The simple plan that gets game-loving kids into books!

strategies to help kids love reading

When Plants Vs. Zombies started eating our son’s brain, we had to help him overcome a gaming obsession and make crucial decisions about the kind of person he wants to be. I am so proud of the changes he’s made and the boy he’s become.

He’s doing great, but even so, we are experimenting with a new plan—a strategy that is not only keeping his technology usage balanced, but is also… (but wait, there’s more!)… inspiring him to love reading.

Yes, you read that right.

A game-loving boy who also loves to read!

A strategy that helps him maintain a healthy, balanced relationship with technology and develop lifelong reading habits!

I know, it sounds too good to be true. And I sound like an infomercial. Sorry. I’m just really that excited. We are so thrilled with the new plan that I had to share it.

strategies to help kids love reading

Even though technology isn’t a problem right now for our son, his interest in reading recently hit a low point. Last year, he got hooked on the Harry Potter series. He spent months devouring all seven books, and I must confess… during those months, watching him laugh and cry and gasp over my favorite books, I was the World’s Happiest Book-Loving Writer-Mama. But ever since he finished all 8 million pages of the Harry Potter series, it’s been tough to get him excited about another book. But Minecraft… yeah, he’s still excited about Minecraft.

So here’s the new reading-meets-gaming plan:

Every week, he gets to “earn” his iPad time for the following week by reading. He can earn up to two-and-a-half hours of iPad time per week, depending on how much he reads. (That works out to about 20 minutes of reading/gaming per day.) If he reads 2.5 hours this week, then he gets to play 2.5 hours on the iPad next week; if he only reads an hour this week, he only gets an hour of iPad time next week.

So far, the new plan is working beautifully. Our son remembers how fun it was to be excited about books, and so he has embraced the new plan. Because he is a diligent kid, a goal-oriented person who thrives on systems and schedules, he loves the idea of planning ahead and having some control over his own choices and free time.

But best of all, after just a few days of reading, he has already rediscovered the joy of books. He keeps coming to tell me what’s happening in his novel, wanting me to laugh with him at all the crazy parts. Here’s hoping that this new plan helps to inspire a lifelong love for reading and habit of reading, while also allowing him to enjoy a healthy system of reward with the games he loves!

What a balanced relationship with technology looks like 

In case you’re still suffering in the My Kids Are Obsessed with Games and I’m Losing My Mind Stage (a thousand sympathies, friend), I thought I’d back up for a minute to paint a picture of what a healthy relationship with technology looks like. After some painful mistakes, many heart-to-heart talks, and a lot of family soul-searching, here’s where our son is now:

He still loves to play, but the games are no longer the highlight of his life or the center of his thoughts. He has developed a conscience about what is healthy and pleasing to God, and what is not. He has learned to monitor his own time and mindset, to evaluate whether or not he’s becoming obsessive and selfish, and to take breaks when he needs to free up brain space. And even though he’s doing well, my husband and I continually reevaluate how things are going. Every few weeks, my husband checks in with him to discuss basic questions like,

  • “How are you feeling about iPad games?”

  • “Are they taking over too much of your thoughts?

  • “Do you need to spend more time with people, or more time playing outside?”

— Click here to check out 26 Questions Every Parent Should Ask About Technology.–

Those simple conversations have gone a long way toward helping our son develop his own convictions about having healthy priorities, godly thoughts, and an unselfish focus in his life.

If you try this reading-meets-gaming strategy with your kids, please let me know how it goes!

I’d love to hear about your experience. And if you have any other creative strategies for helping kids take a healthy approach to technology, please share them in the comments section below, or email me—I’m always looking for new ideas.

If you scroll to the bottom of this post, I’ve included a fantastic graphic on Children’s Media Usage from California Cryobank. It gives a fair, balanced perspective on the pros and cons of children’s media usage, with helpful suggestions for parents. I hope you find it as helpful as I have!

Looking to share this post? Thank you! Scroll down to the bottom of the page, underneath the graphic, and you’ll find the share buttons there. 


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When Your Kid Won’t Stop Whining

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When Your Kid Won’t Stop Whining

Strategies for dealing with whiny behavior in children

Me to my whiny five-year-old, facing off in the kitchen: “I’m sorry, but the kitchen is the No-Whining Zone. If you want to whine about something, you’re going to go have to do it in your bedroom. You can whine all you want in there.”

My five-year-old, heaving a deep sigh and heading toward her bedroom: “Okay.”

Me to myself: Oh, that was clever. Now she’ll leave me alone, and she’ll quickly get bored without an audience for her complaints. THAT will teach her not to whine.

Several days later . . .

My five-year-old, standing beside her closet, sniffling as she looks at the clothes I’m holding out for her: “Mommyyyyy, I don’t waaaant to wear that to school! I don’t liiiiiike it!”

