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How Can I Get a Reluctant Child To Read?

Some children take to reading naturally and will proceed from learning letters to knowing their sounds and then onto simple stories. Others, due to a variety of reasons, may find the process more difficult. It is important to meet your child where they are at in a positive way. Showing your frustration will just compound the negative feelings that they may already be experiencing.

One of the most important ways to foster a love (or at least a like) for reading is read to them. In Jim Trelease’s book The Read Aloud Handbook, he explains that a parent who reads to their child who is cuddled up next to them is providing the foundation of a lifelong love of books. In the future, when they open a book, the warm feeling that they associated to when their parents read to them will come back; the book will be inviting and feel like a safe place to be. He read to his children everyday until they graduated high school. Most people don’t stick it out that long, but I encourage you to bridge into the elementary years, even after your child is reading independently.

Choose books that they enjoy, knowing that books that we grew up with may now be outdated. I loved Little House on the Prairie, but when I read it to my daughter, it fell flat. But the Junie B. Jones was a favorite. What I like about reading a series is the tone, voice and characters are the same, so it feels like reading about an old friend which strengthens their personal bond with books. For more recommendations, check out the brochure I created, Raising Your Child to Love Reading:

We may feel pressure to have our child read to us because they need to practice. However, reading out loud to your child is critical and it is important to not abandon it to having your child read out loud to you instead. If you and your child wish to, try popcorn reading. This is where you take turns reading a page, sentence or even pointing out one word here and there that they know. If your child is reluctant to do this, don’t force it. Remember to keep this one on one reading time a positive experience.

In recent years, an influx of graphic novels has brought new and traditional stories to light in a novel yet classic art form. Make these available to your child as a read aloud or for them to read on their own. The pictures support the words, so comprehension isn’t based solely on text. This is also an excellent way to help your child feel connected to their peers since these are so popular. To find out more, check out this article from Reading Rockets:

When it is time for them to read assignments for school, be supportive and non-judgmental. For a fidgety or distracted child, feel free to start reading the first sentence to pull them in. Its even okay to popcorn read, since this support will help build their confidence. When a child is reading, there may be more going on in their head then just trying to figure out the words. They might be anxious or experiencing negative self-talk, i.e. this is too hard, I never get this right, or I feel stupid. Break through this with stepping in to guide them through. Avoid saying come on, you know this; you read this yesterday; or you should know this. Instead, give subtle praise throughout or at the end like I noticed that you sounded out the tricky words, you really stuck to it-that’s great, you were very focused or great job, I really enjoyed listening to you!

The latest in the science of reading stresses phonics and sounding out words. Many teachers explicitly teach students how to read; ask your child what strategies their teacher has taught them or ask their teacher for these methods since it is best to mirror what is done in school. Then when they get stuck on a word, you can gently remind them to try an already familiar strategy and its okay to say the word for them--really its okay!

With the pandemic, many parents have been stressed, lost or overwhelmed with how to help their child learn at home. I recommend that you do what you know first. If all you can do is read out loud to your child, then do that and know that you are helping now, and you are building their love for reading that will last a lifetime. If, and when, you can do more, reach out to your child’s teacher and ask for one or two strategies that you can support your reader with. Don’t feel like you need to be a teacher or quiz them or demand that they do it by themselves. Learning comes by doing, so they will learn in whatever techniques you provide.

Thank you for exploring how to get your striving reader to positively engage with books. To receive links to future blog-posts and resources, please sign up for my bi-monthly newsletter at


Nancy Roop has a BA in Interdisciplinary Studies from Oakland University. She researched developmental psychology, linguistics and reading education while studying creative non-fiction writing. Previously, she worked with students who have autism for nearly ten years. Currently, she is writing her first book, The Aquarium with Alex the Storyteller. Its about a fifth-grade student who is passionate about writing stories for peers on the autism spectrum: real world, relatable and relevant.

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