Like learning to use the toilet successfully, learning to read is something most children born to literate, educated parents learn to do.* Yet in today's affluent urban and suburban areas parents are distraught when their brilliant, advantaged children are not reading by age four. OK, five. But really, it seems like nowadays every six-year-old is expected to be able to read chapter books (and we are not talking about Frog and Toad). If for some reason a child is not reading at a third-grade level in first grade, clearly the specialists need to get involved. A tutor should be hired and the problem needs to be fixed.
Now what can a well mannered modern mother do? Well, if it is her child who is not reading Dante in Pre-K she can wander around aimlessly in a sea of blame and self doubt wondering what is wrong with her as a mother. Or she can remember that everyone learns at his own pace. In fact there is a body of literature arguing that we are pushing children to read at far too early an age and that many children aren't physiologically ready for formal reading until age 8 or so. Mostly she should try and remember all those hours she spent worrying about breast feeding, nap schedule and potty training and remember that those things worked out and chances are this will too. Or she can look ahead to middle school where her child may encounter drugs, booze and members of the opposite sex and that may put this current crisis in perspective as well.
The well mannered mother with a worried friend must never say anything like "Oh that must be so disappointing for you" or "Sorry, I don't know how to help, my son has been reading since he could hold a book" or "They say the best way to have early readers is to read to them when they are young - didn't you read to her?" Not only are such comments unkind and unhelpful but the well mannered mother knows that life is long and, to paraphrase, the race is not always to the swiftest. In the meantime, while waiting for the life-race swiftness results, the well mannered modern mother might want to try to sit back and enjoy the ride. They tell us it will be over before we know it.
*Children in less rarefied environments are not always as fortunate and may truly be in need of help. That is why Reach Out and Read has launched the Summer of a Million Books to give a brand-new, age-appropriate book to one million at-risk children before Labor Day. Click here to help.