Me: “Hey, what have I told you about whining?”

Five-year-old, her eyes widening in exaggerated innocence: “But Mommy, we’re in my room! You said I could whine in here!”

Me, my mouth flopping open. “Uhhhh . . .”

So much for my clever parenting strategy. Epic fail.

Whining is one of the tricky ailments that can plague our families for years, if we don’t deal with it head-on. And head-on means being firm, consistent, and more persistent than persistent whiners.

 How about this lovely scenario—does it sound familiar?

Kid: “Mommy, can I have some candy?”

Mom, distracted, trying to cook dinner while bouncing a fussy baby on one hip: “Uh, no.”

Kid, going squinty-eyed: “Why not?”

Mom, stirring a pot, yelps as spaghetti sauce splatters. Long delay before she answers, in which kid becomes hopeful. Eventually Mom remembers she was having a conversation: “Because it’s close to dinner time.”

Kid’s nostrils flare. Brief pause while kid regroups.

Mom attempts to put baby in bouncer. Baby begins to shriek.

Kid, sensing a moment of distraction and weakness, tries another tactic. Kid bats eyelashes and clasps hands beneath chin, flashing angelic smile:

“But it’s not that close to dinner! I prooooomise I’ll still eat dinner! Pleeeeeease, Mommy?”

Mom mutters to herself, picks up the baby again and starts hunting for a pacifier. Eventually she says, “The answer is still no. No candy.”

Kid, angelic face melting off, replaced by pink-cheeked irritation, bordering on anger: “But I waaaaaaant candy! Pleeeeease can I have candy? Why not? You let my brother have candy all the time! I never get candy! I never get to do what I want!”

Mom: Bites tongue to keep from saying something that gets her kicked out of heaven. 

Kid: Descends into moaning, sniffling, and wailing. This could go on for hours.

Sound familiar? Scenes like this have definitely played out in our house before.

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Reasons kids whine

Some children speak most of their sentences with a whiny tone. Every word is shrouded in woe-is-me shadow, as if they are constantly fighting against a world determined to ruin their life. But if we don’t deal with their tone and—more importantly—their attitude, they keep doing it. Like, forever.

Some kids are naturally more whiny than others:

  • maybe they are more sensitive or emotional;

  • maybe they have an over-developed sense of fairness;

  • maybe they hate not getting their way;

  • maybe they tend to be ungrateful for what they have and what you give;

  • maybe they don’t feel that their objections or feelings are heard.

Whatever their reason, we do them no favors by allowing them to persist in a whiny, the-world-is-against-me attitude. Remember That Girl in high school, the one who complained about everything? Sometimes known as Debbie Downer? We don’t want our kids to grow up to be That Girl!

I have a theory about kids who become “long-term whiners”: They become that way when we let them. If their whining is either rewarded or allowed, they keep it up. The earlier we show our kids that whining is a dead-end, the sooner they will stop.

Here are two mistakes we often make in dealing with whining: 

1-Accidentally rewarding whininess by giving kids what they want, without stopping to address their whiny tone and the attitude behind it. I usually do this when I’m distracted and in a hurry, and not paying full attention to the way the child is speaking. (I pick up the whiny toddler without making her stop crying and ask nicely; I hand food first to the kid who complains the loudest and most convincingly about imminent starvation; I tie the four-year-old’s shoes without reminding her to stop rolling around the floor moaning and just ask me nicely for help.)

2-Ignoring (and therefore allowing) “background whining.” What’s background whining? It’s when a kid is off in another part of the room, moaning and complaining. Because they aren’t doing it to our face, we don’t notice it as much. After a while, it just becomes part of the background noise in our household. We can’t even hear it anymore.

We can avoid these mistakes by remembering two simple principles:

  • When we reward whining, kids keep doing it.

  • When we ignore whining, we allow it by default.

The attitude behind the tone

Persistent whining can be an outward symptom of an inward problem: a heart problem. It can be a symptom of ingratitude, or resentment, or selfishness, and sometimes even rebellion.

Keep in mind that disappointment is natural and normal, and we shouldn’t expect our kids to jump for joy whenever we say “no.” But there is a line they can’t cross. If their disappointment descends into whining and complaining, then they’ve crossed that line. Children have to learn to acknowledge disappointment, but then choose acceptance and a respectful attitude anyway.

God calls children to honor their parents. When children whine and moan and wail and huff and stomp about our decisions, they are not honoring us. In a way, they are resisting our authority by complaining about our rules and decisions. Some kids are even trying to wear down our resolve and manipulate us into changing our minds so they can have their way.

Remember, it is our God-given responsibility to say “no” sometimes, and to teach our children about boundaries. It is their responsibility to submit to our authority and accept our decisions. They won’t always like our decisions, but they do have to accept them with a respectful attitude. Keep this in mind: If they can’t accept our rules and authority with a submissive, surrendered spirit, how will they ever submit to God’s rules and authority? (Because they won’t always like God’s rules, either!)

