In 2020, Nielsen’s UK Children’s Book Consumer research found that only 36% of 0-17 year-olds read books to themselves or were read to daily in 2020, while two-thirds read or were read to weekly. This was below the 75% watching TV, YouTube, or listening to music. Here we give some advice on helping your child manage screen time.
While there are children who might discover their love of reading by themselves, a parent can also guide them toward developing that interest. If they are struggling to access books, which they might show by frustration, we have some things to look out for dyslexia here. Here’s why it’s important to help your child become a reader.
Reasons Why it’s Important to Make Your Child a Reader
Making children readers is a widely encouraged part of parenting—and rightly so. Below are a few reasons why it’s important to make your child a reader:
- Reading spurs creativity. Books provide the brain with reference points for understanding. These reference points enable the mind to interpret new or existing information. All these spur creativity and imagination. “If imagination and magical thinking connected to reason spur discovery, innovation, and new understandings,” writes Martha C. Pennington and Robert P. Waxler in Why Reading Books Still Matters. “It can be maintained that literature has a key role in both developing and engaging imaginative and magical thinking.”
- It improves vocabulary and language skills. When your child reads a book, they learn certain words in context. This makes it easier for the child to remember the words later and their usage. The more they read, the more their vocabulary improves. This gives the child the language to express concepts and ideas they might otherwise find difficult. Beyond this, it can also increase general knowledge.
- It helps children develop empathy. Empathy is a very important trait in your child and can be developed. Reading helps with that. Through reading the child gains a better understanding of people, of the world at large. They understand contexts far removed from them. This allows the child to step out of themself to try and see things from other people’s perspectives, no matter where they’re from. This ability to hold different thoughts and perspectives will enrich your child’s relationships as an adult.
- It helps reduce stress. Stressful situations are a common part of daily living. By getting your child to develop a habit of reading, you give them the means to cope with stress. A study by the University of Sussex found that reading can reduce stress by up to 68%. Reading works better as a stress reliever than listening to music. With reading, the mind is absorbed into the book, putting a distance between the stressor and the reader. “It really doesn’t matter what book you read,” says Professor David Lewis, the cognitive neuropsychologist who conducted the study. “By losing yourself in a thoroughly engrossing book you can escape from the worries and stresses of the everyday world and spend a while exploring the domain of the author’s imagination.” We have more advice here on how to help a child deal with anxiety.
- It makes the brain stronger. Reading is like a mental exercise that strengthens the brain in children, teenagers, and adults. It does this by kindling the neural pathways in the brain. “Reading material that requires thought, consideration, and effort to metabolize what’s being described leads to the creation of new neurons in your brain,” says Sabrina Romanoff, a clinical psychologist in New York City. “These neurons also increase new neuronal connections, both with each other and older networks, which accelerates processing speed.” Here we give more advice on improving your child’s concentration.
How to Get a Child to Love Reading
Whether you’re parenting a newborn or a teenager, you can always help your child love reading. It’s never too early or late. Below are selected ways to get children reading:
- Start early. It might seem obvious but if reading before bed is the way it has always been it is an easier argument. I wonder if my children, when they read, can still have my arms around them like when little. The most effective way to develop the love of books in your child is to start reading aloud to them. You can start as early as you like. Read to the child every chance you get. Read aloud to them at bedtime, bath time, potty time, etc. And even when the child has learned to read themself, keep reading to them. “Every time we read to a child, we’re sending a ‘pleasure’ message to the child’s brain,” writes Jim Trelease, author of the best-seller The Read-Allowed Handbook “You could even call it a commercial, conditioning the child to associate books and print with pleasure.” Make sure to limit distractions when you read to your child.
- Create a reading environment at home. As above, if books are a part of your household it will seem like the norm. If held in a special space by all even better. Creating a reading environment at home will encourage your child to embrace reading. Begin by collecting books that interest your child. If you’re unsure, ask the child what they like reading. Or just go to a library and get a random selection. You can introduce your own taste, but avoid buying books solely based on your interest. Children can get through books quickly. Also, it is better they read something that you might consider nonsense than being put off reading by having to read something that is ‘worthy’. What’s more, create a special reading place in the house. Keep the shelf organized and inviting. Arrange some of the books with their cover facing out, so they are easy to spot. Also, keep books and magazines in every corner of the house where your child likes to hang out. Make them easy to pick up when bored. We have books in the car. I am fortunate that mine doesn’t get car sick, so can read and, on long journeys, 30 minutes in the hour are spent reading.
- Remain a reader yourself. If mum and dad read, so will the children. It won’t be seen as a childish thing to do. In the US, Pew Research found that one of the prime reasons children hover near the middle of the pack in global literacy skills is that there are not enough adult readers to enkindle that love of words in the next generation. To continue to foster the love of reading in your child, they need to see you reading often. Even a child who didn’t take up reading early will want to do so if they frequently see you enjoying a book. Simply telling your child to read without modeling it will have very little impact.
- Encourage their interest in books. This is particularly effective for a teenager who doesn’t like to read or has lost interest in reading along the way. Even adults perk up when they stumble on a book about something they’re really interested in. Find out what your teenager’s daily interests are—anything from football and basketball to music and movies. A child interested in football will want to read the memoir of their favorite coach. Your child’s interest in books may expand from there.
- Use long car journeys. Long car journeys, or in fact journeys of any length are a great opportunity for reading. Not all children get car sick. Mine don’t for instance, and with little else to do, will quite happily loose themselves in a book for an hour or two to pass the time.
- Discuss books. Round the table, it is normal to talk about TV programs. Why not talk about favorite books? Discussing books can spur curiosity and excitement in your child. Many adults will tell you that they picked up certain tastes or habits after hearing about them in a discussion. This can effectively get a child who has abandoned reading to revisit the habit. Pick a book, read, analyze it, and then talk about what makes the book such an interesting read. Critical thinking is a key skill.
Final Thoughts on Helping Your Child Become a Reader
In such a fast-paced world filled with so many distractions, having a curious child is a pleasure and is an endeavor you need to begin early. By starting early, you model the love of reading to the child and aid the development of their language skills, intelligence, memory, information processing, and reasoning.
Getting your child to love reading isn’t always a smooth and easy affair. Being patient and helping them cultivate a genuine interest will pay off. My two know when bedtime is and then it is book before lights out. If they don’t want to read they can have their light off earlier.
If you think your child is resisting reading due to frustration, it could be that they have a learning difficulty. We have a range of articles on the site that can be access through the link above that are a good introduction to the topic.