Sometimes my parents say they can’t believe their three kids were raised in the same house by the same two people. We’re all soooo different. My brother was a star athlete in high school while my sister and I were bench warmers. My sister could pass any test without ever studying, but didn’t get straight A’s because she didn’t see the point of homework. I couldn’t sleep if my work wasn’t ready to turn in on the due date. My brother only wanted to learn about things that interested him. He was a sponge when it came to those subjects, and the rest he could’ve cared less about and didn’t try to hide it.
That’s one of the tricky thing about parenting. Every kid is so different, so you have to adjust your style for each one. It’s a real balancing act. One of my favorite parents is struggling with that right now. I’ve been working with her fifth grader this year, and it’s been delightful. He works hard, is deeply engaged in any project we’re doing, and is a voracious reader.
She recently clued me in that it’s a different story with her seventh grader. He just doesn’t want to read. The parent teacher conference she went to last month that was scheduled for 20 minutes turned into an hour. She was at her wits end. Out of her four kids, only one is a resistant reader. She showed me the chart the teacher gave her to fill in at home. When he reads for a certain amount of time, he gets a reward. Has it been effective? Yes and no. Some days it works, some days it doesn’t.
Rewarding kids for reading worries me. I think reading is a reward in itself. All kids are different, and this strategy might be necessary for some kids. But before you resort to rewarding reading, I want you to try three things.
1. Have a casual conversation with your kid. If it’s your son, have it when you’re driving somewhere. (They’re more likely to share when the situation is less formal.) Ask them what they want to know more about, what their friends are talking about, what they want to be when they grow up. Write down as many details as you can remember the first chance you get.
2. Visit the library or the bookstore. The librarian is your friend! They know the most popular books, and when you present them with the list of your child’s interests, they’ll be able to steer you toward books that are right for them. Check them out and surprise your child with them when they get home from school.
3. Read with them. Trade off pages or paragraphs. Pause to talk about the book. Bring it up at other parts of the day.
The level of the book isn’t important at this stage in the game. The goal is to hook them any way we can.
Melissa Spiegelman is the founder of Tandem Teaching, where she provides strategies and solutions for parents whose children are experiencing classroom struggles, and an expert consultant to the USC/LAUSD/RAND/UCLA Trauma Services Adaptation Center for Resilience, Hope and Wellness in Schools. Melissa also teaches art playgroups for toddlers. Contact her for a private coaching session.