Here are 7 simple strategies for dealing with whininess:

1-You can begin teaching toddlers not to whine pretty early (think 15-18 months for most kids). Teach them either to say or sign “please” when they want something. That one simple step will make a big difference! And don’t reward their whining by picking them up or giving them what they want when they cry, pitch a fit, or demand it rudely. Teach them to ask as calmly as they can, and to say “please.” They won’t do this perfectly, of course, but the sooner you implement it and the more consistent you are, the more quickly they will learn.

2-For little ones (ages two to six), implement a lot of “do-overs.” I have often told my kids, “No, you don’t get what you want when you ask like that. Try it like this . . .” And then I demonstrate how to ask in a pleasant tone of voice. They might have to try again five times before they finally get it right! We usually end up laughing while we’re doing this, because I make it silly—“Oh lovely and generous Mommy who is the best cook in the world, may I please have one of your divine brownies?”—but it’s a lighthearted way to get the message across.

3-This trick works great for younger kids who are persistent whiners—repeat offenders. When they ask you for something with a whiny, complaining voice, try this: Tell them that because they whined, they don’t get what they want right now. Set a timer for 2-10 minutes (depending on the child’s age), and then when the timer goes off, they can make their request again, with a different attitude.

4-With persistent whiners, don’t just address the behavior. Take your teaching to the heart level. Discuss their attitude: What’s the root of the whining? Older kids may need to discuss their feelings or questions, but then help them choose a different attitude and perspective.

5-Encourage gratitude. The more grateful our kids are, the less they will whine. (Need ideas for how to do this? Here’s a fantastic post about 11 Ways to Raise a Grateful Child.)

6-Don’t try to make everything fair all the time. Kids who expect fairness and equality with siblings or neighbors or classmates will end up constantly feeling cheated, and will end up with a chip on their shoulder.

7-Listen to yourself, too. Kids need to feel heard. If you are an overly authoritative parent, and you rarely explain or discuss your rules and decisions with your older children, you may be frustrating them. If you don’t take the time to talk them through difficult decisions and rules that they don’t like or understand, then you may be frustrating them. If you don’t let them explain how they feel and ask some respectful questions, you may be frustrating them. The Bible tells us not to exasperate our children (Ephesians 6:4). Now to be clear: These are NOT the kinds of conversations you should have with a two- or three-year-old—you cannot and should not attempt to reason with kids that young—but with older kids, a good discussion may be in order. Sometimes “Because I said so” is a perfectly fine answer. Kids have to accept our right to make choices “just because,” without justifying our every decision. But at other times, an explanation will go a long way in helping an older child’s attitude.

The Take-Away:

Take a listen to the tone in your house this week. Is there a lot of in-your-face whining, or maybe too much background whining? Don’t just let it go. Remember Proverbs 16:24: “Gracious words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones.” Here’s to happy homes filled with gracious words and grateful people! Here’s to entire houses that are Whine-Free Zones!

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What to Try When . . . Your Kid Is a Perfectionist, Part 3

A few more things perfectionist kids need our help with:

  • Perfectionists with soft hearts and guilty consciences need help learning to filter what they hear. My mom came home from school when she was a kid and tearfully told her mother that she was always in trouble and the teacher was always upset with her. When my grandmother called the teacher to investigate, she realized that my mother was doing great in school, but she was taking responsibility for the rebukes that were intended for others in the class. Classic guilty perfectionist behavior! A guilty perfectionist will often assume other people’s guilt—they have to learn to hear what THEY need to hear, and filter out what’s meant for other people. (And when they’re grown-ups, they might have to learn to filter sermons, and even strongly worded biblical passages, ha! I don’t speak from personal experience here or anything . . . )
  • Perfectionists need help learning that life is not a competition. The sooner they realize that God has given them great gifts, but even so, there will ALWAYS be someone who is better or faster or smarter—and that’s perfectly okay—the happier their life will be.
  • Group activities like school and sports, especially team sports, are a great environment for perfectionists to learn how to handle life. The more exposure they can have to the wide world, the better. The thing about sports is, unfair things happen all the time: referees make bad calls; coaches put someone else in instead; the ball bounces the wrong way . . . and these things teach perfectionists to roll with life a little bit, and to put their own achievements aside in order to help a group succeed.

Missed the other two posts on perfectionism? Take at a peek at the posts from day 1 and day 2!

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What to Try When . . . Your Kid Is a Perfectionist, Part 2

Perfectionists present a unique conundrum: On the one hand, they tend to be arrogant and stubbornly resistant to ever admitting error (because of the whole I-should-always-be-perfect-so-I-deserve-death-if-I-am-ever-wrong complex), but then if they ever DO manage to admit they are wrong, they can take it too far . . . they can sink into an abyss of self-loathing that is tough to dig out of. When you see your kid descend into the I-am-awful abyss, you may be tempted never to parent them firmly again, lest you permanently damage their self-esteem . . . but that’s an overreaction. Gah! What’s a parent to do?

