I have three couple-friends, all with toddlers (12-14 months), who rarely ever involve literacy in their child's lives. As an educator and researcher I know how strong a correlation early reading has with academic life, and I'd like to see my friends children have access to all the opportunities reading has to offer.

Currently, every one of the couples spends their entire evening unwinding by zoning out on the couch. I think unwinding is completely deserved of all working adults, but some of that time could be put to good use interacting with books, papers, even mail.

I have the resources and experience to have the chat, but I'm wondering how to best structure discussion on the subject without making anyone feel targeted. How, as a parent with a legitimate interest in your child's well-being, best like to hear constructive criticism? And how would that discussion be structured?

  • Do you have children? How involved are you in your friends' lives in general?
    – Stephie
    Nov 18, 2015 at 5:51
  • I don't have any children myself. I live with one couple. So I'm around their child daily. The other two couples I see 3 - 4 times every two weeks. Nov 18, 2015 at 5:55
  • Are you talking about them not reading to the children or them not reading themselves? You talk about how they unwind, not about what they do with the children, so I'd assume the second, but you also write of the children's opportunities
    – YviDe
    Nov 18, 2015 at 8:07
  • Those things tie in together. The more children see adults reading in whatever form, as long as the experience is positive, promotes an interest in children. But, they do not read to the children either. Nov 18, 2015 at 14:44

2 Answers 2


Very, very carefully.

Seriously, one of the easiest ways of offending friends is criticizing the way they raise their children, even if you mean well.

I'm sure that you have only the best intentions for these children, but so do they. Or at least I hope so.

Being a parent is challenging in more ways that I would ever had though possible before I had my children. You try to do everything right, you have probably read a dozen books on the subject during the pregnancy and very likely you know the therory. Or many of them. (Your child didn't read the memo, so it will likely not play by the rules, btw.) Yet after a day of running after a toddler or juggling daycare, work and managing a household, you are simply beat.

Besides, you will be pestered by others who have different ideas about how a child should be raised, from family members to strangers on the street. If you doubt this, simply ask around what people think of sleep training, co-sleeping, breastfeeding and similar topics.

So how to get your message across? I see two ways.

  1. You work in the field. You could occasionally drop a comment in a conversation about coming across some interesting reasearch on fostering early literacy, ask them for their opinion and experiences and hope that they take the bait. You might learn a few interesting aspects yourself that aren't in the papers you read. Don't pressure it if they don't. Do not make it a discussion about their way of raising their children, do not say "you really should do more...".
    They know that you are a potential source of information and might tap into it at a later time. Don't burn bridges now, be open-minded.

  2. Be the role model yourself. Be the example to watch for the child you live with and introduce books to the life of the other ones. Give books you think your friends will enjoy for Christmas and hope that they will find the time to read them so that their child can see it. And please make it light reading, they probably won't have the energy for "big literature" right now.
    Be the "uncle" who picks good books or good magazines for the child in question and continue to do so over the years. I had an uncle like that myself and will be eternally grateful to him.

And calm down. Yes, early literacy is a factor on academic success. But not the only one. Love of learning, encouraging curiosity and fostering an atmosphere of "discovering the world" are important as well. Nothing is ultimately decided in the first years.

Your friends would perhaps benefit more from you babysitting for them (hint: let the children see you read if you find the time) than from more information on what they should do. A relaxed parent will do a better "job" and have the strength to do more of the "should do's" we all know.

  • 5
    I do not have children (yet?), but this sentence: "Your friends would perhaps benefit more from you babysitting for them [...] than from more information on what they should do." is IMHO so fundamentally true as few other sentences about raising children ever were.
    – F.P
    Nov 18, 2015 at 10:10
  • 4
    "Hey, I'm heading to the library/bookstore, would [Child] like to come along?" is an example-setting offer that I would absolutely love as a parent, for a number of reasons.
    – Acire
    Nov 18, 2015 at 12:13
  • 1
    Maybe you could volunteer to read to them at night. Personally, I think every child ought to be read a chapter a night. It's a great bonding experience (not such a big deal to you if not your kids) and if they are not normally "readers" it exposes them to more mature literature than they might otherwise read for themselves. Nov 18, 2015 at 21:29

I have been in a similar situation with one friend mother of two young girls, while being a mother myself and encouraging early reading with my toddler. I approached it in these two ways over months:

  • I bought books as presents (e.g. at anniversaries) for her girls, always stressing how much my daughter loved this particular book. As the present was being opened under my eyes, I showed enthusiasm and went on stressing why this book is so great, etc.
  • Whenever she would visit at my place, I'd go to our reading corner, take out books and involve her girl(s) as well.

All of the above made it so that it slowly sank in that the girls are actually enjoying it. I also pointed out how reading, or having books available within the kids' reach, actually can give you some free time as kids can engage with books on their own (and the older they are, the more they do so).

I don't think you should get involved with if, how much, or why the adults do or do not read (although it is true it impacts the children's interest in books), if you are not to risk losing your friends.

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