My husband and I were proud and excited when our eldest son taught himself to read when he was 5 years old. Before that, we had tried phonics books and tablet games and sight-word flash cards, but he just didn’t respond to them. So I backed off, not wanting to pressure him, and ultimately he grasped the concept when he was ready — putting together the pieces like a puzzle in his own unique way.
Then came the unexpected side effect of having a bright young reader: In addition to picture books, my son could suddenly read tons of stuff we didn’t necessarily want him to.
Now, while I love that he’s an avid reader who curls up with chapter books on rainy days and offers to read to his younger brothers, I'm not exactly proud (or am I?) when he reads the road signs and points out that I'm lost, driving down the wrong street. Or when he reads the recipe and criticizes my, um, creative interpretation of it. Or when he points out that I'm letting his little brother play (heavily supervised) with a toy that says “small parts, choking hazard” on the box. *Sigh*
If you have a precocious reader on your own hands, you’re probably super-proud too. But maybe you've also come up against a few... annoyances. Here are my least favorite things about having a super-smart, capable, literate kid on my hands (I know, why am I complaining?)
You can’t write tentative plans on your calendar
Are you vaguely entertaining the idea of going to the trampoline park next Wednesday for $10 Jump Day? Want to remind yourself that the new Disney Pixar movie comes out on the 23rd just in case you're up for a surprise outing with kiddo? RSVP’ing to that kid's birthday party but secretly hoping you’ll have an excuse to cancel? Don’t write it on your calendar — unless you want to get shamed into committing to those plans permanently.
Because once you write something down and your kid reads it, they will think it’s a done deal. You might as well write it in blood. If your kid is like mine, putting an event on the calendar is the same as swearing an oath before a court of law. He will read “Jessica’s Birthday Party???” as an intractable promise of pizza, cake and ice cream, and he will notify every other member of the family that this is happening. Yeah, good luck telling your 4-year-old you're not going to that party.
Pro tip: You could try coding your calendar entries; write, “Make spinach for dinner,” instead of “Birthday party,” to throw your reader off the scent. Then again, you might forget the code and just end up cooking spinach.
They can mom-shame you
“Mommy, this baby gate says ‘Not intended as a substitute for adult supervision. Never leave child unattended.’ But you leave us alone in here with the gate up all the time.”
Yes. Yes I do. Because what is the point of a baby gate if you can’t step away from your children for two minutes to go pee without worrying they’ve escaped the house? The people who wrote those instructions were clearly not parents. But thank you, son, for pointing out my neglect.
Age recommendations on toys. Serving sizes of food. Pretty much any Lego assembly manual. All the stuff you used to be able to get away with doing on the fly because your kids didn’t know any better? Now they know better: They can read. And they will not hesitate to tell you all the ways in which you are possibly failing as a parent. Hooray!
They can ask embarrassing questions
There is no embarrassment like the embarrassment of hearing your tiny new reader ask (loudly in the grocery store checkout line), "What's 'sex,' Mommy?" Thanks, Cosmopolitan. Also on this list: “Mommy, what’s 'stool softener'?” and “Daddy, what’s this 'hemorrhoid cream' in the medicine cabinet? What's it for?” and “Mommy, what’s a 'pregnancy test' and why does it have to be ‘early result’?”
Say goodbye to blissful ignorance and hello to defining every last awkward piece of text your child might stumble upon in public or at home. Of course knowledge is power and kids should be encouraged to ask questions — and they should be given age-appropriate responses when they do. That said, there are few parents among us who want to have the sex talk in public in the middle of a cramped checkout line with the witness of a teenage cashier who happens to be your neighbor’s son.
They’ll correct you — as often as possible
After cooking and cleaning up dinner, wrangling your kids in and out of the bathtub and squeezing their unwilling bodies into their pajamas, you’ve finally gathered around their bedtime book of choice. Maybe you’re feeling spunky, so you’re doing the character voices and everything. You’re on a roll, and the kids are loving it. Then, you accidentally read the word “if” as “in" — and your brazen reader interrupts to shout, “Mommy! You read that wrong!” and everyone glares at you.
*Sigh* While kids themselves make mistakes a lot of the time (they simply don’t know all the things that grown-ups do, and that’s OK!), don't think for a minute they won’t take every chance they get to correct you. Because then — ha! — you, the big "smart" adult, are the one who screwed up. In my experience, it makes my kid feel surprisingly good to announce that his parent misread the word “yard” as “farm” or took a right turn at an intersection, whizzing past the “no turn on red” sign.
It isn’t malicious. Your early reader is just proud of his or her abilities, and you should be too. That is, until kiddo learns the intricacies of spelling and thus prohibits you from talking with adults about any possible long-term plans for the A-M-U-S-E-M-E-N-T P-A-R-K ever again.