The following tips come from Cynthia Gill, the author of Jump-Starting Boys: Help Your Reluctant Reader Find Success in School and Life. Gill spent 30 years as a high school teacher and then got her master's degree in Adlerian psychotherapy and counseling in 2006. She’s since worked with adolescents, children and families as a licensed marriage and family therapist. Gill and her husband live in Excelsior.
Parents of boys are more aware than anyone when their bright, eager sons hit an invisible wall somewhere near fourth grade, after which they go from engaged to unengaged, discouraged, and disaffected. But as parents, we don’t always know what to do about that, and we hope the school will solve it. No! Let’s take back the power and pleasure of raising our boys, and figure out what we can do outside of school to help halt that potential slide down a slippery slope. Here are three solutions:
1) Engage him with books
Read with or to him for at least 15 minutes per day in a comfy, fun place, preferably somewhere he’s not usually allowed, like under a table. Reading with or to him can more than triple his reading improvement each month. If he fidgets while you read, let him; encourage him to draw, model with play dough or create with Legos. Moreover, don’t stop reading aloud to him when he is old enough to read. By reading aloud, you’re making him a stronger reader.
You can also make reading a friendship activity. One study shows that just 5 hours spent with a reading buddy allowed kids’ reading abilities to jump ahead 1½ years. It’s effective to match young struggling readers with slightly older struggling readers, too, as it helps the helper as much as the younger boy. Pre-select books that might interest both your son and his friends—especially with male protagonists—and let them choose. Boys tend to like adventure, thrillers, suspense, sports, horror, fantasy, and humor, as well as comic books and graphic novels; graphic novels can develop a child’s critical thinking skills in particular ways. You can also provide magazines related to a favorite hobby or special interest; this can often kick-start reluctant readers into high reading gear.
2. Limit screen time.
Screen time increases kids’ aggression, obesity, and impulsivity while decreasing their attention span. You can let you son “earn” extra screen time by reading: one hour of reading earns a half hour of screen time. But screen time doesn’t always mean “no reading.” Interestingly, watching television shows with captions on the screen, including Manga cartoons, improves reading skills. Turn off the sound; make him read the subtitles.
But before you lecture your son or whip out new rules, look at what you’re modeling. Pin a chart on the wall to track everyone’s screen time, including yours. Use it to cut back screen hours for all of the family at the same time. Provide a family electronic-device drop-box at the front door for certain hours of the day—at least for dinnertime.
3) Discipline more effectively
When correcting, any parents make one of several mistakes. The first is they tend to focus more on the behavior than the child’s heart. Punitive, harsh, drill-sergeant type of discipline is very discouraging for the child. The other extreme is to give in to the child’s desires, not correcting them effectively. Then there is the parent that hovers: over-involvement also leaves the child discouraged. The child that defies parental limits is crying for encouragement.
One key is nurturing the relationship the rest of the time. Connection is attained by laughter, eye contact, physical contact, and doing things together. Play together. Do projects together. Let them choose activities to do with you. This will assure that there is enough deposit in his/her “love account” so you won’t “drain it” or go into “overdraft” when it is time to correct your child.
The number one rule when correcting is to keep yourself calm! A child is frightened and goes into fight or flight mode instantly when the parent is angry. Secondly, use tools of connection to correct the child. This may be a question, such as “Are you asking me or telling me?” or “How do you think we can solve this problem?” It may be a choice: “Do you want to clean up the bathroom or do the dishes?” It may be a time-in, where the child sits near you until he calms himself down and is ready to talk.
We can reclaim the joy of seeing our sons succeed! Parents are the most important people in their kids’ lives, and by applying smart strategies, we will see our sons thrive in today’s world.