As a bookstore owner I come into contact with a lot of parents and their kids, and I’m always happy to see them come in because reading was vital for my mental health as a kid. I’m happy to see parents still wanting their kids to read and enjoy it, though there are times when things are not so…perfect. They are rare, but happen often enough that I see a consistency in how the parents approach reading and how the kids receive it. And as such there are a few pleas to parents that I’ve had on my mind since I opened the store.
- Please remember there are no “boy books” or “girl books”
I see a lot of parents who won’t let their little boy grab a Dora book or a book about mermaids, because it’s a “girl book”. I see parents deny their little girl a book about sports because it’s a “boy book”. I will say it’s more common with boys than girls, however. Kids are naturally open to many different things and that divide between “girl” and “boy” only serves to curb their natural curiosity and in some ways their empathy for different situations.
- It’s okay if your child is not interested in books you read as a kid
I understand the pain of this one. I can imagine the utter devastation I would have if I had a kid and they never felt the need to read Harry Potter. I would be crushed. However, your kids are not you…and sometimes those interests never align. It’s okay. It doesn’t speak against your tastes or their tastes, it’s not meant as a slight. They just would rather pick up Percy Jackson and not Hardy Boys. They have a lifetime ahead of them, and who knows…they might decide to pick those books up later.
- Reading should never be a chore
I see a lot of frustrated parents and kids in here. They frustrated for several reasons, but the main one is because there is a disconnect between reading and fun. Forcing a kid to read usually ends in a burn out, where the kid just doesn’t desire to read outside of that required time. Make it fun if you can. Offer incentives and come up with activities surrounding the books you want them to read. Think outside of the box: create food based on food in a book (a fruit buffet for A Very Hungry Caterpillar? Make cups of ‘dirt and gummy worms’ for How to Eat Fried Worms), go on a field trip based on a book’s setting (go check out a zoo, berry picking, national parks, fishing, etc.).
- Let your child try reading a book before telling them it’s too hard
It’s important for a kid to feel like reading is something they have some control over. It should be something they turn to on their own, and by making decisions on what they can and can’t read it gives them a solid foundation for being able to independently choose suitable books for themselves. A lot of kids really want books that are higher levels than they are currently on, it’s totally natural…and a lot of them get discouraged or even upset when the inevitable “that’s too hard for you” comes along. One thing I’ve seen work 98% of the time is instead of telling them it’s too hard, let them try for themselves. Ask them to open it up and give it shot, and if you’re striving to let them read independently gently remind them that it needs to be a book they can read on their own with only a little help. Most kids are quick to catch on when they open a book and see words they’ve never encountered before, but letting them try is key to having them test out those waters on their own.
- Don’t be afraid to let them pull out books
We all know that one kid who comes into a store and just wrecks it, and yeah…those are typically the ones who make messes. However, most kids who are looking for books understand finding a book can’t be done if they are busy building a fort from them. If they want to pull out some picture books and look through them ,it’s totally okay. That’s what they are there for. Some books are only good for a quick read through, and others are the ones you want to take home. A kid will know that only if they get to look at it. If you’re worried about them destroying a book, stay close by or teach them how to handle books with respect and care. (“The better you treat a book, the longer it stays with you”). If they pull out a stack of books and don’t know where they go, don’t fret. Just put them back where you think they go, or ask for some help (don’t leave them on the floor). We understand it’s hard to find where things go, especially in a picture book section.
- Encourage them
Again majority of the parents who come to the store with their children are encouraging and really love nurturing their children’s curiosity. But we get those few that don’t, and there is some frustration on the child’s part. Reading can be at times on the same level as having a sport hobby, it costs some money and usually involves some travel. Like sports, dance, and other hobbies it needs to be endorsed and encouraged by the parents even if you personally don’t find that hobby interesting. Show an interest in the books they read, ask them questions, let them explain things to you even if you already know, and treat going to the bookstore like it’s a true treat for both you and your child. Encouragement goes a long way to making reading a staple in their lives, and it does wonders for your relationship.
It should be noted that no suggestion is a one size fits all situation. You know who your child is and what they are capable of. For example if they have a penchant for destroying things, maybe don’t let them touch things without permission. If they are asking to read 50 Shades or Dracula, it’s probably best not to let them try those books out until they truly ready.