At the risk of sounding like an old woman, kids just don’t read as much as they used to. Sure, they might pick up a book for English class or to keep their parents happy, but the love of reading just isn’t what it was a few years ago. I mean, I always had my nose in a book as a kid. I’d devour novel after novel and my own personal idea of heaven was a giant library with comfy seats. I’m only 24 years old. My, how things change.
If you’re a parent who wishes that they could get their kid to love books, you’re not alone. So many people out there want to know what went wrong. The Harry Potter, Twilight and Hunger Games crazes seem like they were just yesterday, so how could things change so quickly? How in the world is a bundle of paper supposed to compete with video games, Netflix and social media?
Well, I promise you: reading isn’t dead. You can help your child to find their love of books with a little bit of dedication on your part. They need you to guide them and take them on their journey to fall in love with reading. If you take the time to do that, you’ll be pleasantly surprised!
Here are some of my top tips to help your child to find their love of reading.
Don’t be a Book Snob
There’s nothing that kills a child’s love of reading like shaming their book choices.
It is so easy for parents to turn their noses up at the books their kids love. It may be because you think the content is silly or the reading level is too low. Perhaps your kid is the type who loves to read the same book again and again and you just want them to pick something else. Whatever the reason, you aren’t encouraging their love of books. You’re killing it.
Look. No one starts off by appreciating the classics. In fact, I didn’t really get what that Shakespeare guy was going on about until I was about 17 – and I’m an English tutor! It will take time for your child to branch out to the more complex books. After all, reading is a journey that starts with the smallest of baby steps. If you have a dream of your child sitting by the beach reading The Tale of Two Cities by next year, you’re in for a rude awakening.
That doesn’t mean that they’ll never love the books that we snobs praise. I started my own personal journey to book bliss with a second-hand collection of Mary-Kate and Ashley books once upon a time. Now, here I am reading Hamlet for fun! It just takes time.
For now, though, embrace that tattered copy of The Diary of a Wimpy Kid. Sure, they probably won’t study it in English class, but it means the world to your child. They might see themselves in the characters in those books, and dismissing their reading choices can feel like a personal attack on them. With any hobby, it helps to boost your child’s self-esteem. They’ll love you for it.
Don’t Force Them to Read
If you force your child to read, then chances are they’re not going to love it. In fact, they’ll probably start to resent books altogether! Reading will become a chore that they have to do to please you and get what they want. If you’re dealing with a teenager, this is even more true. In fact, they might downright refuse to read because that’s just how a lot of teens are. They tend to rebel.
I’m not going to lie to you. I used to use books to rebel. I was never tired when my mum sent me to bed, so I bought myself a small torch. I’d bury my head under my quilt and read until at least midnight. Part of the thrill came from the fact that I was bending the rules. My mum had no clue I wasn’t asleep, which made me feel sneaky. Little did I know, I was actually doing myself a whole lot of good.
But if you shouldn’t force your kids to read, how do you get them to come off the phone and pick up a book? Well, you can limit screen time, instead. Be reasonable, of course. Many students these days need to use their computers to do their homework. Don’t cut screens out of their lives completely. Just limit the use. Ask them to stop an hour or two before bed. Then, their unwinding time can be screen-free.
When they aren’t on phones or computers, don’t demand that they read. Give them options! Do they want to paint or draw? Play an instrument? Write in a journal? Try origami or knitting? Whatever hobby they try, encourage it. They don’t need to choose to read every single time, but removing the phone and computer gets rid of huge competition.
Help Them to Find a Quiet, Comfortable Place
No matter how much you love to read, the fact is that it’s really easy to lose focus. It’s so hard to block out background noise. When you hear a conversation going on, you might find your ear pricking up. Suddenly, you’re paying more attention to what the people around you have to say than that great book in your lap. Then, you’ll realise that you can’t remember anything from the last few pages!
I’m sure you can relate to that. I know I can! Even for adults, distractions can be a real problem. Since our attention span tends to grow with age, you can bet that kids have a harder time with this whole focussing thing than we adults. It’s something that they need to improve over time.
If your child is battling to keep their attention on their book, reading is going to feel like torture. It’s just not very rewarding to read if you’re constantly beating yourself up for not taking in the past 5 pages. Your child may feel as though they’ve wasted their time – or they might even lose their faith in their ability to read! Of course, that’s very demotivating. Can you blame a child for giving up if reading is a huge struggle?
So, as a parent, it is important to set your child up for success. Help them to find a quiet place to read. Make sure the seats are comfy and the lighting is good enough to see the pages properly. Maybe put on some soft music (without lyrics). A good book can make you feel all sorts of emotions, so make sure you give them space, too! No one wants to feel like they’re being watched when their book makes them laugh or cry.