Perfectionist kids need two seemingly contradictory things from their parents: They need BOTH strong parenting (especially in helping them be humble—see Perfectionist Kids Part 1) AND heaping doses of grace. There can be NO DOG HOUSE for the perfectionist. Once they see that they’ve been wrong about something, help them to accept and feel forgiveness—from you, and from God. After they see that they’ve made a mistake, you may have to reassure them a hundred times (maybe even five hundred—no, I’m not kidding) that they are forgiven, and that you have moved on. They might bring up the mistake they made six months or a year from now, still feeling guilty about it, and worried that you are upset with them about it. Patiently and generously reassure them AGAIN (and again and again) that all is forgiven and forgotten. My dad must have told me a thousand times that being a Christian means I am “in grace”—this is a permanent state, not subject to the fluctuations of my imperfect performance.

Confusing? Yes. Will you show too much firmness sometimes, and too much tolerance at other times? Probably. Welcome to the world of the perfectionist. It’s tough to do this complicated personality justice in short posts, but I hope this will help get your thinking started, and get you into some productive conversations with wise parents who know your kids personally and can help you navigate the difficult terrain of their hearts.

But it can be done. I’m a perfectionist, and aside from some obsessive-compulsive laundry-folding behavior, most of the time, I’m sort of normal. Wait. Was that prideful? Now I feel guilty.

Want a great scripture to share with perfectionist kids, to help them better understand God’s love for them? Click here for a short devotional, “Guess Who Thinks You’re Awesome.”

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What to Try When . . . Your Kid Is a Perfectionist, Part 1

When kids won't say sorry

Several people have asked recently about helping children deal with perfectionism . . . as a semi-reformed perfectionist myself, I have more experience with this than I wish I had (hence a long post).

We’ll start with what may be the most difficult, excruciating thing a perfectionist must learn to do: Admit when they’re wrong.

For a perfectionist, admitting to a mistake feels like a violation of their entire being and an eternal, death-worthy failure. (Laugh if you want, you non-perfectionists, but this is how perfectionists feel. This is why we get SO emotional and defensive when someone suggests we might be wrong.) Perfectionists also have an overdeveloped sense of justice and fairness. But this is one of the most important lessons we must teach our perfectionist children: to admit (fully admit, humbly admit) when they are wrong, and to be okay with that (and then to sincerely apologize). You’re going to feel like a broken record with this, because they’re going to be working on this on some level for their whole life.

When kids won't say sorry

I recently found this note after an unfortunate apple argument between our girls. Technically, the apology is there, but somehow she still gets the last word…Classic perfectionist behavior!

Help them understand that everyone makes mistakes. Remind them that the whole point of being a child is to learn. No kid is born knowing everything, and guess what? No adult is perfect, either. The Bible will be your friend here, especially the Proverbs about humility and embracing correction. You can also have a lot of fun retelling Bible stories about all the Bible characters who made big mistakes but still did great things with their lives. Share lots of stories from your own mistakes (past and present!), and help them see that you can laugh about them.

When a perfectionist child is fighting you on admitting that they are wrong, you will have to talk them through it—it may take a while, but eventually they must reach a place of surrender and true humility—NOT a disgruntled “okay, fine, I concede that I might have possibly been a teensy bit in error.” Keep this in mind: If your kid never learns to say “uncle” and admit when they’re wrong, they are in for a very hard life. They will fight their teachers and coaches, and they’ll have a tough time working out conflict with friends. If you teach them how to admit wrong in the safe, unconditionally loving environment of home, they will one day learn to be humble out in the world.

In the moment, if your perfectionist is fighting you, try this: First, let them calm down if they’re flipping out. When they’re calm enough to listen, you will probably have to appeal to their logic—to reason them through it. (I’m talking here about kids ages four or five and up—you really can’t reason with a two- or three-year-old.) Your kid may fight you on the details—if you say ONE thing that feels off, or unfair, or invalid, they may try to disregard everything else you’re saying. That’s not okay. Listen to their objections; hear them out; but then help them to understand: No one will ever correct them perfectly. They still have to learn to say “You are right; I am wrong.” They’ve got to learn to hear the spirit of what is being said, even if it is not said perfectly. (When I was a teenager, I remember my dad explaining that sometimes when people are trying to help you see something in yourself, their correction is like firing a shotgun: while every pellet won’t strike home, the shot is generally pointed in the right direction . . . so I needed to accept the spirit of a correction. That really helped me learn not to fixate on the one wrong detail.)

Okay, this is getting long . . . so I’ll stop now and come back tomorrow . . .

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