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Parents as Reading Role Models: Eliminating Distractions and Building Stamina

This is the third and final installment of our series Parents as Reading Role Models (Part 1 and Part 2, if you are catching up). Let’s talk openly and honestly about all of the distractions in our lives and how they often prevent us from modeling good reading behaviors for our kids. Whether you’re the parent or caregiver of a newborn or a teenager, it’s so easy to become distracted by dings, vibrations, and alerts. We are very guilty of this ourselves. Flip on CNN and you’ll see 4 scrolling bars at the bottom of the screen, as if our bodies were built to absorb a constant stream of stimuli. Newsflash? They’re not.

Tips For Building Reading Stamina and Eliminating Distractions

This process will help both you and your child learn to minimize external distractions and devote a part of your day fully focused on reading:

  1. Have a plan. Designate what part of your day you will read. Keep it sacred, even if it’s at a different time each day. Put it on your calendar and give yourself reminders. Tell your family about it. Example of something you might say to your family: “After we clean up dinner, I’m going to read in the living room for 10 minutes if anyone wants to join me.”
  2. Remove distractions. Put anything that might disturb you in another room, whether it’s your phone, laptop, new nail polish, TV, pets, spouse, children, vacuum cleaner, food, or a cold beer. Ask yourself, “Would I use/do this if I were praying or meditating?” If the answer is “no,” put it out of reach.
  3. Make it really appealing. If reading for pleasure is new to you, pick something to read that you know you’ll really like. People magazine. A romance novel. The latest best-seller. Your daughter’s All About Me book from 2nd grade. A research article for your job that you’ve been meaning to get to. Content or format doesn’t matter, as long as it is enjoyable enough that you know you’ll stay put.
  4. Start small. You are going to retrain your brain to be distraction-free in your home. If this is something you struggle with, start small, like for 5 minutes. After a few days of success, increase the time and gradually build your stamina to read distraction-free for longer periods of time.
  5. Reflect. How do you feel after you’ve read distraction-free? Does it impact other areas of your life? (For example, many people report sleeping better if they spend a few minutes reading before bed.) How does this relate to behaviors you’ve noticed in your children? Do you find yourself wanting to read or be distraction-free more?
  6. Share your process. Talk to your family about what you’re reading, what you’re enjoying about it, and what struggles you’re experiencing. Even if your family doesn’t join in at first, you’re setting the stage and making yourself the role model. You’re also demonstrating to your children that even when reading feels hard, you persevere.

Many teachers complain that despite their best efforts to teach mandatory content, student performance on tests indicates otherwise. A huge reason for this discrepancy? Lack of stamina. In an age full of distraction, children haven’t spent the needed time practicing sustained concentration for longer than 5-10 minutes at a time. And this isn’t just an issue with state tests or other issues at school. The effects of this constant distraction are long-term, and lead to poor work performance later in life.

We worry that we’re raising children who won’t be able to focus during important moments long enough to hold necessary conversations and build solid relationships.

Once you’ve tried building stamina in your reading life, apply the above process to other common scenarios:

  • family game night
  • sustained conversation on specific topics during mealtime
  • screen-free time in the car
  • time spent outdoors observing nature
  • putting together a jigsaw puzzle
  • building with Legos, blocks, etc., or pursuing other hobbies
  • “power hour” where the whole family does chores together

These shared experiences will not only practice building stamina, but will enhance family bonding, providing priceless opportunities to make lasting memories.

If this is a topic that interests you, or that you struggle with, read these posts for more information and advice:

How to Talk to Your Child About Reading
Productive Struggle: What It Is and Why Your Child Needs It
Parents as Reading Role Models: Finding the Time

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