On Being Normal

All he/she wants to read is (insert subject/author/brand name here) books. Should I be worried? Is that normal?

Parenting is stressful. Parents want the best for their children. They want them to be healthy and happy and successful and normal.

As I tell parents again and again, when it comes to reading, there really is no normal. There are of course developmental benchmarks, milestones and guidelines put in place by doctors, teachers, and literacy specialists, and if parents are concerned that their children are falling significantly outside of these guidelines, they should speak with their family doctor.

But in the case of a child who has a narrow field of reading interest, or one who doesn’t seem to be reading at exactly the same level as their peers, I try to gently remind parents that reading is just like any other skill or activity. Not every child learns how to ride a bike at the same age, or with the same level of ease. Not every child is a soccer star, or an artist, or a math wizard. Some children have a natural talent for music, while others are tone deaf and find piano practice a constant misery. These children are all different, but they’re also all normal.

While literacy is absolutely vital for personal and professional development and long-term success, the reality is that not every child (or adult) will love to read. I like to use exercise as an example to illustrate my point – some people love to exercise, finding it exhilarating and energizing. I find it tedious and uncomfortable. People always tell me that I just haven’t found the right physical activity, but no matter what I try, I inevitably hate it, and I would much rather be sitting somewhere reading. Still, I know that exercise is important for my health, so I struggle through it anyway, but I’ll never be a gym-goer.

My feelings for exercise mirror other people’s feelings for reading. They don’t enjoy it, despite constantly being told that they “just haven’t found the right book yet”. Still, they know it’s an important skill, so they struggle through it anyway. They simply have different preferences and enjoy different things – and that’s A-OK. Not everyone is going to be a voracious reader, just as not everyone enjoys soccer or playing the piano. That’s not to say they shouldn’t read – it just means they might need extra support or encouragement along the way.

So, if your child doesn’t want to read anything but dinosaur books, that’s OK – at least they’re excited about reading! There are a lot of things you can do with dinosaur books – there are picture books, early readers, chapter books, novels and nonfiction books of all levels all about dinosaurs to explore. You can read together, you can do mini book reports or research projects, you can watch documentaries or build models. If your child just doesn’t want to read, maybe they haven’t found the right material yet, or maybe their interests simply lie elsewhere. In these cases, fretting about whether they’re normal, or trying to “fix” them, is just going to make matters worse. Letting your children participate in selecting their reading material, providing a variety of different subjects, genres and formats to choose from, talking to them about what they do and don’t enjoy about reading, and modeling reading for them can help make reading less of a chore, and more of a pleasure.

In other words, don’t worry. Your child is normal, just the way they are.

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