Suggested by Barbara H: How can you encourage a non-reading child to read? What about a teen-ager? Would you require books to be read in the hopes that they would enjoy them once they got into them, or offer incentives, or just suggest interesting books? If you do offer incentives and suggestions and that doesn’t work, would you then require a certain amount of reading? At what point do you just accept that your child is a non-reader? In the book Gifted Hands by brilliant surgeon Ben Carson, one of the things that turned his life around was his mother’s requirement that he and his brother read books and write book reports for her. That approach worked with him, but I have been afraid to try it. My children don’t need to “turn their lives around,” but they would gain so much from reading and I think they would enjoy it so much if they would just stop telling themselves, “I just don’t like to read.”Maybe they're not telling themselves anything, maybe they really don't like to read. There are many different kinds of brains. Reading may be associated with great pleasures for some of us - maybe because we were really good at it, maybe because it helped us to escape doing other things, maybe because it allowed us to be alone - it gave us pleasure, but not everyone is like us. As the book Proust and the Squid discusses, our brains did not evolve with reading "in mind." Collecting information while solitary from a bunch of arbitrary symbols that have nothing to do with the sounds they represent, then linking them into groups which have little to do with the concepts they represent, and then tying that to information others tell us we are meant to have or stranger still to imaginary people and places that come alive in our heads might be completely nonsensical to some people. It comes very naturally to us bookey types, but for others it is unnatural or even difficult. Perhaps they are more skilled with gathering information from what they hear. Maybe they are better at processing non-verbal information that represents concepts through two and three dimensional constructions. Not every one of those people has a learning disorder, although if that difference is very extreme then that could be the case, but there is a natural range of cognitive strengths and weaknesses and reading may not be your childrens' strength.
Forty years ago we had many fewer choices for either amusement or for information. There weren't 200 television channels and there was no internet. If you needed information for school or for your own interest, you went to an encyclopedia, The Reader's Guide to Periodical Literature, or to the card catalogue. You will notice, you even had to read to know what to read! Now we have so many choices and there is so much information. Reading may seem to a child to be completely overwhelming or completely unnecessary. Turn off your television, and limit their TV and hours on the computer.
So how to get a kid to read - I wish I knew since I love it too. With a younger one - read to them, read around them. With any age, notice what their interests are and give them books about that. Notice your child - do they like solitary activities or those in groups? They may not like to read because they have to do it alone. Perhaps there are some organized peer activities that involve books, the characters from books, or writing. Do they like pictures? Although some think it sacrilege, many kids begin to love reading through comic books. Are they impatient? Can they not sit still? Maybe they can act out the story of a book either as they read it or after they have read it. Any time they do talk about a story, television program, or film - do they go for plot, language, character, or design? See what it is they connect to. If they like pirates, get them a pirate book. Notice their style - do they want to do what you or their father does or would they sooner be caught dead? A child can define themselves by doing things and liking things that are different from their parents. That may be a way to identify with a peer group.
Ask yourself - do they really not read at all or do they not read what you want them to read or not feel the same way about it that you do? Do they read sports in the newspaper? Do they read information on the internet? How much reading are they doing in school? We cannot control what is fun for other people and there are plenty of people whose brains don't work like ours and whose taste are not like ours. My style would not be to assign a book and have a child write a book report. I used to have to practice penmanship during the summers. I hated it, it did not make my writing any better, in fact it made me hate writing more. My handwriting is still terrible and I survive. If you give an assignment, I would make it indirect, short, and interesting to them. Perhaps a conversation at the dinner table about an article in the day's paper or about a single paragraph in a book about something that would interest them, or someone they know. Tell them an hour before dinner, 'there's a little piece in the paper today I want to ask you about. Take a look at it before dinner.' And if you ask them a question, make sure you listen to their answer. Don't say anything about reading. Don't ask them if they liked reading it. Focus on the content and on them. If they ask you a question about something they want to know, pull down a book and show them the information on the page. If they don't read it, read it to them.
Lastly, it is important in today's world that people be capable of gathering information by reading, comprehending it, and using it to reason and problem solve, so if you have a real concern that your child has a hard time doing anything of these things - get them evaluated by a neuropsychologist. For the teenager, if they are adequate but you are concerned at their attaining enough competence in one of the above areas so that they will will have access to a certain level of education, explain that to them and get them involved in some specific activity for a limited amount of time each week, perhaps with a tutor, the way you would give someone a vitamin to supplement a poor diet or an exercise to strengthen a weak limb. But if they can read at an adequate level, have many things they enjoy and excel at, and simply don't relate to it the way you and I do, that just may be a difference that, in the long run, you have to accept. Although, over time, people have been known to change.