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Parent Rap: Limit screen time for reading success

In our last column, a mother wrote to ask for tips to help instil good reading habits in her son. "My six-year-old son is extremely energetic and active," she wrote. "When he has to sit still, he gets fidgety.

In our last column, a mother wrote to ask for tips to help instil good reading habits in her son.

"My six-year-old son is extremely energetic and active," she wrote. "When he has to sit still, he gets fidgety. We're working with him on learning to read, but find it extremely difficult to get him to sit still long enough to read a sentence. Any suggestions for instilling good reading habits?"

Here's what our parent educators had to say:

Your child is behaving in an age-appropriate way. Many children, boys especially, are not developmentally ready to learn to read until age 7 or 8. Saying that, there are many things parents can do to "prime the pump" as far as literacy goes.

Starting at birth, reading is an important part of every child's life.

These suggestions apply to children from birth to at least middle school, if not beyond.

- Read aloud to your child every single night. This has a dual advantage of encouraging an interest in reading as well as creating great opportunities for closeness and connection. Make sure the books you read are about things he is interested in. Don't worry if he needs to squirm as he listens. This is completely normal for many kids.

- Severely limit screen time. This includes TV, video games, tablets, etc.

- Play literacy games with your child. You can make them up or you can find ideas online. The Ministry of Education has some great activities at Learn Now B.C. ( learningcentre), or check out the teachers' store downtown.

- Get involved in your local library. Most libraries allow families to borrow a basket of books that can be rotated regularly, ensuring there is always something enticing to read.

- Model reading for pleasure. When children see their parents reading for pleasure, they are more inclined to want to read themselves.

- Provide lots of opportunities for your son to engage in active play so that he will be ready to settle for a bit to play quieter games and reading activities.

- Make time each day for him to look at books that appeal to him. Given a choice, most kids would prefer to watch TV or play on computers. That is why it is so important to limit screen time.

- Is there a family member your son is closely connected with? A grandma or grandpa perhaps? Sometimes it is great to set aside a half-hour a week for them to read aloud to someone else. When my son was 7, he, too, was a developing reader. My mum invited him over every Saturday morning to read to her. Every time he finished a book, Grandma had a small treat for him. He loved these special times with his grandma and now that he is a 28-year-old, he still speaks of his times with his grandma with love and affection. Coincidentally, he has become an accomplished reader and enjoys reading for pleasure as an adult!

- Your son's teachers may have suggestions about activities to support reading. The important thing is to keep all activities engaging and short in duration until he is a bit older.

- Later, if reading still does not progress, you may choose to have his learning assessed by a professional. They will look at how your child learns and offer suggestions for assisting the learning process. For now, it is much too soon to follow that path.

Jean Bigelow School Principal Parent Educator

The most common dilemma parents face with their children is the issue of homework. Parents lovingly want to support their children. However, this support quickly turns into intrusiveness and power struggles.

The main value to homework is that it teaches children to work on their own. Direct help from a parent can often convey the impression that the child on his own is helpless.

When parents feel anxious about a child's schoolwork, they often start to nag. This can cause a rebellious or resistant reaction in the child and the power struggles can last throughout childhood.

Children need to carry a sense of autonomy and separateness from their parents. Parents shouldn't cross into areas of responsibility that belong to a child.

Homework is a kid issue. Parents don't make good tutors to their children.

So how do we support our children? We can provide a comfortable environment for them to do their homework. We can agree on a time of day that is best to do homework.

Structuring this time is the parent's responsibility, but doing the homework is the child's. We can show an interest without taking over or living through our child's successes.

We can allow failures that aren't devastating so that children can actually learn to think for themselves. Most important, we can accept a child's unique temperament and work with who he is.

A creative, active child needs to work in short spurts. As he matures, the ability to take on more will increase.

The most important thing you can do now for your son is to let him know right from the start that schoolwork is his responsibility and his teachers'.

This doesn't mean that you don't care and don't offer help, but the help is a response to an invitation from your child.

When a child asks for help, we can celebrate the fact that he is taking responsibility for himself.

Allison Rees Parent Educator LIFE Seminars


My nine-year-old is an extremely organized child who has always done well in situations as long as she is prepared in advance about what to expect.

The challenge is her desire to be in control of everything. She struggles with friendships (kids feel she can be too bossy) and with her siblings, who are 11 and 5. She often does things to show she is the person in control. For example, she will refuse to consider other people's ideas and will stop playing with them if they don't do what she says. Or, she will say to her sibling that she is going to sit in the corner of the couch so they can't - even though she's not planning to sit there for another 30 minutes.

It seems when she doesn't get what she wants, she feels compelled to hurt others by being rude, saying nasty things or controlling them by taking something away or not being co-operative.

She, herself, has said she doesn't want to behave this way but is not able to control it. She is frustrated with herself for treating people poorly and has asked me to help her, but I just don't know how. Plus, I have to admit, my own patience is an issue at this point. When I see her controlling others in a nasty manner, I immediately react by telling her to stop that behaviour and often my tone is not pleasant.

I've tried getting her to be empathetic and think about how she would feel if she were being treated the way she was treating the other person.

Often, she says she doesn't know - I'm not sure if she really is not able to feel that or if she is just saying that as a way to avoid dealing with it.

Any suggestions you have are very much appreciated.

Do you have any advice for this parent? Are you struggling with a parenting dilemma? Send your input to [email protected]. Please put "the parent rap" in the subject line. Questions about kids from infants to teens welcome.