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Reality Check: Storytime Squirmer

Q. Now that my son is 1 and has started walking, he refuses to sit still for storytime. I've heard that reading to him while he's little is critical to his ability to read later on. What can I do?

There are so few moments in parenthood that actually match the ideal. You have a baby, and you think, "Soon I'll be reading to him while he sits calmly on my lap and asks smart questions like the kids on Reading Rainbow." And instead, as soon as he's able, he walks away and starts playing with his Lego toys.

What should you do? Relax, to start with. We're talking about a 1-year-old here. Even if you gave up on reading to him for a while, his brain cells wouldn't wither and die. Besides, he's hardly old enough to be expected to sit still for longer than a minute, anyway.

So take the pressure off of both of you. Our 4-year-old, Ellie, has managed to disrupt reading time ever since she was old enough to wiggle. Because I have almost no patience at all, I'd get annoyed and stop reading, to punish her for not paying attention. Then I realized two things: I was really only punishing myself, because I wanted to read to her more than she wanted to sit and be read to, and just because she wasn't sitting still didn't mean she wasn't listening to the story and maybe even paying close attention to what was going on.

I found out this last part by giving Ellie pop quizzes. I'd continue to read the story even after she walked away and began to play with something else. And when a character in the book did something strange or silly, I'd ask myself out loud, "I wonder why he did that?" or "I wonder what will happen now?" Ellie would keep at whatever she was doing and often, without even looking at me, say, "It's 'cause he wants to find his button!" or something to that effect, proving that she was listening and even getting something out of storytime.

To hold your audience (relatively) captive during storytime:

*Read in a room without a TV and with few distracting toys.

*Use a different voice for each character in order to keep things lively (for both of you).

*Read at bedtime, when your toddler is tired and may be a tiny bit more willing to sit on your lap.

*Let him choose the book, even if it means you're stuck reading Corduroy 19 times in a row.

Contributing editor Trisha Thompson is a former editor-in-chief of BabyTalk magazine.