Thursday, July 22, 2010

Forcing It

I am not a forceful parent. I don't necessarily think this is a bad thing, it's just the parenting style I have chosen.

Brynna has responsibilities and she knows that she is supposed to do those things. If she doesn't the consequence is punishment. I don't often choose to force her to do something. She takes the punishment, we go on, life is fine.

Most things that only affect her, she has free reign over. For instance, I remind her to brush her teeth, but since she started doing an okay job of it herself, I no longer pry her mouth open, shove a brush in and try to at least touch every tooth while she screams. Not worth it, in my opinion. Especially since she chooses to brush her teeth 95% of the time and has a perfect dental history.

There are a few exceptions to this non-forcing. I force her to brush her hair. Sometimes. I'll be honest, here, she really hates it, screams like a banshee the whole time and fights me tooth and nail, and so unless she looks like ferrets nested in her head the night before, I am just as likely to ignore the brush on the sink as make her sit down and start brushing. But, since she has only chosen to brush her hair a couple of times, mostly I force it.

I also force her to apologize. Because she hates apologizing worse than hair brushing, I think. And, of course, that doesn't only affect her.

Otherwise, what I try to do is give her choices and then make her live with the consequences. It's not as easy as it sounds, but my hope is that it will develop in her a clear sense that every choice carries a consequence, rather than a sense of don't let mom see.

This summer, though, I have been forcing her to read.

It started out innocently enough. We signed up for the summer reading program at our local library, because I'm that kind of mom and we've done it since she was two. I explained that this year was different, though, because this year she would be reading the books, not mommy. She chose 15 books as her goal, which I thought was more than reasonable. Way back at the beginning of the summer, that averaged out to 2 books a week throughout the program. Very doable I thought.

At the beginning of the summer, she was confident in her skills and excited to read. As the summer has waned, she has lost both confidence (swearing she can only read words she has read before and that she can't - CAN NOT sound anything out) and excitement (swearing that she doesn't really want to read ever).

At first, I tried to roll with it. Let her tell me when she wanted to read, let her choose the books, let her tell me what words she needed me to tell her, etc. As the summer has gone on, that's become me reading books to her one word at a time while she swears that she has no idea what "a" spells.

We've solved some of the problems, like me thinking we should do it at bedtime and her patiently explaining to me that she's too tired to concentrate then. Very reasonable, indeed. Now we do it as soon as we get home and that's helped some. I'm also trying to help her choose the books. Some of our books are deceptively short, but meant for parents to read to children, and therefore chock full of big vocabulary. It's actually better for us to pick a longer book with more manageable words, because she doesn't get frustrated as easily.

I've also made the rule that I refuse to, under any circumstances, tell her what a word is until she has at least attempted to sound it out. Yesterday, she looked at the word "Halloween" and said, "Ummm... Last night? What, I tried it?" So, I've had to change that to "make an honest attempt, actually using some of the letters in the actual word."

It's torture. The rule is that we don't turn on the TV until we've read a book, and last night I added dinner to the mix, because we were both so frustrated. I thought we'd never get to eat, but she finally finished reading Clifford Grows Up almost 40 minutes after she started.

We have four more books and eight more days. It's going to be a long week.

And I don't know if I'm doing the right thing.

I know that she needs to learn to read. I know that this year, she is going to have homework for the first time and she's going to have to learn that she has to do things that she doesn't want to do. I know that this is important. I think this is probably more important that brushing her teeth AND her hair, personally.

But, I want her to love to read. Like me. Like her dad. I want her to think about it with the longing that I spend most of my work day in, rather than an increasing sense of dread. And I feel like forcing her to do it, might just make her hate it.

The Husband pointed out to me last night that I am worrying about it too much. "It'll be what it is," he said. "It's okay if she hates to read, it's not okay if she can't read." He went on to explain that maybe I just have too many dogs in this race, "To you, having a kid who hates to read is like for a conservative pastor to have a gay son. You just can't line that up with your way of thinking." And, he's right. Not all kids love to read. And that's okay. I guess. I just don't really think it's at all okay and I'm not sure that saying it over and over again is going to get me there.

