This is the time of year when many Jersey parents wind up fighting with their kids over summer reading that’s assigned by their teachers, that hasn’t been completed (and in many cases, hasn't even been started).

So what’s a mother or father to do?

“Parents should try to help their children enjoy reading, not make it some kind of a punishment, or something you do for a prize or payoff,” said Dr. Steven Tobias, director of the Center for Child and Family Development in Morristown. “If you’re talking about bribing kids to read, they’ll read for the bribe, not for the enjoyment of reading, and you may inadvertently send the message that reading is a bad thing.”

Okay, that sounds wonderful, but practically speaking ... what should you do try and put this idea into action?

To help kids get into reading and actually like the books they’re supposed to over the summer for school, Tobias said parents need to walk the walk, not just talk.

Model Reading

“Set aside time for everyone to read together,” he said. “After dinner the whole family can sit and read. Everyone can read different books, or the newspaper or magazines or whatever, so it’s kind of like family reading time.”

In other words, “That’s one way that kids get to see that, 'Gee everybody reads, and it’s a good thing to read, and that people can enjoy reading.'"

Read the Same Book as your Child

Tobias said reading the same book as your child "gives you something to talk about, and it also helps you check for comprehension. In other words, is the kid really reading and understanding what they’re reading?”

“You know it’s kind of like when you watch a movie, you talk about the movie afterwards, and it gives you kind of a shared experience," he said. "If the parent and the child read the same book together and talk about the book, things they found interesting, you know it can also build that shared experience and build that enjoyment of reading.”

Read to your Kids — At Whatever Age

“Even adults sometimes read to each other and that can be a bonding, positive experience,” he said. “Or alternating, I’ll read a page, you read a page.”

Listen to your Kid Reading Out Loud

“Making it more of a family activity, more of a social activity, I think, can help instill a positive association to reading, instead of not just something that’s work, an obligation,” Tobias said.

Keep Priorities Straight

“It’s following the 'first we work, then we play' rule,” Tobias said. “Here’s certain things you just have to do before you do certain other things. You know it’s like first eat your vegetables then you get desert. And you also probably want to limit access to electronics until reading and other chores and playing outside has been completed.”

He stressed, “It’s the best way to do it, rather than giving a specific bribe (like) 'If you read this many pages, I’ll give you this much money.' I think keeping it as a more natural ... minimizes the bribery aspect of it.”

But what about a more “creative” approach. Why don’t you get your reading done, and then we can have pizza!

“It depends how it’s framed,” he said. “If the kid is doing it for the pizza it’s going to undermine the appreciation of the book, 'cause if you ask them why are you reading, they’re saying to get the pizza.”

He was quick to add, howeverm “If the kid finishes the book, you can say 'Wow, you did a great job. I didn’t have to argue with you or anything like that. Hey, let’s celebrate and have pizza tonight'  In other words use the pizza to reinforce the sense of responsibility and the effort that went into reading."

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