Motivating Kids to Read: What NOT To Do!
The things that parents do that undermine children’s motivations to read.
Emily A. Swan, Ph.D.
Last week, I talked about the differences between expert and novice readers. Your challenge for the week was to help your child imitate what expert readers do by tapping into your child’s WONDER, INTERESTS, and help your child MAKE CONNECTIONS to what they read.
I hope you have found some time to read TO or WITH your children! Isn’t it great? I have to say, I am reading The Tale of Despereaux (By Kate DiCamillo) to my car and truck-loving, bike-riding 5 year old son, and he is TOTALLY and COMPLETELY HOOKED! I do love Kate DiCamillo; the language in her books draws in readers of all ages! But to have him beg me to keep reading “just one more chapter, pleeeeaaaasssseeee!” is music to my ears! Just the other night, he realized that we were more than half way through the book. He said, “Oh NO! We are getting closer to the end! I don’t want the pages to end, mom!” We are having so much fun! I’ve read the book several times and I find my daughter and my husband like to listen in when we read. It’s the best time of the day!
This week, I am going to talk about motivating your kids to read, especially what NOT to do. Keep in mind that some of the things I am going to encourage you NOT to do are things most parents DO all the time. But I’m going to teach you why some of these things actually hurt your children and what to do instead! So, fasten your seatbelts.
The things that parents do that undermine children’s motivations to read.
Believe it or not, there are things parents do, thinking they will motivate their kids to read, but they actually undermine children’s motivations and can have the reverse effect. These things do not cause permanent damage, like a serious head injury, but they do cause temporary setbacks, some of which can be very difficult to remedy!
1. Do NOT pay your child to read!
This means DO NOT give your child money for grades, for As, for book reports, for ANYTHING that involves learning or reading. PERIOD. DO NOT do it! Please.
· Why not? Your child’s job is to go to school. At school, your child’s job is to learn and to get smart. Your child’s job is to learn the things in school that will help him or her become a responsible, reliable, and dependable person. School is there to teach your child how to be a strategic thinkers, a person who follows through, a person who can meet deadlines, a person who can work well with others, and a person who can manage their time. In short, your child’s job is to go to school to learn how to WORK so when they get out of school, they can get a job and EARN MONEY. The reason why paying your child to do what they are supposed to do anyway is that it takes their focus OFF the learning or the reading and puts their focus on the MONEY or on the performance. This is a problem for several reasons:
o First, when your child’s focus is on performance, rather than on learning, your child develops more superficial forms of learning such as memorization, cramming, and even cheating. All they care about is getting the A (so they can get paid). They can have As, but no learning behind the As. This is not good. The goal is to LEARN first, and then the A will follow. The knowledge is the reward. You can pay your kids to mow the lawn. That’s a real job.
o Second, performance-oriented students are more competitive (which isn’t a bad thing on a basketball court or a football field), and less cooperative, which can hurt them because their focus is usually more on the “product” versus the “process”. It is FINE to be competitive in sports! That’s how sports work. But in school, there is enough knowledge to go around. Your child’s job is to get as much of it as they can and cooperating with others HELPS!!
o The third reason is that when your child is more performance-oriented rather than learning or mastery-oriented, they tend to give up easier, have a difficult time persisting at more difficult tasks, are less dedicated, and become more work avoidant (which means they tend to do the least amount required). When children are more learning oriented, they choose more difficult tasks, thrive with challenges, and persist in the face of difficulty. This is what makes them great employees when they’re older.
This means do not rescue or “helicopter” your child when it comes to homework, deadlines, reports, poster presentations, science fair projects, etc. NEVER do your child’s homework for them; not even the poster for their report!
· Why not? I know lots of parents who are better at math than their 4th grader, or better at English than their 7th grader. So what! I tell them, “You learned how to do your math. You went on to 5th grade or on to 8th grade. You figured out how to learn! Let your children learn how to learn!” Here is the most important thing I can say about this subject:
o When you do your homework for your child, they will NOT fail. This is true.
o BUT remember this: when parents do their children’s homework, or the poster, or the report—and it gets an A, the success is NOT the child’s, and the child KNOWS THIS! So you have just robbed your child of success.
o Robbing your child of success is WORSE than allowing them to turn something in late, to get it wrong, or to even fail an assignment.
o Allowing your child to fail or to make mistakes allows them to choose something different—and to learn. You shouldn’t care more than your kids do about their own schoolwork. Allowing your child to fail when the consequences are relatively small is better than rescuing them until they are in college and the consequences are much more severe!
o Allowing your child (no matter what age!) more control over their own learning will actually improve their attitude and motivation because they DO need to be in control over their own learning. Then, when your child succeeds, and he or she WILL succeed, the success is THEIRS. When they are successful, they will work harder to create more situations where they can succeed again. Success is intoxicating.
3. Do NOT make reading a punishment or put it on a list of chores!
This means pulling weeds, doing the dishes, folding the laundry, and sweeping the garage CANNOT be in the same category as “Do your READING!” I have heard friends say to their kids, “Get your room cleaned, do the bathroom, empty the dishwasher, get your 20 minutes of reading done and THEN you can go with your friends and have fun!”
· Why not? Do you hear how reading is a “chore” to be endured until there is something more fun to do? STOP! Try saying things like this instead:
o Get all your work done, and then you can read and relax.
o Get your work done and then we can go to the library and check out some great books!
o If you can get your jobs done, we might have time to read together.
o After you get your jobs done, you can play with your friends. Let’s save reading until tonight so I can read with you; it’s my favorite time of the day!
Reading IS the REWARD! When parents see reading as the time to spend one-on-one with a child, or a way to relax and unwind, or a special time to talk and share a great book, their children learn that reading is valued. Be careful how you talk about reading. If you aren’t reading or see reading as something enjoyable, your children most likely will adopt your same attitude about reading. When you value it, so will your children!
Easy ways to Motivate your children: What TO do!
· Get caught reading yourself! Read the newspaper, a magazine, an article, one of your child’s books. WHAT you read is not as important as BEING SEEN reading!
· Talk about what you read. Tell your child what happened in your book, what you learned from the article you just read, or how you are so glad you picked up the newspaper today because you really needed the inspirational article you read…
· Subscribe to magazines your children would be interested in reading: Sports Illustrated for Kids, Highlights, National Geographic, Family Fun, whatever! Have magazines in the bathrooms, on nightstands, or in baskets by the sofas.
· Turn OFF the television. Seriously. It’s almost summer. Who has time for TV when it’s so fun to be outside?
· Make time to read WITH your child. Read on the trampoline at dusk. Read in a tent, while you’re camping, by flashlight. Read a favorite book of yours to your kids.
· Go to the library. The books are FREE! You can check out 30 books and keep them for three weeks! It’s amazing! Take a book bag! Get your kids their own library card. Again—FREE!
· Go to Barnes & Noble one night and just LOOK. They are open until 11 p.m. Take your teenager. Take your younger kids into the Children’s section and read them a picture book. You’ll be amazed when they don’t want to leave… not yet.
· If you travel this summer, whether it is to Lake Powell or to France, READ about where you are going! Get an atlas and show your children! Get informed. Have your kids plan the itinerary based on what they have learned about what to see and what to do!
Action Plan for this week: Make reading FUN! Find a great book and read together. If you have no idea where to start, start with Kate DiCamillo! She’s one of the best authors out there for kids and even teenagers will love her books! The 30 minutes per day still applies. But if you are reading a great book together, don’t stop just because your 30 minutes is up… read “just one more chapter!!”
Next week: The Importance of INTEREST: Ways to make reading FUN and PERSONAL for your kids.