How to Get Your Kids to Stop Reading
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The Excessive Reader
There are a hundred and one suggestions for how to get your kids to read. There are lists of good books for reluctant readers. There are millions of articles devoted to the benefits of reading. Reading is a good thing. It helps to grow vocabulary, reasoning skills, cultural knowledge, and stretches the imagination. Children should read.
Vitamins are good for you too, but if you downed an entire bottle of vitamins you’d be very seriously ill and need to have your stomach pumped.
Like all aspects of life, there is such a thing as ‘too much’. Not all children are ‘reluctant readers’. Some children dive into books with the same enthusiasm and interest that other children devote to video games, television, and sports. Parents of a reluctant reader will probably be baffled by seeing this as a problem. They would probably love to have such a ‘problem’.
What they don’t realize is that a child devoting his or her time too much to any activity, even one that is considered ‘good’, can create conflict and strife and ultimately isn’t good for the child or parents. Television and video games may be unhealthy in excess, but at least they can be social activities. Books are isolating. They distract from social gatherings, from chores, from family life. Making a reader stop reading to do something else can be hazardous to your sanity. And support groups for parents of readers tend to be in short supply. You might as well try to find help with your child’s excessive consumption of vegetables; as far as the world is concerned you have a victory not a problem.
Well, speaking from the perspective of a grownup who had been that excessive reader, I can admit that there were problems. I loved reading as a child. I will always love reading. I grew up to become a writer. But I can remember the anger and aggravation at being told to ‘put the book down!’. I can accept that there is more to life than books. And I can also offer a few solutions. Here’s proven ways to get your child to put down that book and engage with the world.
The Reading Dilemma
1. Family Time
Every parent of an excessive reader knows the frustration of getting said reader to put down the book and be a part of the family. Chores don’t get done. Mealtime is a hassle. If homework doesn’t involve reading a book (and sometimes even if; I loved to read as a child but I hated being made to read) you had better triple check that it gets done at all. Bed times are hard to enforce when your child eagerly hops into bed, only to stay up all night reading. You want all the family together for an outing or activity? You had better make sure the book is left behind. And when you do get the book to be put down, you have to put up with an aggravated reader being deprived of their book. The kindest, gentlest, sweetest child can turn into a monster when book-deprived. The child is not happy that they are being forced into this activity and they make sure you know it.
So what can you do? How can you not only get your child to put down the book, but put it down with a smile and engage with your family?
First of all, it helps if you look at it from the reader’s point of view. Books are written to tell a story. The sharing of stories is something very intrinsic to human nature. We are wired to share stories. It’s how we grew as a species; we share our experiences and knowledge. Every time you gossip about who is seeing who, and who shouldn’t be doing what they’re doing, and even what your dog did that morning, you are sharing stories. So every child is more or less wired to seek out stories, particularly stories that share experiences and knowledge far outside their own experiences. Stories offer vital information that your child craves. Books are one way to achieve this. Why then, isn’t everyone an excessive reader? Because books are also difficult. You have to put the effort of reading into them to get the story out. Not all children are adept at this, especially when there are other formats that are easier, if less rewarding, like television. So congratulations. Your child has developed the necessary skills to navigate the written word and extract wondrous stories from within. Now, how do you make them stop?
The important thing to remember when dealing with an excessive reader is that reading is good for them. There are worse vices. It may be a pain right at this moment, but ultimately you don’t want to stop your child from reading altogether. How then, to find the balance?
You basically want an inverse formula to the one generally offered for parents of reluctant readers. Rather than rewarding reading, make reading the reward. A parent of a reluctant reader may set aside a time of day for reading. A parent of an excessive reader can set aside a time their child is allowed to read. Better yet, a parent of an excessive reader can set aside no-book times. Your reader may resent the no-book time, but knowing its coming and going to happen will mean less fighting. Try filling the no-book time with a family group activity. Preparing and eating dinner is a good no-book time. A family game night is another. Homework time should also be book-free, except of course for homework books. Try to include some fun activities among the chores for no-book times. Otherwise, your child may become worse, seeing book-time as the only good moment in an otherwise boring and stressful day.
Make book-time a reward for chores and homework completed. Try not to take books away as punishment. Repeat in your head once more: reading is a good thing. That said, taking away some of book-time, rather than the actual book, could be a good incentive to avoid punishment. Library trips can be another reward. Bookstore trips, or ebook buys, can be the ultimate reward.
Bookworms and Social Butterflies
2. Socializing your Bookworm
One of the reasons that excessive book reading is not, in fact, good for your child is the isolating effect of books. A child who spends recess devouring a good book, who would rather read about a party than attend one, who feels closer to book characters than real friends is not a child who can be called well rounded. Book reading, by its nature, is something done alone. Sure, you can be read to, or read to someone. It can be done in a group. But ultimately, the real interaction is always between the words and the reader.
The book creates a world and invites individuals to explore. It’s deceptive because a really good book can and does take the place of real world social interactions. You feel like you’re getting to know these people and this world, and it feels real. Even more enticing, these characters can’t judge you or disappoint you or bully you. They seem like the perfect friends. But one things books cannot do is listen. They cannot interact with your child or talk to them or help them beyond showing them how to help themselves. Children need social interaction. Children need friends who can talk back and argue and push and pull and listen and play.
