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As parents, there are so many “things” pulling at our time, sitting down and reading to or with our kids can seem like a luxury. Looking at the big picture though, many of the dreams we have for our children hinge on their ability to read and enjoy reading.

Being a strong reader helps a child develop intellectually, socially and emotionally, but encouraging a love of reading is about much more than improving a child’s intelligence quotient, social sphere or emotional well-being. Reading is about discovering who they are in relation to the world around them, what they believe in and, ultimately, what they want to do with their lives.

As writers Pamela Paul and Maria Russo write in their new book “How To Raise A Reader,” “School is where children learn that they have to read. Home is where kids learn to read because they want to.”

So how can parents help children read because they want to?

Start Early

One of the joys of parenting is reading to your kids when they’re so tiny they have no choice but to stay put. Whether you prop a book up on your baby bump, sit beside the crib or cuddle in your own bed, the best time to start reading to children is when they’re immobile. For infants and toddlers, consider sharing books they can touch, drool on and possibly chew, that focus on familiar images. Board books such as “The Very Hungry Caterpillar,” “Chicka Chicka Boom Boom” and “Goodnight Moon” are a few favorites.

Choose books with simple pictures of people, animals, places and objects around your baby. Just be aware, too much visual stimuli can be distracting. Remember, you’re immersing them in words. When they’re little amoebas, they aren’t going to know what you’re saying. They may or may not look at the pictures while you go on about something in a language they don’t understand yet.

Give it time.

One day they’ll point to their belly-button and all that drooling and gnawing will be forgotten.

Read What You Love

Your little one understands pictures and words, hooray! Now what? What stories should you share with your emerging reader? Go back to your favorite books as a child, “The Little Golden Book Collection,” “The Berenstain Bears” or “Grimm’s Fairy Tales” are classics. It’s always a good idea to start with what you know.

Young ones are always learning, and there’s no better way to teach them than through books you loved. You don’t have to read about bulldozers and trucks with boys, and babies and Barbies with girls. The same holds true for race, religion and culture. Identity should be given room to grow at any age but even more so when children are young.

Take them to the library or bookstore. Let them paw through the shelves. If you’re more digitally inclined, go online. Whether children smell the paper and turn the page or read from a screen and scroll, reading is reading. You can’t go wrong with “Charlotte’s Web,” or beloved characters like Harry Potter, Junie B. Jones or Percy Jackson. If none of these float their boat, find out what their personal reading tastes are and serve it up. If you’re having trouble finding something they like, talk to book lovers: teachers, librarians or bookstore owners. They can give you a few recommendations better suited to your child’s interests.

Give Them The Reins

We now have a whole genre of literature based around the interests of adolescents. It’s called “Young Adult Lit,” and it’s on fire right now. Books like “The Fault in Our Stars,” “The Hate U Give,” “The Book Thief,” “The Outsiders,” and “The Giver” are some of the most popular. For parents, it’s important to give children the freedom to come up with their own reading lists. Whether they’re interested in fiction, biographies, self-help, science-fiction, graphic novels, graffiti art or photography, books can help teens build a bridge between their present and future selves. We need to let go of the reins and let them direct their own reading journey.

Just because your kid loves The Hunger Games series doesn’t mean they want to fight to the death themselves. We read for friendship, enlightenment and escape — not because we want to do everything we read about. Young adult literature is all about rebellion, dystopia, romance and fantasy. Let them read by themselves, and don’t stress out when they don’t want to talk about what they’re reading. They need time and space to find their way, and we need to give it to them.

Talk, But Don’t Talk Too Much

Parents ask kids about what they’re doing in school, what they’re binge watching, who they’re dating and what their friends are up to, so why shouldn’t we ask them about what they’re reading? (Or if they’re reading!)

Having conversations at the breakfast or supper table, during the commute to school, in waiting rooms, on the sidelines or any other stray moment reinforces that you’re interested in what they’re interested in. Usually, when food is involved, kids are more inclined to talk. Or, if they’re trapped in a moving vehicle with you, their cellphone is dead and the radio doesn’t work, they might open up. Choose your timing well.

Sometimes, sharing with them what you observe, “I don’t see you reading much anymore,” is all you need to say to get the ball rolling. On the other side of the spectrum, maybe you’re worried they’re reading too much. The important thing is, you should say what you see as carefully as you can, and then figure out what they need from you. Whether they’re reading one romance novel after another or barely cracking open their school books, your children should know that you are their ally, not their adversary. You want to help them lead a rewarding reading life, not dictate to them what they do with it.

At the end of the day, helping children want to read comes down to surrounding them with good stories, giving them a variety to choose from, finding out what they like, and then letting them decide what and how much they read. This is one time where it pays to have your nose in a book. If children see parents doing what they love, they’ll be more convinced by this than anything you say to them about the value of reading.

It takes a reader to raise a reader.

This story was originally published in Bangor Metro’s November 2019 issue. To subscribe to the magazine, click here.