Build on interests to reignite love of reading
Q: My 8-year-old is having a tough time with school. He hates homework and puts it off as long as possible. Once he has done it, he doesn’t want anything to do with reading or being read to, which he used to enjoy. He says, "Yuck," if I suggest he read on his own and rejects offers to read to him even at bedtime. I am worried this lack of interest in reading will harm him in the long run, but I don’t know what to do. All he wants to do is play computer and video games and watch TV. The only healthy thing he does is to play baseball with his friends when the weather is good. Can you help? L.G., Chicago
A: It is not unusual for children who are being introduced to homework to react negatively to having their free time interfered with. Parents can soften the blow by sympathizing with their children’s resentment, making themselves available to answer questions or just offering to sit with their children while they work.
You are right to worry because your son seems to have generalized his dislike of homework to reading and being read to. He seems to have identified reading with work, and TV and electronic games with fun. The best way to make elective reading fun is to build on your son’s interests. Since he likes baseball, go to the library and choose some action books that have baseball as their subject. Additionally, look for books that match other interests he might have, such as pets or other sports.
If you haven’t already done so, limit the amount of time your son can spend watching TV and playing video games, so he has the opportunity to try some of the books you have selected. You might also buy some games that involve reading or words and offer to play them with him. Another idea is to get him some audio books he can listen to on a portable device.
Must my toddler say please?
Q: Our 3-year-old really resists saying "please" and "thank you." We have tried everything, from insisting he can’t have whatever it is until he says please and thank you to trying to make a game of it.
My husband thinks this is much more important than I do. When other people give my son little gifts, my husband won’t allow him to accept it until he says thank you. At home he won’t give him anything unless he says please first. I feel my son is still young and there is plenty of time for him to learn manners.
This is becoming a real disagreement between my husband and myself. What do you think? R.B., Oak Lawn
A: True manners are learned only by imitation. If you and your husband always say "please" and "thank you" to each other, to your son and to others, your son will pick up this habit on his own in the next few years. At that point, he will feel good about these forms of politeness because using them will make him feel grown up.
Three-year-olds do not naturally say "please" and "thank you" consistently, and trying to force them is likely to cause resentment and rebellion. You can make young children imitate polite speech, but they only say the words in order to get what they want.
Your goal is to inspire your son to be polite, in which case he will want to be polite even when you are not around.
How do I tell my daughter about my miscarriage?
Q: I was three and a half months pregnant and had told my 4-year-old she was going to have a little brother or sister. She was all excited about it. Then I miscarried.
I am very depressed, and it’s hard for me to talk about it without crying. She knows I went to the hospital, but we didn’t really explain why. I am afraid my depression will harm her, but I don’t see how I can tell her without letting her see how upset I am. Please advise. H.D., Chicago
A: You really can’t hide your upset feelings from your daughter. Children are very tuned in to their parents and they know when something is wrong. Children also have imaginations that aren’t constrained by reality, and your daughter could be explaining the change in you by imagining anything from your death to your being angry with her.
The best approach is tell her the truth without going into great detail. Tell her there was a problem with the pregnancy, the baby couldn’t grow any more and is no longer inside you. Explain that you have been feeling very sad because you were looking forward to having a new baby, and that you will be sad for a while but you will also feel better in the future.
If your daughter doesn’t ask questions, give her some space. She may have questions a day or, even, a month later. When she does ask, answer her questions simply but accurately. If your daughter cries, don’t try to take away her unhappiness with promises of another brother or sister in the future. It is healthy for her to feel the loss and to be able to share it with you.
Martha Heineman Pieper, Ph.D., and William J. Pieper, M.D. are the authors most recently of Addicted to Unhappiness: Free Yourself from Moods and Behaviors that Undermine Relationships, Work and the Life You Want (McGraw-Hill), which helps parents and other adults improve their own lives. They also wrote the best-selling parenting book, Smart Love: The Compassionate Approach to Discipline that Makes You a Better Parent and Your Child a Better Person (Harvard Common Press). The Piepers have spent more than three decades practicing psychotherapy with infants, children, adolescents and adults; counseling parents; and supervising other mental health professionals. The parents of five children, the Piepers live in Chicago.
Here’s your chance to get some answers to your pressing parenting questions. If you’re trying to figure out how to handle some aspect of your child’s behavior, send your question to Chicago Parent Q&A, 141 S. Oak Park Ave., Oak Park, IL 60302; or e-mail it to firstname.lastname@example.org. The Piepers will respond to three questions per month. Sorry–they are unable to respond to questions that they do not answer for publication.
For a more complete understanding of the Piepers’ philosophy and psychology, read their book, Smart Love: The Compassionate Alternative to Discipline That Will Make You a Better Parent and Your Child a Better Person.