So how do you get your excessive reader to go out and join the world? Why not start out small; start out within your child’s comfort zone. Why not try a book club?
If your local library, book stores, or coffee shops don’t happen to have a book club that caters to your child’s age and/or book interests, then you might consider starting one yourself. A book club will let your child talk about his or her favorite subject and meet other people who share the same interests. Most excessive readers love to discuss their books. An entire room full of other children who love the same books and want to talk about them is an entire room full of potential friends.
In fact, there are all sorts of clubs and groups your child can join that will pull them out of the world of books and into the world of people. Scouts, sports, dance, theater, writing groups, volunteer projects…the possibilities are endless. Of course, just because you throw your child into a group of peers doesn’t mean your child will blossom into a social butterfly. So how do you find the right group for your child?
First of all, talk to your child. What sort of books does your child prefer? Try to describe the proposed activity in terms that will interest your child. Is your child interested in adventure? Find some sort of scouting adventure group and let your child experience real adventures. Does your child love dramatics and fantasy? The theater might be the place for your child, or some sort of fantasy play. Does your child enjoy action and epic battles? A sport or martial art of some kind might be ideal. Search out several possible clubs for your child to join. Look at the sort of things your child’s favorite characters can do, and offer to let your child learn such skills as well. Let them learn archery, sword fighting, sewing, ballet, first aide, aviation, and the like. Let your child try a few out.
3. The Chapter Fallacy
How many times have you heard this? ‘But I’m almost to the end of the chapter!’ Or perhaps ‘Can’t I just finish the chapter?’ The obvious answer is ‘Of course, just finish the chapter’. After all, there’s a reason books are helpfully divided up into chapters. Ends of chapters are the natural place to pause in a book, right? No harm in letting your child finish.
That is absolutely wrong.
Imagine that you are watching your absolutely favorite television show. For the sake of this allegory, we’ll assume your favorite show is story based like a sitcom or soap opera, rather than, say, a talk show. So, you are watching your favorite show. It’s a new episode. Maybe it’s the season finale. It’s exciting and dramatic and fantastic; everything you hoped for and more. Then suddenly, the normally mild mannered side character pulls out a weapon and shouts ‘I love you, and now I’m going to kill him!!!’ And then, before anything more can happen, you see the dreaded words. TO BE CONTINUED… It’s a cliff hanger. It’s the worst cliff hanger in the history of cliff hangers. You NEED to know what happens next! Now, imagine that all you had to do to watch the next episode and find out what happens is to turn the page of a book.
Books are divided into chapters just like television series are divided into episodes. And just like television series, the authors want you to want more. They want to hold your interest. They don’t want to let you put the book down, forget about it for a while, and never bother to pick it up again. A really good book is one you can’t put down. And one way that authors ensure this is how they deal with chapters. A good chapter, in an author’s view, will always end on a cliff hanger.
Can you really expect your child to come upon this cliff hanger and then stop? When the answer to this cliff hanger is just one page over? The ‘end of the chapter’ is quite often the absolute worst place to put a book down. A child who is forced to do so will be angry and cranky and desperate to pick the book up again.
So where is the ideal place to put down a book? Honestly, the very end of the book. But failing that, a page or so into a new chapter is the best place to stop. The cliff hanger will be resolved and the new cliff hanger won’t have had a chance to build up. So if your excessive reader promises to ‘just finish the chapter’ and then you catch them reading a bit more, there’s no need to become angry. Just remind your child that the chapter is over. The child will feel relieved that the cliff hanger was resolved, and be much more ready to close the book.
Excessive reading is a problem. Just like excessive video games, tv watching, or even sports, even something that's considered a 'good, healthy activity' like reading can be harmful. Terms like 'head in the clouds', 'nose in a book', and 'bookworm' are not designed to be compliments. To be a well adjusted, healthy, well rounded person, your child needs to socialize and interact with the real world, as well as with book characters.
Books are a safety blanket. The characters of a book will never betray your child or hurt your child or leave your child. Books are a drug. They provide stories and life experiences that your child craves, that his or her brain is wired to seek out. Taking books away from your child is a battle that leads to screaming and tears and sulking and makes you seem like a brute because everyone knows books are good for you.
Don't take books away from your child. Replace them. Replace reading time with clubs, games, dinner rituals, sports, playgrounds. Your child will still have time to read. Your child will always love to read. That doesn't mean your child shouldn't also live.
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Yes I did just write an entire article on 'not reading' only to follow it with an ad for a book. I did say reading is also a good thing.
Pirate Perdita is a juvenile fiction novel. It is written at a fourth grade reading level. It is appropriate for all ages. There is no eating of any brains. They aren't that type of zombies. Someone, however, may or may not get eaten in the story. Or stepped on. A dinosaur may or may not devour an unattended dinner. Sherlock Holmes himself may or may not show up within these pages. I refuse to give anything away. You'll just have to read to find out. Enter if you dare. Here there be dinosaurs.