As your child is becoming a reader – you want to be prepared for the changes so you can make it a positive experience for child and family.
It might never occur to some families to prepare themselves for their child becoming a reader. What happens to a family when a non-reader becomes a reader? The answer to this question seemed so obvious! The family is overjoyed, proud, delighted. Of course! But when a non-reader becomes a reader, it’s important to understand that the dynamics and relationships in the family may undergo changes — and to be prepared for those changes.
At the Therapeutic Literacy Center, we work with children and adults with a variety of learning disabilities and a varying degree of severity. Our goal for students is always that they will leave us comfortable, independent learners.
For students with more severe reading disabilities, the road from being a dependent learner to an independent learner may bring with it some unexpected emotions or challenges. The following is a summary of some of the emotional issues that can challenge a child becoming a reader; the process of going from non-reader to reader. If families are aware of these, it may help make the way smoother and more efficient.
1. Growing Independence
An individual who is a non-reader (or very poor reader) may, by necessity, become dependent on parents, siblings, or spouse to negotiate the world of print for him/her. As reading becomes easier, the help sometimes feels hurt by the new reader’s growing independence. Being aware that this may occur, helps the family to celebrate the changes instead of feeling threatened by them.
When a child is a non-reader, parents often do the reading for them or get books on tape for them so that they can still continue to participate in grade level curriculum at school. As these children begin to read, they must be encouraged to gradually take over more and more of the reading themselves, at the same time keeping in mind that reading will require a great deal of energy for awhile.
2. Fear of success
An issue that we sometimes see with students either at the very beginning of their program, or as they are becoming more capable with reading and writing, is the fear of success. We have had students, both children and adults, who, while they truly desire to become independent readers, are fearful of the changes they might bring.
One very bright nine year-old non-reader expressed that he was afraid to learn to read because it would change him into somebody else. He might not be himself anymore. Maybe people wouldn’t like him or be willing to help him anymore. We took things very slowly. We encouraged him that we would never want to take away his thinking style; only give him tools that would make things easier. Gradually, he was able to get over that barrier and began to read.
Another, more common fear of success that we have seen with children and adults seems to happen a little later in the program when they actually have gotten to the point that they have some fairly solid tools for reading and writing. These students have expressed the concern that if they can read or write, people won’t help them anymore. They might be expected to do things that are too hard or too long. Just saying they can’t is often a more comfortable solution than facing the possibility of being overwhelmed.
To help students to begin to use their skills without becoming completely overwhelmed, it is helpful for parents to “share” the reading with them. Parameters can be set up such as: The child has to start reading at the top of each page or the beginning of each section, but is allowed to stop and switch with the parent when he gets tired.In this way, the student is using his skills, but the parent is still doing the bulk of the reading. As the child becomes more competent, the parameter could be changed so that the child reads a paragraph and the parent reads two, or the child and the parent alternate reading paragraphs or pages. As they become more comfortable and reading takes less energy, children become more willing to take over more and more of the reading.
3. Changing Expectations
Some students are so used to being non-readers or dependent readers that they continue to view themselves that way, even as their reading begins to develop and they’re becoming a reader. Family members, also, are used to thinking of the student in this way and may help perpetuate the low expectations. When an individual in a family has traditionally not been able to read or write, other members of the family take over those functions for him/her. The family members learn that they need to read menus, write checks, read signs, and/or give a tremendous amount of assistance on reading and writing homework. It is not uncommon for family members to continue performing these functions, and for the individual to continue to expect that, even after he has begun to develop tools that will allow him to do these things for himself.
We see this issue most often in the area of homework. Children are used to having a great deal of help and having someone “right there” with them while they do it. They may be used to using their reading or writing difficulties as an excuse not to do homework at all. Using their new skills can be time and energy consuming at first, and because working independently is a change, many children rebel against it. The students may continue to use “old habits” to get out of their work, or get someone else to do it for them. Old habits die hard for family members, too.
Parents are used to protecting their children from failure and poor self-esteem related to homework. The coping strategies that families develop are important and valuable, but must be let go of as the child’s academic abilities increase.We find that that is hard sometimes for parents to shift their view of their child from being severely reading disabled to being able to do some parts of their homework on their own. This is especially true because children often rebel most about becoming independent and doing their work at home. It is critical that as individuals are able to do more, they be allowed and expected to do so. This is the only way that their skills will really become independent tools for them, and even more importantly, that they will begin to view themselves as competent learners.
Turning Homework Over To The Student: Encouraging Independence
Adopt the motto that Homework is not an Option. It is not a personal issue. It is not a relationship issue. It is simply what school children do. It is not an option, so whether or not to do it does not bear argument or discussion.
- Make homework as routine as possible. Have a specific time and place for homework to be done.
- Find out from the teacher exactly what your child can be expected to do independently. Help your child get started if needed but have him complete the assignment on his own. Be available to help, but work with your child on asking you very specific questions as opposed to saying, “I don’t get this.”
- Reinforce your child’s attempts at independence with praise and social or tangible rewards if necessary.
- Calmly but firmly insist that the homework be completed. (If the amount or difficulty is reasonable, work with the teacher to make daily homework appropriate to your child’s independence level). Help your child understand that if he is procrastinating on his homework, he is choosing to give up play or TV time. However, parents do not need to choose for their own time to be wasted as well.
- If your child is very dependent on your presence in order to work, wean him/her away from this by setting a timer and coming in to check on him every 5 minutes at first; then gradually increase the time. Or, have the child do one item with you, then complete the section on his own. He may come to you to get started on each new section as needed.
What happens to a family when a non-reader becomes a reader?
…With patience, firmness and encouragement, the parents get out from the homework burden.
…The individual becomes a more productive and confident student or worker.
…The relationship between the past non-reader and his/her family becomes less dependency-based, perhaps opening the door to some exciting new ways of relating.