Both DH and I are avid readers. I read mostly fiction, though I’m slowly gravitating towards non-fiction. DH prefers non-fiction, and reads practically anything, including the side of the cereal box at the breakfast table.
So, it was only natural that we both were interested in getting Lil D to read too. Right from the start, I did everything that is normally recommended. I surrounded her with brightly coloured, attractive books, I read to her as much as I could, signed her up at a kid-friendly library and took her as frequently as possible…you get the picture.
Lil D, to my dismay, did not take to books at all. She seemed to like books with pretty pictures, but that was it. The extent of her reading was to flip through at great speed, and then hand it over to me, expecting a pat on the back. I watched with envy as kids her age read books that I had been reading at her age, and longed to share the experience with her.
It struck me that perhaps she didn’t like stories that much, so I bought her some “how-things-work” kind of books, hoping that might strike a chord. No such luck, though there did seem to be an initial spark. Both DH and I mentioned in passing to her how books helped, not just with information, but for entertainment that wasn’t dependent on anyone else. But nothing seemed to work. Lil D’s aversion to reading remained. I thought giving away some of her books might spark some interest, but she seemed all too glad to dispose of the pile that I had bought so lovingly! It made me feel I was doing something wrong, that I was inadequate as a parent somehow. After all, wasn’t reading supposed to be good for a kid?
Finally, one fine day, I gave myself a good talking-to. What did it matter if she didn’t like reading? I didn’t love her any less because of that. So why was it becoming such a big deal? She was a different kind of person, someone who loved touching and feeling whatever she was working with. So perhaps books were really not her cup of tea. She would definitely get her quota of information and entertainment through some other channels. She loved art, so her imagination could receive a work-out there, not necessarily through books alone. I decided then and there to back off. I would no longer pass subtle hints about books any more. I would not point out interesting books to her. I would not ask her what she had read. I would not burden her with my expectations. I would just let it be.
There was no dramatic difference once I made that decision. My acceptance just made things easier, and I suspect that though I had earlier never overtly pressured her into reading, she had been able to somehow sense my expectations. To me, it was clear that I loved her whether she read or not, so it was immaterial.
About six or seven months later, there was a wave of interest in Geronimo Stilton books amongst her friends. Lil D too jumped on the bandwagon. Knowing this to be one of those phases, I bought a few books for her which she raced through in no time. I knew that was only due to peer pressure, but I was happy for that. I stuck to my no-interference policy strictly.
Though Lil D sometimes showed spurts of interest in reading, I never caught her actually sitting down and reading at home. She was always a flurry of activity, rushing here and there like a mini-tornado. Sometimes, she thoughtfully brought home books from the school library for me to read! All in all, there was no reason to suspect that anything had changed.
The first real sign came when I had gone shopping with my sister recently — a little less than a couple of years after I took the decision of non-interference. Lil D had wanted some Thea Stilton books, and I had bought them for her. As my sister and I began our shopping, Lil D surprised me completely. She sat on a little stool for more than an hour and a half, engrossed in her books! I was quite impressed and told her so, to which she just grinned.
But what took the cake was her recent report card. The evaluations were all in line with what I knew about my little girl, but when I read one statement, you could have knocked me down with a feather! It said she was a voracious reader! I could not believe my eyes! When I asked Lil D if it was true, she nodded. Of course it was true, she had read so many books from the school library.
Now I notice that she does read a lot more than before. I catch her reading the newspaper sometimes, the back of the cereal box sometimes. Though she loves listening to music before she sleeps, sometimes she picks up a book instead. She takes a book along when she goes, so that she can read if she gets bored.
I still exercise my policy of non-interference, but it makes me so glad that I did the right thing; I gave her the space to make her own choice. It’s just a bonus that she’s begun enjoying reading; after all, I’d love her even if she didn’t.