How To Help A Reluctant Reader

helping a reluctant reader

Being told your child is a reluctant reader is enough to send the most level headed of parents into a bit of a frenzie. I get it. Reading is an essential skill, if not the most essential skill.

If a child doesn’t enjoy art then you laugh at the fact they aren’t the creative type. If they hate ballet then you quit the ballet lessons. If they don’t take to playing the piano then you can try the violin, or the guitar, or just give them a football to kick around the garden. But reading? Well, they just have to be able to.

Reading opens up a whole world. If a child can read then they can escape reality, they can teach themselves, they can follow instructions and understand warnings. Reading is important, but it’s also a gift, one that not every child cherishes the opportunity to gain!

a reluctant reader reading a comic book
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Why Is My Child A Reluctant Reader?

There are so many reasons a child might be reluctant to read ranging from willingness to confidence to a deeper reason that might need some professional support. I’ve gone into some of the more common reasons below, but this is by no means an exhaustive list. Every child is different and every reason will be slightly different too.

Just Because

Why doesn’t a child like colouring, or spinach, or skipping? Sometimes there’s no reason at all that a child doesn’t like reading – it just isn’t fun for them and they don’t want to do it! And that’s ok – for now. It’s our job to make them realise that reading can be fun, in whatever form that takes for them.

helping a reluctant reader to read a book
It’s sometimes hard to work out why a child is reluctant to read

Reading Is Pretty Darn Hard

Reading is hard. It’s really hard. Most people don’t remember learning to read, it’s just something they can do. But having now taught hundreds of children to learn this tricky skill I can appreciate it isn’t easy.

No one likes learning things that take them a long time to master, and as a child what would you rather do – read your Mum a book or play outside with your mates!? If your child has other interests then they won’t understand the longer term implications of not learning to read. They want to have fun now (and I can’t say I blame them!)

They Need A Little More Help

a reluctant reader reading on a sofa on their own
Some children might need a little extra support when learning to read

For some children learning to read is more than just hard and they may need more help. Things like dyslexia can’t always be diagnosed in children of a young age and can make reading an immensely difficult task, but whether a child does or doesn’t have dyslexia there are lots of things we can do to help make reading easier which I’ll go into more below.

A reluctance to read might also be because of a problem with their eye-sight. Regular eye-sight check ups should cancel out this possibility, or help children get the eye care they need if necessary.

A Reluctant Reader Might Hate Making Mistakes

Many children hate making mistakes and getting things wrong, but with reading those mistakes are made out loud for the world to hear. Learning to read involves reading out loud to others and for some children this is just one step too far.

Making a mistake on a piece of paper that only your teacher will see is one thing, but making a mistake out loud in front of siblings or friends is quite another. For some children even making a mistake in front of a parent or teacher is mortifying.


How To Help A ‘Reluctant Reader’

some books in a pile on a childs desk
How to help a reluctant reader

I’m no specialist in helping children to read, but I’ve put together some of the different techniques I’ve learnt over my years of teaching in the hopes that it might inspire you to try something a little different. Sometimes all it takes is a new way of looking at something or tackling something when it comes to helping your child with something they’re finding difficult.

Not all these ideas will work with every child. As I said before, every child is an individual – what works for them won’t work for a sibling or friend. Try to be patient and work it out together.


Make Reading A Special Time

a parent making time to listen to their reluctant reader read a book
Make time for reading

Listening to your child read is not the perfect time to make dinner, or send a text, or change their siblings nappy.

If your child is a reluctant reader and you want to help them then you need to find 5 or 10 minutes a day to give them your undivided attention. It doesn’t matter if you only hear them read a page if that’s all you have time for, but show them how interested you are in listening to them and the book they’re reading.

Go one step further by making reading a special time. Tell them reading time is your time together, grab their favourite cushions to sit on, make sure teddy is there to listen too. Create the feeling that this is an important occasion and make them look forward to it. You could even make them a special reading corner in their room, especially for reading time (I know I’d love to curl up in here with a good book!)


