You're reading this post because you have a child who READS TOO MUCH, right? Your precious offspring has been sucked in by book after book and you want to know how you can get your child back. What happened to those halcyon days when you read your baby bedtime stories? Those days when you said "that's enough for tonight" and your kid didn't wake up in the morning with a Harry Potter Hangover and a stolen flashlight with dead batteries?!
Well. You CAN bring your kid back to the real world. I know you can do it, and I know how you can do it. In my youth, I was one of these children! And not only that, I have a bookworm of my own -- an eight-year-old who reads multiple chapter books a day if I let my guard down.
Ashley told me her 11-year-old niece Emily is really into reading and that Emily's mom, Debi, is suffering from Emily's bibliophilia.
I confess that when I first heard "My kid is reading too much!" my reaction was "Impossible. Reading is a good thing."
But I thought about it, and there really is a limit to how much a kid should read. You want to raise a successful adult who happens to be a bookworm, not a slob who can't communicate and hides behind books.
It would be simple to say "Grow a backbone! Limit your child's reading and stick to that limit." But that's not helpful.
How do you limit reading?
How do you know how much is too much?
The Big Question:
WHY do you think your child is reading too much?
When you think about this deeply and answer it honestly, potential solutions are much easier to find.
Here are some of the reasons you might come up with, and ideas for each.
1. I can't keep up with what she's reading! Is she reading garbage that will harm her soul? Is she reading books that are a waste of time?
If you're worried about what she's reading, your essential concern is "This might be dangerous." My advice is to take the time to find out if it really is dangerous or not. Here are some ways you can do that.
- Ask her about it. Would this be a good book for me? Why, or why not? Would this be a good book for your little sister? Why, or why not? Did anyone in the book do something that you would not do? Did anyone do something you admire and would want to do yourself?
- Require her to keep a book log. Just the title and author of each book should be enough. You can reward her for logging books, if she's too busy reading to write them down. You could even make a game of it. If one of our family members sees you reading a book and writes it on the log before you do, they get the reward!
- Look at reviews online. If you have title and author info, this is fairly simple. You can try a site like Amazon or Goodreads, which will have reviews from a large variety of users. Or you can find a book reviewer you trust who reviews loads of books. Ms. Yingling Reads and Jean Little Library are two book blogs I trust for middle grade recommendations, and of course you can use the search function here on Everead anytime you'd like.
- Ask a friend about the books she is reading. I'm happy to be that friend. (Sign up for my email list and make it easy for us to chat!) The other day I was talking to a friend of mine and she was complaining that her son's class was studying the Percy Jackson books. I asked her why that worried her. She said that her son had already read the books, and that when she flipped through them they seemed to be just one violent episode after another. I assured her that I had read the books and that they were solid. They're the kind of books that a class could study and get something out of, even if it's not your son's first read-through. Also, I thought carefully about her violence concerns and once I had considered the books and what I know about her son and her family, I didn't think they were inappropriate in any way. The Percy Jackson books are fast paced, and there is plenty of fantasy violence, but they're explicitly teaching against violent behavior and advocating for good values of friendship and loyalty and being kind to others who aren't like you. So, take some time to talk with a friend, or phone your local children's or teen librarian and discuss your concerns. You may be pleasantly surprised about what she's reading. And if you're getting warning signals from the adults of the kidlit community, you'll have some specifics to talk to your daughter about.
- Teach her about danger in books. What things do you think "cross the line?" Talk to your daughter about what you think, and ask her what she thinks. You could even say something like "At some point you'll probably run into [swearing/sex/violence/whatever it is], when you do, will you talk to me about it? Together we can see if you thought it was handled well and made the book better, or handled badly and made the book less likable." Don't shame her for coming across bad material in books. We've all picked out something that looked innocent but turned out to be too much. Instead of criticizing, use these times to teach her how to be a discerning reader.
2. I can't get her to help out! As soon as I turn my back she's reading again. Her room is a mess, her chores aren't done, she hasn't practiced piano...
If you can't get her to help out around the house, you have some unmet expectations.
