We all want to raise confident, lifelong readers. That doesn’t happen by magic, and it doesn’t happen overnight. Exposing children to a variety of books, making reading a part of their daily lives, and supporting them on their reading journey, sets them on the path. And it creates a new way for you to connect and enjoy time with each other. So if your kid hates reading, these tips will help you teach him or her to come around to one of the most valuable, educational, and fun activities around.
How to Teach a Kid Who Hates Reading to Become a Lifelong Reader
Let Your Kids See You Reading
Even if we read to our children on a consistent basis, they might not often see us reading on our own for pleasure. Kids are always watching. They take their cues from us about what is important and valuable. We model behavior for them not only when we are making a conscious effort to demonstrate habits like good manners, but when we are living our lives quietly, doing the things we enjoy.
The parenting adage of “lead by example” goes a long way in showing a kid who hates reading that, hey, reading is actually fun and enjoyable. When your child sees you reading, they learn that reading is a lifelong habit (not something that’s just required for school). They see that reading is a part of your life, and that it can be part of their lives, too. When they see you enjoying a book on your own, they want to do that, too.
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Have All Kinds of Books Available, All the Time
Your child should never need to search for a book. Keep baskets of books in the living room and play areas. Stash a few books in the backseat of the car, and toss some favorite books or new selections in your bag before you leave the house. When you do see them pick up a book, don’t pressure them. Let them flip through it, put it down, try something new. Even as kids get older, let reading be an act of exploration, from choosing a book to reading through it.
Pull out books when you are stuck in traffic or you need to wait in line. When kids see books around them, books become a natural part of their daily experiences. If a book is — and always has been — readily available, it doesn’t feel intimidating. It is not something to earn, it is something to enjoy. A book becomes a companion. When that happens, you are building a lifelong reader.
Don’t worry too much about what kinds of books to stock. Try everything and see what engages your child most. They might prefer picture-heavy books for car trips. Maybe they like to read non-fiction on a rainy day inside. If they aren’t feeling well, they might want to revisit a book they enjoyed when they were younger. Making a variety of books (across levels and genres) accessible to your child at all times prevents them from feeling discouraged or giving up on reading if they don’t feel up to a challenge at that particular moment, but they do have some time to spend with a book.
Make Literary Characters a Part of Your Life
Encourage your child to talk about the characters in the books they are reading as if those characters are friends. Invite them to share details about what their new book friends are doing and how they are feeling. This gives you the chance to measure your child’s reading comprehension so that you can help guide them to success.
It also helps bring literature to life and shows your child how reading can be a way of connecting with you and with others. Keep in mind, for new readers, independent reading can feel a little lonely at first (especially if your child is an extrovert). In many cases, this is the first time your child is consuming media, or encountering a story, completely on their own. When they watch a TV show, you are typically in the room, or nearby. You are absorbing the story at the same time they are. When they are reading on their own, this is no longer the case. Asking about characters in the story they are reading independently gives your child a chance to report on what they are reading and learning. It helps them to invite you into the new world they are exploring. And we all know how much kids love to tell us about their adventures!
Let your kids ask about the books you are reading, too. Tell them as much as you can about some of the characters you are meeting and the ideas and themes you encounter through reading. Build those connections, and share those stories.
Keep It Positive (Reading Is Not a Punishment)
If your goal is to raise a reader who loves the act of reading for its own sake, avoid using reading as a punishment or over-gamifying the reading experience. Don’t hand a child a book the moment you take away screen time for violating a rule. Then your child associates reading with punishment, with a loss of privilege, rather than an opportunity for enjoyment.
While reading logs and reading time minimums have a place in many early childhood and elementary school curriculum models, be careful about relying on the chart-and-reward system too much. When the goal of reading becomes to earn the prize or to step up to the next level, it shifts the focus away from joy, imagination and creativity. It deprives our kids of the opportunity to truly read for pleasure, to engage in and become part of a story. Encourage your child to make time for reading, and support them in the process of building reading skills and finding new books to explore. We want them to read, with excitement, confidence, and skill long after the days of gold star stickers have passed.
Ask your child what stories they enjoy reading most. Try to find more of them, slowly introducing new titles, and more challenging material. Never judge your child’s reading choices. If they love graphic novels, let them read graphic novels, then use that as a launching point for other kinds of books, like biographies of graphic novel creators. If they want to read a favorite book multiple times, even if it is “below” the reading level they have earned at school, let them. Let them turn to books as a source of comfort, let them feel nostalgia when they read. They will never learn to love reading if they constantly feel like they are being assessed or judged when they pick up a book. In short, if your kid hates reading, they aren’t going to suddenly love it if they associate it with punishment or anything other than the joy of reading.
Continue Reading to Them
There is no expiration date on reading aloud to children. Even when your child is able to read independently, continue to make reading together part of your routine. As children get older, you may alternate chapter by chapter, or page by page. You can also start picking up plays and assigning each other parts.
Or go the traditional route, and take out some of your favorite books from childhood. Pick up the books you always wanted to try but never had the chance (or the books you were assigned but skipped reading!). Reading aloud creates a space for you and your child to communicate with each other quietly and safely. Let your child stop you to ask questions, and welcome the conversations that reading together sparks.
Attend Book-Related Events
From Storytime at the local library to author meet-and-greets at bookstores and performances based on books, bringing literature to life off the page helps make reading more accessible, exciting, and vibrant for readers of all ages.
Events like these show your child that there is a community of people who can connect with each other, express their creativity, and share their ideas through a shared love of reading. And that is a community they can be a part of for their whole lives.
Does your kid hate reading? Do you have any special tips or advice about how you got them to love books? Let us know in the comments!
Elizabeth Eames is a writer, communications consultant and coach who has been helping entrepreneurs, small businesses and non-profits tell their stories for over a decade.
Liz lives in Brooklyn, NY, with her husband and daughter and has a master’s degree from Fordham University. Her writing has appeared in business magazines and a variety of parenting and business blogs.
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