I can see how much she's lost over the summer in terms of skill and we've tried to do all those things you're supposed to do. She can be a good reader, if she'd only try. I just don't know how much forcing to do.

I hate asking for judgment on my parenting choices, because I'm not going to do what anyone tells me, I'm going to do what I want to do, what my heart tells me to do. All kids are different and mine is super-different.

But, what do you think about forcing your kids to do things? Do you do it? Do you try to never do it? What are the exceptions to the rule? How does it work in your house?


Mrs. Allroro said...

Here's my opinion, though I'm not a parent--do what you want with it. I say keep reading with her, but tell her the word right away so the meaning of the story is not interrupted (unless she starts to sound it out herself). That way, she might get more involved in the story, would hopefully start to like reading more, and then might want to start putting more effort into it on her own. I remember my mom doing that for me, and I ate books alive at your daughter's age. (I liked Amelia Badelia and crafting books.) I only read for enjoyment (and didn't read for school until my sophomore year in high school, and then I stopped again until toward the end of college), but I still do read for enjoyment, and still love it. If you want to instill in her a love of reading, i think you should try to make it as stress-free and enjoyable as possible for her. (And hopefully she'll turn out more like you than like me and also love to read for academic purposes.)

James (SeattleDad) said...

I would not force her to do things, it will only drive her away. Just make books a big part of her life and she will be interested in them. We turned off our television and the primary means of a story became a book.

Orlandel Creations said...

I 'forced' my son to write - the school demanded that he use denelian letters instead of the block that we had taught him - in kindergarten. By the time he got to 1st grade, he was barely writing. By the time he got to 2nd, short answer to him meant 4 words.

He just graduated - whew! - but his grades would have been so much better if he would only have written his homework out (and turned it in).

Suze said...

I'm not sure what to say. Sometimes I think I should force Daniel to learn to read, or at least actively encourage it more. On the other hand, he's only 4 and has time to become interested on his own. On the other OTHER hand he knows his whole alphabet and has been able to write his name on his own since he turned 3 and he can spell many words so isn't it about time he took some initiative in reading those words he's so eager to spell???

My brother was never much of a reader. I mean, he was capable, but try and they might, my parents just couldn't find books that interested him beyond Calvin and Hobbes comic strips. Once he got to college, he got a job at a mall bookstore and started reading voraciously. Sometimes it just takes a little time.

I understand your concern, though. Your daughter is obviously very smart (no surprise, considering you and Bob are her parents!) and it's perplexing when she doesn't seem interested in such an essential part of learning, esp considering how much you and Bob like to read. I don't feel like I'm really qualified to give you advice, but hang in there. I'm sure things will work out.

Jessi said...

Thanks everyone for your opinions. Last night we took a slightly different approach and it worked out a lot better. Hopefully, we can get through the rest of the summer like that.

She said she had fun after we were done last night. I think that part of the problem is that we really don't have great story books for her to read. We've got a TON of kids books, but it seems like the more phonetically geared ones are either non-fiction (what we read last night was about the hibernating habits of grizzly bears) or nonsense, like Go Dogs Go! I've been reading chapter books to her for almost two years. So knows story when she hears story.

Hopefully we can keep improving and she'll get to story pretty soon.

Laura said...

Hey Love,

Here is my 2 cents... a good "fit" is a book she can read 95% of, if not she'll get angry, you'll get frustrated, ect. There is no shame in going back to something she is comfortable with, she will master fluency, sight words, punctuation, etc through her familiarity with the text.
Knowing Brynna, anything can come across as a power struggle will light her fire, instead let it be and enjoy her reading things that are easy.
Also, get her to write. Even if you can't read it, have her draw you a picture and a few words about what she drew, have her read you what she drew. The best way to measure her language skills is what she can produce. Also get her to label her room. Write a word "door" and see if she can put it on the door. This will be easy for her and a fun game. Then give her the blank strips and have her write the words to label your room. This will engage her in a fun way... hope that helps!

Jessi said...

Laura - As always, great advice, especially with the labeling game. I think she'd like that.

I seriously think our book selection is part of the problem. She's just done with the nonfiction and nonsense. She wants story and I have nothing to offer that fits the criteria of what she can comfortably read and provides a good story. It's getting better, though. Little by little.