- Make sure your expectations are clear. I just posted a new chart for my kids. It seems like after a little while we stop seeing our old reminders, and I think that's just human nature. We need to refresh and reset often. These charts tell my kids that if I catch them reading before their duties are done and make them stop there is no complaining allowed. They must complete the list before they can GO.
- Keep free time free. If you catch her reading and you're annoyed because you think she should be doing something else, ask yourself if that's true. Should she be doing something else just because you think she should, or should she be doing something else because she really is neglecting some other essential area of life? Remind her that there are many types of time at home. If it's "free time" let it be free and let her choose to read. If it's not free time but "family time" then tell her "this is family time," "this is game time," or "this is helping time." If free time is coming to an end, you can help her transition away from her book by saying things like "Find a good stopping place, soon." This is courteous, in the same way that knocking on a door before you enter is nice. It takes a little bit of the edge off of the shock of having to come back to reality. Another thing you can do is ask her about her book once she finally puts it down. I know first hand that reading a good book keeps you thinking about that book, that subject or that world. And having someone ask me about my book is a great way to transition from thinking about the book to thinking about what's going on around me.
3. I want more time with her! I have to be doing my own household duties, but any time I wish I could chat with her while I scrub pots, she is reading.
If you want her to spend more time with you (or other family members), you've got two basic options: spend time together not reading, and spend time together reading.
- Make non-reading time an expectation. For instance, put "chat with mom for 10 minutes" on the list of things she has to do before free time. Or make up stories together. Require your daughter to tell you about her day at school, but as if she were a character from one of her books. Engage her imagination outside of books. Help her see the drama and the stories that are part of life around her.
- Spend time reading as a family. Listen to audiobooks together in the car or while you work on household jobs. Read to each other during mealtimes.
4. I'm worried she's not learning important skills she needs. I know you can learn by reading, but some things are learned by practice. She's not practicing those things!
If you're worried she's reading instead of practicing life skills, define those skills.
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- Make a plan. I've been reading a great book about this called The Parenting Breakthrough: A Real-life Plan to Teach Your Kids to Work, Save Money, and Be Truly Independent by Merrilee Browne Boyack. It's targeted to an LDS audience, but I think it has valuable information for parents regardless of whether or not you belong to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. For one thing, it has a great list of things that children should be able to do at each age from 3-18. Boyack suggests that 11-year-olds should be arranging for their own haircuts. What a great idea! That's the kind of task that an 11-year-old probably has all the skills to complete, but most of us haven't thought of assigning it to her.
5. She's not getting enough sleep! She stays up all night reading and in the morning she is grouchy and slow.
If your child isn't getting enough sleep, I recommend doing all three of the following things. Sleep is serious!
- Check in. Of course she is going to get better sleep if you check on her now and then, and remind her to turn off the light. 11-year-olds still need their parents and they still need accountability. But we want to "teach them how to fish," too. We want to teach our kids to go to sleep without us, eventually.
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- Teach her how to go to sleep on her own. I found some good advice on how to do this in what is probably the most famous kids sleep book, Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child by Marc Weissbluth. I have translated that advice into this little poster, which hangs by my kids' light switch. Something like this might be helpful for an 11-year-old, as long as you don't shame her for not knowing how to do it already. Start from where you are and try to help her feel like following these rules at a reasonable hour will help improve her life.
- Help her experiment to find out how much sleep she actually needs. A quick search told me that 11-year-olds need between 9-11 hours of sleep each night. Well, that is a two hour range! And your 11-year-old would probably be thrilled to try out some different bedtimes, and different amounts of evening reading time, with your assistance.
I think we could go on here. But I also think that parenting is something that is most effective when it is between the parents and the child. You know your child. You know their limits and your limits. By now you know that what used to work might not work anymore, and that when something doesn't work, thoughtful parents try a different tactic. It's worth it to raise kids who are successful, independent adults!
That said, I think we can leave this post open for comments. What other reasons can you think of to answer The Big Question? What other advice do you have for parents who feel their kids are reading too much?
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Books I recommend for 8-12 year olds.