Be Interested – Really Interested

two children reading in deckchairs
Make sure you’re really listening

Ask them questions about it like you really want to know the answer, not like you’re asking because you have to – ‘I don’t understand, why did Rabbit ask for a teddy? What do you think?’ Here are some great question prompts – just make sure you don’t read them straight from the sheet! And these are a fun way of answering questions together that incorporate a bit of a game element to reading.

Laugh at the funny parts, show them you’re sad at the sad parts. Even if it’s all an act, make it believable. You want this story to interest them so that they want to read it, so pretend to them that it’s interesting to you too – even if you’ve heard it 10 times over!


Read To Yourself, For Yourself

a woman reading a book to herself
Kids want what you want – make sure that’s a book!

Children love what we love – that’s why babies grab for your mobile phone or the remote control! Show them how much you get out of reading by showing them that you read. Even if you just pick up a book for a few minutes a day in front of them (a real book is best as that’s what you’re expecting them to read), smile or laugh when you’re reading it, show them you’re sad when you have to put it down to wash the dishes, make reading a priority and they might just follow suit!


Encouragement = Confidence

a child laughing at a book they're reading
Build confidence in reluctant readers with constructive praise

As a trainee teacher someone once told me that if you can make a child believe they can do it then they’ll be able to. Although this isn’t 100% true, it does make a BIG difference. I’m not saying you should go around telling your kids they’re wonderful at everything, that can only end in disaster for both of you! But if you can see your child lacks confidence in reading then pile on the praise and encouragement.

Point out all the things they’re doing well and point them out often. Give them sincere and targeted encouragement – ‘I love the voice you’ve given that old lady, it’s so funny’, ‘That’s the second time in a row you’ve read the word ‘then’ without sounding it out, amazing work!’


Read To A Reluctant Reader

a woman reading to a reluctant reader on the beach
Don’t be afraid to read to reluctant readers instead of hearing them read

Children’s love of stories starts with you reading to them. This is how they realise that being transported to a different world is fun, or that learning more about a topic they’re interested is possible through a book.

If your child is reluctant to read out loud to you, or to read to themselves, then read to them instead. You can always encourage them to read you a line and then you read the rest of the chapter. Or you can take turns to read the pages. Or get them to read the lines of a certain character. It doesn’t have to be all them.

Sometimes the best way to encourage a child to read is to read them the story first. Then they have an idea of what the story is about and an interest in it. They’ll feel more confident in reading it back to you.


Read To Teddy

a reluctant reader child reading to her teddy bear
Take the pressure off to help reluctant readers

For some children the problem might not be the reading, but the reading aloud. We all want to instil confidence in our children, but if they hate ‘performing’ then asking them to read aloud is probably their worst nightmare.

Ask younger children to read to their teddy (or a special reading teddy) while you sit and listen outside the door, or ask older children to read to themselves.

Obviously this isn’t ideal, as you’re not there to correct, check understanding or even to know if they’re really reading. But once they’ve built confidence you might find they’re more willing to read to you out loud.


Read A Level Down

a baby reading a book at a table
Go back to basics to build confidence in reluctant readers

You’d think children wouldn’t be clued up to things like levels but they really are. They know that purple books are higher than orange and they know that reading higher levels gets more praise.

If your child isn’t enjoying reading then they might be reading books that are too hard for them, or they might just need a little confidence boost. Books with bigger font or less words on a page are great for this. Giving your child a book that’s ‘easier’ than their ability is a great way to build confidence, as long as they don’t realise they’ve ‘gone down’ a level.

There are a few ways around this. Firstly, buy some easier books that don’t have levels on them, or that don’t have levels your child is used to. That way they can’t compare. Secondly, ask them to read to a younger sibling or tell them this was one of your favourite books and you’d love to hear them read it.

Reading easier books encourages fluency and better understanding, which is far more enjoyable. Think about what kind of book you’d rather read on a day by the pool – a book about the history of physics or a trashy romance or thriller. Give them an easy read and they might realise how much fun it can be!


Get Creative With A Reluctant Reader

a little girl reading a book on the grass
Try something new when helping reluctant readers

Children love things that are new and novel (especially if they’re a little naughty!) Here are a few ideas for some creative ways to encourage a love of reading in your child.

