Reading is one of the most crucial activities for children, promoting language development, building knowledge, and setting up academic success – but getting children with ADHD to read can be tough. ADHD makes reading more difficult, since reading relies on attention and executive function. Quality instruction is only part of the solution, because reading with ease and comprehension only follows from consistent practice. Since kids often avoid doing things that feel difficult, the children who need reading practice most, don’t do it. For the average child with ADHD, keeping busy during the summer may feel like ‘anything except reading.’
Nowadays it’s impossible to discuss how to encourage reading without mentioning technology too, since open access to television and screens gets in the way of recreational reading. Symptoms of ADHD include being easily bored, avoiding mental effort, and novelty seeking. Tech time panders to all of that – no other activity provides so much engagement and novelty, with so little effort required by the kids. Without adult guidance, screens trump reading for many children seeking entertainment during the day.
Summer is a great opportunity to encourage reading and create new habits. As with nutrition, a balanced diet of activities is required for healthy child development. Here’s how to encourage reading this summer:
o Have lots of books around the house that children can pick up (and put down) whenever they like. As novelty seeking is a part of ADHD, aim to have piles of books and change them often. Kids with ADHD need new titles to explore. They sometimes read only parts of books and go back. Or they may want to return to the same book over and. Consider making the library a family event. Try going once weekly and letting your kids select whatever grabs their attention. Books should be easy enough to appeal and provide enjoyment, without worrying about much else – any reading is good reading.
o Make reading part of family time. Read books to your children that captivate them. Talk about the story but don’t make it a lesson – just show your own excitement and curiosity. Reading together provides social and emotional comfort too. Tacking reading time onto bedtime can be a useful way to get children to choose reading voluntarily. Bedtime is 8:30 but they can read until 9:00 (not draw, not write, not any other activity). Otherwise, turn the lights out and kiss them goodnight.
o Make reading a game by setting up a reward plan. Pick something fun to earn, and create your own reading race for the summer. Consider participating yourself.
o Read yourself. Do your kids see the adults in the house reading? It’s tough to tell someone else to read, or to suggest reading is fun, if they’re not seeing you engaged in it. Remember, if you are reading on a device your children may think you are texting, gaming, or shopping. Reading is probably as healthy for adults as children, so for that reason too make sure children in your house see their parents reading books.
o Set firm screen limits. With clear down time defined in the household, children return to more traditional activities, like reading. If allowed to default to screens whenever bored, most children will. When the rules are ambiguous, not only will they push you more (maybe if I fight harder I will get the iPad after all), but the possibility of screen time may keep them from bothering to find something else to do. They’ll hover and brood and come back and ask about plugging in once again. Define how much and when is OK in your home, as you would around dessert, or in creating a weekend curfew. With time and patience, reading will fill the gaps for free time created in their day.