Be a Good Influence
As a parent, your best resource for your child is you. A great way to encourage your child to read is to model healthy attitudes towards books in your own life.
I know, I know. That might be harder than it looks. You have work, right? You have to raise kids and pay bills and put food on the table. There just isn’t time for you to gush about books like you used to when you were a kid. Even if you love to read, things change. Times change. We grow up and our priorities shift.
Yes, our lives are super busy. However, lots of parents can admit that they waste hours of their life getting angry on Facebook. Or maybe you spend too much energy worrying about your kids not reading enough. Most of us have a little time to spare – even 30 minutes a week.
There is one thing that I’m sure of. You care about your child and you want them to succeed. If you didn’t, you wouldn’t have gotten this far in the blog post! So, I am quite confident that you will invest time to help your child fall in love with reading – if you get the right guidance.
There are lots of things that you can do in your own life that will help your child to read more. Here are the three main ones.
Pick Up a Book for Yourself
As a Forbes article so eloquently put it, “Kids Don’t Read Books Because Parents Don’t Read Books“. That sounds like it’s just another article trying to blame parents for all of the ills in the world, but it actually makes a lot of sense.
You see, you help to shape what your child sees as normal. They learn from you and base their assessments of what’s “normal” on how you speak and act. If you’re someone who would never be caught dead with a book in their hand, they probably won’t, either. It won’t even occur to your child that they can love reading, because they learnt from you that it’s not a “normal” hobby.
You’ve probably seen it with other things, before. Your toddler grabs anything that looks like a phone and presses it against their ear, copying what they’ve seen you do when you’re on a call. Primary school kids play Mums and Dads and cook plastic food in a fake kitchen. They’re watching and copying you.
The same is true for reading, too! I have a 2-year-old sister who watches me read every day. As soon as I stop to do something else, she grabs my copy of Skulduggery Pleasant and pretends to read it upside down! It’s both cute and a great way to get her used to books being all around her. The next step is to read to her at night.
Even if your child is a teen, you can do the same thing. Show them that reading is good and fun. Don’t just tell them. Actions are more powerful than words!
Of course, a teen is probably not going to copy you like a toddler, but they’ll be watching to see if you’re a hypocrite or not!
Be an Active Listener
As a child, one of the things that made me love reading was getting to ramble about the book afterwards! My dad has never been much of a reader himself, but he made sure to listen to every thought and theory I had on Harry Potter. We had great discussions about the books and shows I loved in the car when he picked me up for the weekend. They’re some of the best memories I have of my childhood and helped shape me into the book lover I am today.
The great thing about my dad is that he’s not just a listener. He’s an active listener. I never felt as though I was talking at him. It was a conversation. Sure, I led the discussions, but he contributed so much! During those teenage years when we’re all self-conscious, I never felt silly with him around. His keenness to listen to the plot of my last book made me feel like the stories I read mattered.
Here are some things you can do to improve your active listening skills.
- Sit down and give your child your undivided attention.
- Don’t interrupt them.
- Ask them questions about the book they’re reading.
- Be supportive and open to their hobbies – even if they’re not interesting to you.
- Let them do most of the talking, but don’t be afraid to clarify if you don’t understand.
- Use the things they told you to help you choose their gifts.
- Show that you listened by recounting what they said later.
These are all things that my dad is great at. They helped to strengthen our bond and made me keen to keep reading. I wanted to have more to speak to him about the next time!
The good thing about active listening is that you don’t need to spend hours on it. The drive to my dad’s house only took 20 minutes. Your kids appreciate it when you take the time to listen to them – even if you don’t have a lot of it to spare. Quality over quantity, after all!
If you are interested in becoming an active listener to help your child with their reading, I have a great guide that you can purchase!
Be Enthusiastic, but Not Over-the-Top
There’s a fine line between parents who support their children’s interests and parents who make the fun things seem uncool. After all, there’s nothing like an overly keen parent to kill a child’s love of reading. I doubt many of the children of the “Twilight Moms” loved that book series very much after their parents started swooning over Edward and Jacob. It was all a little bit cringe.
Of course, it’s important that you support your child’s hobbies and show them that you care. Validate the things that they love as much as you can. Let them know that their choices in books are fine and that you understand why they love their favourite media. That will show that you respect your child and see them as an individual with their own thoughts and feelings.
However, you need to give them the space to find their own interests. Let them be independent and thrive on their own. I know that it can be fun to get involved, but being overly enthusiastic could be embarrassing and push your child away.
