the funny parts. Don’t offer it to them but if they ask to see it, show them. Don’t shame them by saying, “Ooooh looks who wants to read now!” leave that to their older brother. Keep reading the book. Throughout your new found love of kids novels, leave the book on the kitchen table or somewhere they will see it. Then when you are nearly finished, tell the family that you think the book would be perfect for (insert name of child the same age here). Your child may pick it up when you’re not watching because people want what they can’t have. Change takes work, are you up for it?
Next up, find books which are designed for reluctant readers. Fun, engaging, ridiculous books. In my book, The Super Weirdos, I purposefully made the first few chapters smaller and with more pictures. Why? Because when you ask a child, “How much have you read?” and the reply is two chapters (actually two or three pages), they get a massive sense of accomplishment and you, as their adult human, can tell them how fantastic they are at reading. Their self belief grows and they want to read more.
So for now, know you are doing a good job. Your child has parents who care about their reading so much they read a blog post from a teacher/author. Your kids are lucky! Remember with learning, the road is long. Give difficult learning the time and effort it needs because everyone learns at different speeds.