Tips for Parents of Reluctant Readers

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When my daughter was in the first grade, her teacher required students to complete a reading log each school night. I remember one evening when my daughter had tears as she struggled to get through her 15 minutes of required reading. When I asked her why she cried, “I hate reading!”

Children may be reluctant readers for a number of reasons. There may be pressure to perform for young children (3-5 years), or they may worry their skills aren’t as strong as their peers. Older children (5-9 years) may feel embarrassed that they “should” be reading at a certain level, as was the case with my daughter. She felt inferior to her classmates and frustrated that she couldn’t partake in the more advanced books with exciting plots that the children at higher levels got to read.

Even pre-teens who have been reading for several years may need more confidence in their abilities. “Some have gotten by mainly by memorizing words,” says Amy Brotherman, a former elementary school teacher and founder of MyThreeReaders. “They may not have learned how to truly read and decode words using a phonetic breakdown.”

If you are struggling with a reluctant reader, there are ways to help:

Remind them everyone goes at their own pace

Reading is a skill that some children pick up quicker than others. Continuing to work at a skill that doesn’t come easily can be frustrating. Let your child know you are proud of them and admire their perseverance. Also, ensure they understand that being a late reader doesn’t mean they won’t become a great reader or aren’t as smart as their peers.

Investigate further

There is a difference between a late or reluctant reader and a child with a learning issue. Undiagnosed issues like eyesight problems, dyslexia, or ADHD may be why your child struggles or dislikes reading. Reach out to your child’s teacher and physician to ensure there aren’t any underlying issues.

Don’t pressure them to read

Children become reluctant to read when they feel pressured or judged on their ability. While well-intentioned, tools like reading charts can make reading seem more like a chore than a pleasurable activity. “Forced long periods of silent reading before the child is eager or ready to do so can have an adverse impact,” Brotherman says. “It won’t become enjoyable if a student feels pressure to read.” If reading assignments frustrate your young reader, it may be worth discussing with your child’s teacher and brainstorming other ways your child can be motivated to read.

Find the fun in reading

There is no reason a parent can’t continue to read aloud to a child striving toward becoming an independent reader. “Kids of every age enjoy being read aloud to, even teenagers,” Brotherman explains. “Reading aloud teaches a student the cadence of reading, builds up background knowledge, increases fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension.” Audiobooks are another way to bring the joy of books to a child who is reluctant to read on their own (and a great for busy parents.)

Be empathetic

If a child seems frustrated or says they don’t like reading, probe further. “If your child declares he hates to read, pay attention to the ‘why’,” Brotherman says. “Does he struggle to decode words? Is something that is happening at school feels bad to him concerning reading? Communicate with your child’s teacher and try to alleviate pressure around reading at school and home.”

Ultimately Brotherman stresses that kids—and all beginning readers—will love to read when they feel successful with it. Such was the case with my daughter. Once my daughter told me she found the books assigned on her level dull, I spoke with her teacher. We agreed that her reading comprehension exceeded her independent reading skills and found a way for her to start slowly reading more advanced books. She and I would take turns, each reading a page aloud. With time, patience and effort, reading clicked. Soon she went from whining about having to read for 15 minutes a night to begging to stay up past her bedtime so she could finish the next chapter of her book.