"Mom! Dad! Can we go to the library to check out a big stack of books? After I do all of my chores, I would really like to spend the rest of the afternoon reading quietly!"
... said no child, ever.
Just kidding. Some kids really do love to read! Actually, it's natural for children to love to read. And that's a wonderful thing. Research shows that kids who love to read often have bigger vocabularies, better problem solving abilities, and a higher degree of emotional intelligence, which is the ability to "identify, use, understand, and manage emotions in positive ways."
If you'd like to see your child reading more -- especially over the summer holidays, while school's out of session -- there are steps you can take to help that come about. (And no, bribing your child with a scoop of ice cream for finishing Anne of Green Gables is not one of them!)
If your child seems highly-resistant to reading -- perhaps because of boring, unpleasant experiences in the past -- try to figure out which kinds of books might spark excitement, and start there.
After all, if your child has at least one positive, engrossing, exciting experience with a book, he or she will be far more likely to want to read more!
Ready to ignite a lifelong love affair with books?
Here are 5 questions that can help you to light the first spark:
1. Which movies, TV shows and video games does your child love?
Is your child glued to the Cinderella movie?
Constantly re-playing the soundtrack from Inside Out?
Begging to watch the next episode of the TV show Arthur?
If there's a plot line that your child already loves, tell them, "How about reading the book version of that [show / film]? I bet it's got even more details that aren't in the movie about all the characters you love. Let's head to the library and see if they have it..."
Someday (hopefully!) your child's appetite for books will expand beyond the realm of film-and-TV-related titles, but this can be a good place to begin -- especially if your child is super-resistant to reading.
2. What is your child passionate about?
Does your child enjoy watching endless YouTube clips of jaw-dropping surf competitions? You could recommend a memoir written by a young surfing champion who has succeeded despite incredible adversity.
Is your child a budding entrepreneur who'd love to make some extra cash over the summer holidays? A book on teen-entrepreneurship could be just the ticket.
Encourage your child to read books on topics that he or she already loves, especially over summer break when there's less homework and "required reading" to do. This can spark a love of books that may eventually spread, like wildfire, into other topics too.
3. Who are your child's role models and heroes?
If your child idolizes a particular athlete, actor, musician, celebrity, blogger, writer, or some other public figure, do some Googling and see if you can find out if that person has written a book, has been featured in a book, or has a favorite book of their own (that they've mentioned in an interview, for example).
If it's an age-appropriate book (of course), you can say to your child, "Did you know that [name of hero's] favorite book of all time is [title]? Would you like to read it, too?"
4. Does your child have a competitive streak?
If so, why not hold a family-wide reading competition?
Create a score chart, put it on the fridge, and have everyone in the household participate. Whoever reads the most number of books (or pages, if you decide that's more fair) within a set period of time wins a fabulous prize!
The prize could be: a special trip to a theme park, a new t-shirt that your kid has been ogling, an iTunes gift certificate, whatever you deem fair.
Note: this is not "bribery" because you are not trying to persuade your child to comply with the "bare minimum" that is expected in your household. You are rewarding your child for going "above and beyond" and for doing something exceptional (say, reading seven books in one month). There's nothing wrong with a little bit of healthy competition to get everyone's book-reading-engines roaring. (Grown ups included!)
5. What are YOU reading these days?
It's tough to inspire your child to read more if you don't read much, yourself. You are the single most influential figure in your child's life, so be sure to model the kind of behavior that you wish to see.
Set aside the phone, laptop and tablet, pull out a great book, and dive in with passion. Talk about what you're reading around the dinner table. Plan special trips to the library and bookstore. Read together, side by side, both of you snuggled up on the sofa with your books. You can also take turns to read out loud to each other.
If your child sees you reading, and loving it, then he or she will be far more likely to follow in your footsteps.
But you've got to take that first step -- and turn the first page.
PS. Not sure if a book is going to be OK for your child? Simple solution: read it yourself, first. Bonus: if you pass it along to your child, afterwards, you'll be able to chat with them about it, book club-style!
Dr. Suzanne Gelb is a clinical psychologist, life coach and family law attorney.
She believes that it is never too late to become the person you want to be. Strong. Confident. Calm. Creative. Free of all of the burdens that have held you back -- no matter what has happened in the past.
Her insights on personal growth have been featured on more than 200 radio programs, 200 TV interviews and online at TIME, Forbes, Newsweek, The Huffington Post, The Daily Love, MindBodyGreen, and many other places.
Disclaimer: This article, including all of its links, is for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional or psychological advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always contact your health practitioner before beginning any new health or well-being practice for yourself or your family.