Family life

The trouble with kids who can read

Tracy Chappell realizes there are some downsides to having a kid who loves reading.

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Anna sneaks in some quality reading time wherever she can. Photo: Tracy Chappell

Follow along as Today’s Parent senior editor Tracy Chappell shares her refreshingly positive take on parenting her two young daughters. She’s been blogging her relatable experiences for our publication since 2005.

I always hoped my girls would love to read, knowing the endless words and worlds it introduces into their lives. The habit of immersing themselves in a book is the best one I could hope they’d pick up. I’m not sure if it’s a nature versus nurture thing, but I know so many moms (many of them voracious readers themselves) saddened by their kids’ complete indifference to reading for leisure.

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I’m lucky so far. My seven-year-old, Anna, was an early reader and our bedtime stories have always been the favourite part of her day. Over the past year, she started picking up short novels to read on her own, spending entire car rides with her nose in a book, or taking one to the beach for when she needed a break from the sun. It made me so, so happy (and not just for the wonderful peace and quiet it brought).

Anna being able to read can be very useful; she’ll help Avery with instructions in activity books, remind me of things coming up on our calendar, and read out recipes to me when my hands are covered in goop.

But I’m a list person. And a visual person. I need to have my to-do lists and items in sight to stay organized. I soon discovered how Anna’s awesome reading skills could seriously thwart things for my daily productivity.

It was at before Christmas last year when she came across my Master Gift List on one of our cluttered counters (I never thought she’d fish around through there!). Luckily, I was nearby as she started to read aloud and I snatched it out of her hands. Then there was the incident last year when she read the word “bitch” on the wall of a bathroom stall, which opened a whole swearing can of worms at our house.

More recently, she likes to read the newsfeed on a TV station we often have on, which provides little snippets of news at the bottom. I know many parents who believe that we shouldn’t shield kids from the news, but I’m not really one of them. I think Anna is old enough for us to have lots of discussions about things going on in the world, but not all of them. So I’ve had to be more careful about her whereabouts when I’m watching the news if certain topics are dominating the headlines. She’s been excited to read about twins born in different years over New Year’s Day and dogs being saved from floods. We’ve also had very impromptu conversations about divorce rates, sinkholes, smartphone lawsuits, human smuggling and of course, the polar vortex. The hard part is how sad she becomes when exposed to the many tragic stories on the news, and I can see how it affects her and sits with her. As I said, I’m being more careful now.

Anna’s reading exposes her to things that I’d like to keep private for other reasons than letting a cat out of the bag, too. I’ve learned to keep my private thoughts on pads of paper in my purse or work bag instead of posted on the wall, but my phone is another matter. I remember being amused the first time she heard my phone beep and said “Aunt Kimmy’s texting you!” and brought it over to me. But then she started to think that mi text es su text, and that just wasn’t cool. Sometimes she’d try to race me to my phone to read a text. It’s not that I had lots of juicy stuff coming in, but I started to get my back up and say, “Those are my private messages, they’re not for you.” It felt strange to put up a secretive wall like that, but she needs to respect my privacy too. What if the text from Aunt Kimmy read, “I just picked up Anna a cheetah Beanie Boo for Christmas!” or “I’m going to lose it if these kids don’t go to bed,” or something like that? (Not that my sister would EVER feel that way about her kids, ever.)

Or worse, what if it’s a text from her dad, that reads “Holy [expletive] it’s cold out here,” which is what happened last night. We were playing cards at the table and she was innocently getting a drink of water at the kitchen counter when she noticed my phone light up. She picked it up. She just can’t resist, and I didn’t worry about it because I figured it was Sean saying he was on his way home. She read it out loud and my eyes flew open and I burst into laughter.

“What?” she laughed too, not quite understanding what she was saying (see how much I shield my kids!). She repeated it. I can hardly catch my breath by now, I’m laughing so hard.

“It’s a bad word,” I sputter out. “The worst one. Don’t repeat it.”

“If it’s so bad, why are you laughing?” she asks, then we both burst into giggles again.

And that’s what I get for raising a reader.