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November 20, 2014
The Real Issue
My Daughter Won't Read
by Cyndie Swindlehurst


My child won’t read. I know she can read because when I make her read aloud to me, she does fine. But she won’t read anything that is not required for school. She even becomes upset when I suggest she read something — anything — to me. Even signs or labels at the grocery store.

I love to read, and I want to encourage my daughter to love reading. Any ideas?


I love to read, too. It is fun and informative. It’s the best way I’ve found to learn about things I didn’t even know I didn’t know.

Reading is also beneficial. It is an important skill in any profession or life pursuit. And reading for pleasure helps a person build the skills and knowledge base he needs to read competently in other settings.

But reading is also like toilet training. In toilet training, a child must be physically able to use the toilet, and he must want to use the toilet. If either element is missing, the toilet training will fail.

Reading for pleasure is like that, too. A person must have the skills to read, and he must want to read. If either element is missing, the person will not enjoy reading, no matter what incentive is put before him.

So, how can you encourage that desire to read?

Here are six ideas.

One, Drop it. Reading for pleasure is not a mandatory part of fulfilling one’s duty to God, country or family. Therefore, it does not need to be a battleground between you and your daughter.

Besides, even if you require your daughter to sit with a book in her hands for twenty minutes, you cannot make her read it. And even if you somehow cajole her to read the book, you cannot make her like it. And since liking books is your goal, the mandatory reading approach seems unlikely to work.

Ditto the tactic to let her earn something by reading. If what she wants, more than anything in the world, is to eat hot lunch every Wednesday, you might propose to order hot lunch next month if she will read a certain amount this month. This approach might work in some situations.

But in your situation, I fear it will backfire. If you tie the things she most wants to additional reading, which you know upsets her, I suspect she will see it as a manipulation and not as an opportunity. And since reading for pleasure is a preference and not a principle, the potential for conflict and hurt feelings is not worth it.

Two, remember that reading for pleasure is a hobby and a preference, not a moral choice. There is no danger to a person’s soul if he doesn’t like to read. Nor is reading an inherently better hobby than baking, gardening, woodworking, chemistry, music or playing baseball.

This point is often lost in today’s world, where, “Gary (age 2) loves books and is reading already!!!” is a staple line in Christmas letters. But you must remember that (a) Christmas letters are not real and (b) there is more to say about a person than whether he likes to read.

Three, if you do see your daughter looking through the books on your shelf, don’t criticize what she chooses. If she is flipping through books that you think are too easy, remember that most people do not choose challenging material for pleasure reading. If she derives joy from Elephant and Piggie (and who doesn’t), let her be.

Similarly, don’t discourage her from looking through books that seem beyond her. If she is enchanted by Calvin and Hobbes, let her explore that canon, even if you don’t think she understands half the jokes.

Do, however, read what she is reading, especially if she is reading books for older children and teens. You need to know what she is reading so you can respond as necessary with appropriate teaching and information.

Four, read out loud. Everyone enjoys a good story. Reading out loud is your opportunity to share good stories with your daughter. Pick books you think she will enjoy, with interesting action and engaging characters. If she thinks a book is boring after the first couple of chapters, quit and move on to something else.

Try different genres: fantasy, mystery, biography, fairy tale, historical, animal, real-life, adventure. Browse the children’s section and find your old favorites. There is a reason some books are always in print — they are the ones people actually like. Don’t be distracted by award-winning books unless you know they are good.

I’m assuming from your letter that your daughter is a child. If she is a teenager, reading aloud probably won’t appeal to her. Instead, you might try audiobooks, either on CD or downloaded from a library or paid service. Audiobooks are fantastic on long car trips.

Five, you said that your daughter can read, based on your observations. You should make sure this is actually true. Reading aloud with fluency and accuracy does not necessarily mean your daughter is understanding what she reads. You might talk to her teacher or consult with a knowledgeable friend about assessing her actual ability.

Finally, I suspect that your daughter’s real problem is not her reluctance to read. It seems more than likely that she is experiencing some other difficulty that is causing this reaction against reading. Perhaps school is too demanding. Perhaps you are too demanding. Perhaps she is having trouble with her friends or fitting in at school or church. Or perhaps she has no free time, and your encouragement to read feels like you want to vacuum up another twenty minutes of her day. Whatever the issue is, finding it and addressing it should be your top priority.

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