That sounds like a hard balance to strike, right? How can you be a good active listener and not be embarrassing all at the same time? Well, I can tell you that it’s not as hard as you might think.
The key is to let your child set the tempo. Give them lots of opportunities to include you in their favourite hobbies and tell you about the books they love. Make some time for them to discuss whatever they want with you and don’t be afraid to ask questions. Then, let them do the rest of the work. Give them space and let them involve you as much they want.
Help Your Child to Use Books to Find Themselves
Books are great. They are a powerful way to find out who we are. We all find characters that we identify with and read about issues that speak to us. That’s one of the things that make stories so important: they help us to connect with people from all walks of life and understand the world around us!
Children and teens are on a journey of self-discovery. They are trying to find out who they are: their likes, dislikes, views, thoughts and sense of style! They are going to try out lots of things before they find what suits them. Books can play a powerful role in helping them to learn more about themselves. Plus, they can think about the qualities that they’d like in their friends, too!
That’s why it is a great idea to give your child lots of books to choose from. Let them discover different genres, writing styles and authors! That way, they can try out lots of different books until they find the type that suits them! I find that the children who read the most are the ones who have discovered the genre they like the most. Then, they tend to devour every book they find! Very quickly, your child will love reading!
Here are some suggestions on how you can find books that help your child to discover themselves and understand the world around them.
The world is a diverse place. There are lots of wonderful, unique people all around us. We’re of different races, genders, gender identities, sexualities, abilities and so much more! That’s part of what makes the world so fantastic: we’re not all bots who look, think and act the same way. Our differences complement each other and we use them to make the world a better place.
Even if you don’t live in a very racially diverse place, that doesn’t mean that there is no diversity at all. People with disabilities and neurodivergence are all around us. The same goes for different sexualities, ages, gender identities and so much more. Even things like our priorities and politics can be very different.
It is important to allow your child to try all sorts of books that represent lots of different types of people. Books help us to see through another person’s eyes. That can help them to empathise with people who are different to them. So, when they meet someone new, they won’t feel scared or worried! They’ll be able to see them as another great person to get to know!
It can also teach your child that it’s ok to be different. It can be scary for a child to realise that there’s something that makes them unique. If they find books with people like them, that can help them to make sense of their situation. Books like that can give them a guiding hand.
When a child finds books that speak to them and celebrate what makes them or their friends different, it’s going to make them love to read!
Find Some Books that Suit Their Tastes
There are millions of books in the world. You are bound to find one that fits your child’s tastes.
Think about what your child likes to watch. What films do they enjoy? What do they watch on TV? Do they play any video games that you can draw inspiration from? If you take some time to get to know your child’s preferences in other types of media, you’ll be able to find some great books to make them fall in love with reading!
Say, for example, your child likes the Marvel Cinematic Universe and the anime My Hero Academia. You know that they like stories about superheroes who have to save the world from some huge threat. There are plenty of books that fit that basic description. Then, you can use other information like their favourite character to narrow things down even more.
A quick Google search could help you to get a head start with books that they might like. Just type in “books like…” and you could find some great stuff.
However, I think that it’s always a good idea to contact people who might be into the same kinds of media. Whenever I want to read something new, I pop down to my local Waterstones. I tell the booksellers there what books and films I’m into at the moment. They usually know just what to recommend that scratches the reading itch I had. It is their job, after all!
Try Some Non-Fiction Books Based on Their Hobbies
Don’t forget that non-fiction books exist, too! I love them because they help children with reading whilst also teaching them something new. If you think outside the box, you can find a book that suits them. Pretty soon, they will want to read and read!
Any real-life hobby or interest has dozens of books that will appeal to its fans. You can find knitting books and cookbooks and books on football. There is something for everyone, so look for what works for your child.
I know that this might worry you. How can they learn to read literature if they’re just looking up this year’s world records? Well, the important part is getting them to start on their book journey. It doesn’t matter where that starting point is! Of course, they’re not going to get to the classics straight away, but all books have value.
I like introducing children to non-fiction books as early as I can. This is because it can help to teach them some great skills that they’ll rely on later in life. When you’re a busy student, it is vital that you are able to find a topic in the index or scan a page for the info you need. It doesn’t matter if they study literature, medicine, law or maths. At some point, your child will need to look in a real reference book. Not everything is online! If they’ve had the skills to look through non-fiction for years, uni will be a little easier for them.
If your child is a huge Minecraft fan, this set of guides might tickle their fancy. For other recommendations, I’m happy to chat with you!
