New York Times book editor shares tips on ‘How to Raise a Reader’

Research shows that reading can improve vocabulary, social skills and empathy. It can also reduce stress and the rate of cognitive decline — plus, it’s fun.

But how do you get a child to love it?

Pamela Paul, editor of The New York Times Book Review, shares some tips from her latest book, “How to Raise a Reader.”

Baby bookworm

You don’t need to wait until your kids can read to get them hooked on reading. Paul said babies “can get a lot” from reading, including physical contact and bonding time.

“They’re just getting that emotional connection with their parents. They’re seeing that this is something that you’re choosing to do. It becomes a ritual; it becomes pleasurable … it helps create a habit,” Paul said.

Plus, books can be used for more than their intended purpose. Little ones can develop fine-motor skills with board books that have flaps and pop-ups. Some books can be colored in; others are designed to go in the bathtub.

“It’s a toy to them, too,” Paul said.

“There’s a lot of child development expertise that has gone into publishing children’s books in recent years that recognizes that babies ‘read’ books in different ways.”

Reading shouldn’t be rewarded

It may sound counterintuitive, but Paul cautions parents not to reward their children for reading, no matter how badly you want them to crack open a book.

“That actually teaches kids something else,” she said.

“There’s a really important difference between intrinsic motivation and extrinsic motivation. If you’re doing something because you’re going to get a prize or you’re going to get a reward, you’re doing that thing to get to an end result.”

Instead, you want a child to read because it’s something they enjoy, not something you want them to do.

In her house, Paul, a mother of three, treats reading as a privilege. Her kids have a routine bedtime. However, they are allowed to read in bed for 30 minutes beyond that set time.

“So what does that do? One: It puts the choice in the child’s hand, gives the child control. The child is making the choice for himself. And then second: Reading is a privilege, staying up late is a privilege. Three: It builds the habit of reading before bedtime, which is a really great way to end your day,” she explained.

If you have a reluctant reader …

In today’s digital age, there’s a lot of competition for one’s attention — phones, video games, TV and more. If you notice your tween or teen is more interested in Instagram than “The Iliad,” Paul recommends setting some household limits on devices.

“You might say, ‘All devices shut down at 8 p.m.’ Now the hard thing for parents is that means you too, because kids are looking at their parents as role models. They see what you’re doing,” she said.

Also, talk to each other about what you’re reading.

“Little things you can do at the dinner table — instead of just talking about what Netflix show you’re all [binge-watching] or what you read online that day — talk about the book you’re reading. If they see that you, a grown-up who has so many options and seemingly no limits, is choosing to read, that sends a strong message,” Paul said.

YA is better than ever

Young adult literature (or YA) is better than ever. In fact, the YA genres are so entertaining that even adults are hooked. A 2012 survey found more than half of YA readers are adults.

“Those authors know what they’re up against, in terms of the internet and TV and video games, so those books are written to really want to be read and they also get at teenage emotions,” Paul said.

“It’s also a way for kids to work out a lot of issues. It’s sometimes easier to confront something tough in your life — whether it’s a social issue or a private/personal issue, body image or gender identity, all kinds of things — it’s easier to confront that or even to just understand it if you’re reading about it though someone else’s story. So YA is really powerful.”

Her message for parents is to recognize that YA books “are not junky,” they’re good. And providing highly readable books to your tween or teen increases the likelihood that they’ll keep reading.

Every now and then, it’s also OK to encourage your teen to read a grown-up book — even if the content is controversial or the concepts are advanced.

“That’s very enticing for a teenager to read something that feels like it’s beyond their years,” Paul said.

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