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How To Talk to Your Child About Reading (and Why It’s Important)

I was driving around town with my 8 and 11 year old children, running errands. I was telling them about a book I had just finished reading. My 11 year old says, “I wish I liked to read like you do.” Then my 8 year old says, “Yeah, I don’t like reading.”

HOLD UP. What? I had to pull over. Not because I’m a librarian, a literacy lover, or even the founder of a website about reading. But because my kids like to read. If I had to list 10 things about my kids, enjoying a book would make the list. Not number one (horseback riding, playing basketball, and building with Legos would definitely come ahead), but not at the bottom either.

I calm down and turn on my teacher hat. “Can you tell me more about this?”

By keeping your questions open-ended, you’re more likely to get an honest answer, not just the response they think you want to hear.

My son says, “Well, it’s just that I only like reading Harry Potter and books about World War II. I don’t really like any other type of book.” My daughter says, “Right now, I only enjoy reading long chapter books if we read them together. I’m not really into the other stuff I have right now.”

These answers are wonderful and I tell them that their answers make me so proud. It’s true. Here’s why:
Having specific tastes in books makes you a real reader! Because we’ve discussed these tastes, we nurture them. We’ve got the next Harry Potter book already in his room, ready to go when he’s ready for it. I buy cheap paperback used books about World War II and keep them scattered around the house for him to browse or use for when he wants to draw pictures of tanks (a hobby of his).  

Knowing what you like and don’t like is important to develop a love for reading. It gives you a comfort zone, which ultimately leads to confidence and might make you more likely to try other types of books later.

Real readers get in ruts all the time. So while my daughter might be enjoying the series we’re reading together, she’s not interested in her longer books as independent reading options. My daughter’s rut is very common for kids her age (3rd grade). She loves the appeal of the longer middle grade chapter books, but they take more stamina and rigor. She’s opted for several easier chapter books when she reads on her own, but they haven’t quite captured her interest. That’s ok! It’s just a phase.

Here’s an analogy adults might connect with: I love to cook, especially on the weekends when I’m not in a hurry. But on weeknights, I’m often grumpy while trying to get dinner on the table after a long day of work. That doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy cooking!

Saying you like to read doesn’t mean you have to like every book, magazine, or article.

How to Talk To Your Child About Their Reading Habits

  • First, if you haven’t asked your children if they like to read lately, ask them. Try to ask it in a way they don’t feel pressured to give you the answer they think you’re hoping for. Conversation starters like, “if you had a full day of free time, how would you choose to spend it?” or “what are your favorite hobbies?” could work well. It’s a great opportunity to clarify misconceptions (like my own children had). Children are often black and white.
  • Take note of their interests and the books they seem to enjoy. Children love to be noticed. Say things like, “I saw that you seemed to enjoy that biography of Lebron James. That’s fantastic. Let me know if I can help you find more books like that.”
  • Compliment them when you find them reading. Last Sunday I walked into the living room and found my son completely enamored with the sports page of the Sunday paper. I said, “Wow, I love that you’re spending part of your morning reading the newspaper, just like dad and I do! You are SUCH a mature reader!” My son beamed and said, “I didn’t even think about this as reading because it’s not a book.”
  • Make it social. Children love when adults spend time with them. Say things like, “Hey, how about next time you finish a book, we can chat about it over a snack together?” Or maybe offer to take them to a coffee shop to discuss it, like members of a book club might.
  • Be inquisitive. If your child hasn’t found a reading niche yet that resonates with them, offer your help. “Are there any other books, authors, or genres (types of books) you haven’t yet tried that you might consider trying?” They may feel lost, or not be aware of options. A few days after my initial conversation about my daughter’s reading rut, we realized that she had an interest in graphic novels, but she didn’t think she was old enough for any of them. I was able to steer her toward graphic novels that she could confidently read well, and she was so excited. Bye bye, reading rut, she’s now anxiously awaiting  the next Phoebe and Her Unicorn book to come out! Turn to your local librarian, book store owner, or your child’s teacher if you feel at a loss as to how to address their specific reading roadblocks.
  • Ask for their advice. Tap into their natural desire to be helpful to others, intrinsic in all children. “What are your favorite books you’d recommend for ____ (insert anybody’s name)?” or “My friend is asking about books that his/her child might like. What books do you think they’d like?”

All of these statements and conversation ideas will validate that your child is a reader, with specific tastes, that you respect and hope to nurture. Create opportunities for kids to talk about books, because you never know what they are thinking until you ask!

Disclosure: This post contains Amazon affiliate links.

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