Watch Some Film or TV Adaptations
You might have noticed that sales for a book seem to go up if a film or TV adaptation is good. Of course, it is more complicated than that. People need to know that the book exists in the first place. it needs to be for the right age group where people have the time and passion to read. However, it does seem as though most people like to read the book if the adaptation was good. It works the other way around, too.
Why is that? I mean, they’ve seen the film or show, right? Why would they need to experience the story again? They already know what’s going to happen!
I’d say that it’s because books tend to have more information packed into them. You can find out what the main character is thinking in a way that would just feel weird on screen. Cool plot points often have to be dropped if they make the film too long or they don’t work on screen. Plus, if it’s a series, you get a chance to read ahead and know things that they don’t tell you in the film or show. Books are loads of fun when you’ve seen the adaptation.
So, for the parents who would love it if their child read more, why not use the power of the film or show to help you? Pique your child’s interest in the adaptation. Let them love what they’ve seen and want to know more. Then point them in the direction of the book! There’s lots more going on in there! They might even find out about some side plots with characters they love!
If the plot of the book already has their stamp of approval, they’ll be more likely to read it!
If Your Child Loves to Read Manga or Comic Books, Encourage it!
Let’s face it: most of the books for older kids don’t have a lot of pictures in them. For a child who isn’t so confident about reading, that can be quite scary! The pictures help them to make sense of what the words are saying. They associate the pictures with the words and phrases they read to make sure that they get what is being said. Let’s not forget the fact that large blocks of text can just look like a bore to a child!
So, one of the ways to help a child with their reading is to find books that keep those images alive on the page. Since most books don’t give us that choice, try to hang onto the ones that do!
Manga and comic books are great choices for this. They have more pictures than words, but don’t let that fool you! Lost of good creators still use helpful vocab and complex storylines that can challenge your child to think like an English Literature student. After all, you have to be a lot more careful with the words that you choose if you don’t have a lot of them. Like poetry!
It sucks when someone tells you that what you’re reading isn’t a real book. If I weren’t a confident reader, I’d think “well then I won’t ever be able to read a real book”. It would make me abandon the little hint of love that I was growing for reading. That would be such a shame! Especially because any good-quality manga or comic book is great reading material.
Comic books and manga might have fewer words, but that doesn’t mean your child has to read less! It just means they’ll get through more books! If that’s the case, try a subscription service like Marvel Unlimited.
Encourage a Healthy Interest in Fandoms
Fandoms are communities of people who are all into the same piece of media. There is a Marvel fandom, a Star Wars fandom and even one for The Phantom of the Opera! They are all about bringing people who like the same things together so that they can share their passion and keep the love alive.
Fandoms can be great! Lots of people who like a particular piece of media will come up with loads of great theories to fill in the gaps of the story and answer questions. These theory people often have their own YouTube channels, with people like Seamus Gorman having hundreds of thousands of subscribers!
Some kids love to engage with theories like this because they keep the world of the book alive when there’s nothing left to read. They come up with their own ideas for things that are going on. What they don’t know is that the skill they’re developing is actually quite a lot like English Literature! It’s not a far leap to make!
On top of that, people in fandoms tend to write fanfiction. Your child can find fan-made work that adds to the story or changes parts that they didn’t like. They can get into a bit of writing on their own and improve their creative skills! There’s so much that they can do! So, encourage them if they have an interest in a fandom.
Of course, when it comes to fandoms, it is possible to take things too far. Obsession can happen. Some communities can get toxic. Plus, like anywhere on the internet without strict moderation, bad people can try to force their bad ideas and actions in. So, make sure you stick to age-appropriate communities, enforce boundaries together and discuss internet safety.
I talk about audiobooks a lot. To be honest, I think they’re amazing. They open up the world of books to a whole new group of people. Even if your child thinks they’ll never love reading, they might be surprised!
In my post on English students with dyslexia, I spoke about all of the ways that you can use audiobooks to help your reading skills. They can combine it with an ebook or print copy to try something called immersion reading. They could want to read on the go – audiobooks are great for you if you get sick when reading in the car. Or you could use it to listen to their favourite story when exercising or doing chores.
I love Audible. If you try to buy audiobooks on their own, they can get quite expensive! However, with Audible, you can get a monthly subscription and cut down the price by loads! They have free originals for subscribers and even a sleep mode for those of us who like to read in bed.
The best way to get your child to love reading is to make it as easy for them as possible. That means helping them to find the books they love, building their confidence and being there to support them every step of the way. All of these tips can help you with that goal, and audiobooks can be the cherry on the top.
If you take some steps to help your child with their books, you might see that their reading comes a mile! You’ll be so proud and so impressed in no time!
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