Try out picture books where they can make up the story in their own words while you type it out, and then let them read that.

Make treasure hunts where they have to read the clues.

Play phonics dominoes where they have to read out the phonic sounds.

Create comic books for them about them and their family – or buy a personalised book and get someone else to do the hard work for you!

Get them doing some research for a fun home project.

Play word chain games – write a word on a piece of paper and pass it along, each adding the next word until you have a story. The sillier the better!

Ask them to read out the next line of the recipe you’re making together.

Do phonics practice using window pens, by writing in the sand or with a water pistol on the terrace.


Try Coloured Pages Or Overlays

There is research to suggest that the traditional white background with black writing is actually very hard to read. It’s long been known that children with dyslexia find it easier to read type on a lightly coloured background, but it can be beneficial for all children.

Try these coloured overlays to see if your child responds well to any of them. Sometimes they just love the novelty of them and that’s enough to start them reading.


Use A Line Aid For A Reluctant Reader

It’s hard for anyone to read big chunks of text. The lines start to merge together and you lose your place easily. I remember breaking out into a sweat at school when asked to read aloud, even though I was a capable reader. I would always lose my place and get in a muddle.

By using a ‘place marker‘ or a window to block out the rest of the text you’re taking away yet another thing to think about when asking a child to read.


Read Somewhere New

two girls reading in a hammock
Read somewhere new to keep things interesting

You don’t have to read in a conventional way! If you’ve always tried to listen to your child read at bedtime then grab a torch and turn off the lights. If you read at the dinner table then take the book outside and read on a picnic rug. Read in the bath, or hanging upside down on a tree branch, or in a hammock!

If your child is also struggling to read then this might make reading even more tricky (wobbly pages aren’t the best!) but give it a go anyway and let them see that reading doesn’t have to be done with a straight back in a silent room. Reading at home in particular should be something they start to do for pleasure.


Give A Reluctant Reader Something New To Read

a mum helping a reluctant reader
Give them something new to read

If they’re reluctant to read story books then give them a non-fiction book on a topic they love. If they’re trying to read books that are full of words then give them a comic book or a graphic novel. Even picture books have their place when it comes to reading. Let them make up the story out loud and create in them a love of looking at the books and turning the pages.

For kids who would rather be outside playing sports try books about sports where they can empathise with the characters. Or if your child is into movies then let them read books based on films. You might not love them but it’s not you that’s reading them.


Read ANYTHING

Reading is reading. You don’t HAVE to read the book that school sent home in their book bag. Read the signposts on a walk in the country. Read the back of the cereal packet at breakfast. Read the to-do list or the lego instructions.

Once your child realises how much of the world reading will open up to them they might be a little more keen to practice it!


Get Techy

two babies reading on a tablet
Capture their interest with an ebook

For some kids, reading things online or from a kindle or tablet will be much more appealing. Try finding some fun ebooks for them to delve into and see if that interests them more than a paperback! Some ebooks have interactive features or games spread throughout them to make the whole experience more interactive.


Get Outside Help

a little boy reading on a bed
Get help if you need it

If you’re pulling your hair out while trying to encourage you’re child to love reading then you’ve probably reached your limit. You’re a parent, not a teacher, and although it’s wonderful that you want to help your child with their reading it isn’t your main job. If it’s becoming a source of stress your child will pick up on that and guess what – they won’t want to read to you.

Talk to your child’s teacher and see what strategies they are using or would recommend, and look into getting a tutor to help out if you can. Having someone completely removed from the emotion of teaching your child to read can be really helpful, and they’ll have done lots of training and have lots of experience in dealing with reluctant readers.

Your teacher may suggest that your child has some screenings done to check for other reasons for their dislike of reading. This is not a bad thing – I promise. If your child gets the help they need then they will begin to love reading and develop their skills. Likewise, try not to push for a screening if your child’s teacher doesn’t think they need it. Waiting a year and reviewing their progress won’t hurt their develop and your child’s teacher will know best!


Hopefully that’s given you a few ideas of ways to help your child to enjoy reading. Let us know in the comments below if any of these ideas worked for you!

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