5 things I did to get my daughter excited to read again- you won’t believe what happened!

A couple weeks ago I received report cards for my kids. I noticed in 2 categories for reading my daughter received a lower than average score. I tried really hard not to let it bother me, but could not ignore the icky feeling I had in my stomach. For me there were 2 main issues that needed addressing, one had to do with my daughter and the other resided in myself.

I wanted to rectify both issues and first one needed to answer the following question:

How was I going to get Kamea excited about reading again?

Daniel Pink’s fascinating book called Drive explains how people are intrinsically motivated to do their best – a key point explained in the book was that the reality of what really drives behavior is that,  “once basic financial needs are met, people are more motivated by having a desire for Mastery and a sense of Autonomy/self-direction towards a driving Purpose (MAP)”

Does this apply for children too? According to Pink, incentives are ineffective and if used do not yield positive [long-term] results when it comes to productivity. Therefore, I needed to do something that didn’t involve ‘rewards’. Here’s is what I did:

1. I told her how she used to be such an amazing reader and asked her what happened? (Self-Direction)

In the quiet moments and conversations with my daughter I went on and on and ON AND ON at how amazing she used to be at reading. How fabulous she was reading difficult books and how much she used to impress her teachers, friends and all those around her because not only was she a good reader but she loved to complete reading multiple books at a time.

When I asked her what happened I noticed a shift in her body language to discomfort with what I was telling her. She became audibly defensive and upset with this claim and said “ I do know how to read good mama….I do! I do! I do!”
I wanted to remind her that she had it in her to be a good reader, it was now up to her to decide how she wanted to respond with this new information. I gave her NO direction or task to complete…it was completely up to her on how she wanted to respond to our conversations = self-direction or self-determination.

2. I gave her negative feedback (Purpose)

After reading the chapter on ‘giving children [too much] praise’ in the book Nutureshock by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman I became more aware of when it is more appropriate or beneficial to give a child praise that will positively affect their development….but can negative feedback be just as valuable?
I told Kamea that I was not impressed with her lack of motivation for not WANTING to read. How it mad me SAD that she does not seem to enjoy reading anymore. I also stated OVER and OVER how much ‘mama, all her friends, her teachers, family members loves to read so much and reading is so much fun because you can learn about so many interesting things”

This gave her a purpose to not only show her mama that she can do it, but it because clear that she wanted to prove to herself that she in fact was able to read really well. As a result of this feedback, Kamea developed a purpose.

3. Choose challenging vs. easy reading goals (in my mind anyway!)

My mother gave her a short novel called ‘Mia and the Big Sister Ballet’ with 32 pages developed for kids 4-8 years old. In my mind, the book was SUPER above her level by sheer volume alone. Kamea seemed to know know this book was something BOTH of us thought was a major challenge – that if she were able to pull it off it would impress the socks off of both of us.

So what happened? (Mastery)

She found the ‘Mia’ book ON HER OWN and began reading.

And reading.

And reading.

And reading.

It has come to the point now where she won’t stop and she will read the entire book before bedtime! She challenges herself repeatedly to read the hard words by sounding them out in order to get through them on her own – she hates when I correct her but will still ask for help. It still amazes me that she has perfected some words in my mind I thought she could never read. She has now on her way to Mastering the “Mia” book and we both could not be more impressed.

So it appears that maybe Pink’s theory can apply to kids, but there was more to this issue. I knew I needed to address my own issues as a parent.


4. Don’t underestimate what your child in capable of.

I received the “Mia” book on her 5thbirthday and right away dismissed it to high of a level for her read. It sat on our bookshelf for 3 months and would of for much longer if her report cards did not come when they did.

Going through this was a gentle reminder that it is okay to give your children challenging things to do. I recently allowed Kamea to use a very sharp knife in the kitchen to cut some cucumbers…was I scared OF COURSE but I let go and she is now on her way to mastering this skill.

However the last point I have to make is the very reason I wrote this blog.

5.  Be careful of becoming a parent that does not reflect your true values

This year I read parts of Glen Doman’s best selling book, “How to multiply your baby’s intelligences”. Doman writes children learn best by repetition, routinely introducing and practicing ‘learning’ about various subjects. That being said I know that each kid in my daughter’s Montessori is required to bring home a book bag that has to be signed off every week by the parent. Kamea was not bringing home a book bag for the past….wait for it …8 months!!! YES, I emailed the teacher to get a new bag 2 months ago but did not follow up as I told myself we do enough reading with her at home but of course this can easily fell behind.


This is what I told myself. But when I saw the report card what do you think the first thing I thought about was?

The book bag.

Me not giving a priority to ensure I was on top of her ‘homework’ is in direct conflict of my values on education and more specifically reading. It is so easy to get consumed we forget what really matters most.

Dr. Ned Hallowell states that our current technology has designed interactive screens that sets off the “same dopamine circuitry that drives ADDICITION to capture your attention, you don’t give it away it is seduced to you”.

During the short time my children are awake there was numerous times I caught myself sneaking away for long periods so I could go on my own digital devices, Multiple times my husband had to snap me out of it for tuning out while the kids were vying for my attention as I was engrossed in a group chat, emails or blogs on my iPhone.

So I made a conscious effort to delete the more ‘addictive’ apps on my phone to minimize the attention I was giving to it to focus more on my children. Not for any other reason because they are what I value most in this world. I know

I have to actively work on being more present-daily.

Questions to think about:

  • How can you motivate your children to complete tasks without ‘telling them what to do?’
  • Is there a way to develop a purpose within children that can positively affective their social development?

In what ways can you introduce more challenging activities in your child’s life that will push the outside of their comfort zone?