The struggle is real

My Kids Just Flat-Out Refuse To Read

What am I gonna do, hold their eyelids open and force them?

One your kid really hates reading what do you do?
Sally Anscombe/DigitalVision/Getty Images

I was unpacking my second grader’s backpack when I saw it: the miserable weekly reading log sheet tucked inside his folder. I knew it was coming. We were in the third week of the new school year but I was hoping we could somehow forget this nightly tradition.

It was bordered with cute graphics of books and lined down to the bottom. In the top left corner, there was a stapled reminder sheet, flapping around with bold and capital letters:

***WEEKLY READING LOG! DO NOT LOSE! Please return to school every Friday fully filled out.***

My heart sank. Because while some moms might find this just mildly annoying or (gasp) enjoy forcing this daily reading workout, I know that I need to gear up for the battle of my life. Because my kids don’t just put up the occasional complaint or little fight about reading — they entirely refuse. I am talking about SEAL-team-six-level commitment to their mission never to read. And I’m not sure what to do about it.

At 8 and 10, my older kids have at-home reading expectations from their teachers. And I’ve tried it all: begging, bribing, fighting, and ignoring. None of it has worked. I’ve also tried Audible books and reading aloud to them myself. But somewhere between their ADHD and stubbornness, the their comprehension really falls short.

This summer, my oldest was headed into middle school and was told to pick one book from a pre-approved list to read while he was on break. Then, he was supposed to create a meaningful written, illustrative, or artistic assignment to show his understanding of what he had read.

Well, I asked him fifty-two times to choose a book. I finally caved and chose one for him. Finally, I picked up Finally Something Mysterious by Doug Cornett, about a man who wakes up one morning to find thousands of rubber ducks on his lawn and the kids in the town who work together to solve the mystery. That sounds super fun, like something a 10-year-old would find interesting, right? Who doesn’t want to find out where the ducks came from?

I know this because of the summary on the back of the book and the illustration on the front cover. Well, I told my son every single day in August to do his reading. I downloaded the Audible version and even pressed play for him as he sat on his bed with headphones. And still, by the start of school, my son had not learned anything about his assigned novel.

So how did he do the post-book project, you ask? Well, I ordered him a bunch of rubber ducks, and he glued them in a box and called it a lawn. I guess he’s hoping his teacher doesn’t ask how the mystery was solved.

And I know it sounds like I’m enabling him or something. But I’m at a loss. Maybe he must suffer the in-school consequences of refusing his at-home reading assignments. I’m just not sure that will have a big enough impact. The scary secret of parenting is that sometimes you just can’t make them do stuff they’ve decided not to do.

And they’re missing out! I love books. There are so many wonderfully written early reader and young adult books filled with incredible stories that prompt imagination and creativity. Not to mention the brain and language development that comes with reading on a regular basis. Reading is one of those things that pays off not just in the long term but immediately, too, because it’s just so fun.

Ultimately, I’m hoping that they will grow out of the full-refusal stage at some point and find a more balanced relationship with books. And hopefully, they can channel this level of stubbornness and determination in their lives to ultimately stand up for important causes that they believe in. You know, other than anti-reading.

Samm is an ex-lawyer and mom of four who swears a lot. Find her on Instagram @sammbdavidson.