10 Tips to Encourage a Reluctant Reader

Isabelle Lee

I am writing here from the experience of having been a reluctant reader as a young child myself, and from having a seven-year-old without much natural enthusiasm for reading. Her twin, on the other hand, loves it, so I know that parents are in no way wholly responsible for their child’s love of reading (or lack thereof). There are a few ways in which you can ensure that your child will love to read, eventually.

I am going to assume that you know the basics of making sure you have lots of books at home, that you read every day to your child (with enthusiasm!), and that you have books that interest your child. That squared away, here are my top 10 tips to encourage a reluctant reader.

1. Work out why they are reluctant

The most likely reason your child is reluctant to read is because they find it an effort. Talk to their teacher if you have any specific concerns, but a child can find reading hard work even if they have no learning difficulty. Just make sure there are no other obvious reasons why they might not enjoy it: negative responses from others, feeling pressured, eyesight problems, over-tiredness, or being given books that are either too challenging or too easy. Also, think about what times of day they are reading – are they well-fed, well-rested, and have had a chance to play? For some children, it’s just that reading is not high on their list of priorities when there are far more fun activities they can imagine doing instead!

2. Be enthusiastic

I can’t emphasise this enough. The most important role you can have in this is to encourage and praise your child when they read, especially if it is a big effort for them. Try to remain enthusiastic even when progress seems slow. You may not be able to make your child love reading, but you can help them avoid hating it.

3. Change the location

Go to the park, sit on a picnic blanket in the garden, read at the library. Just change the scenery.

4. Have someone else listen to your child read

A visiting family member, a family friend, a patient older cousin – anyone who will be non-judgmental and encouraging. Get them to say something like, “Your Mom tells me what an amazing reader you are. Can you read me a story?” Small children can also be a good choice, as your child might enjoy the role reversal, but be aware that little ones have a limited tolerance for slow readers, so this can backfire.

5. Use soft toys as listening companions

I pretend my kids’ toys are whispering in my ear that they want to be read to. Get them to be interactive, and every so often have them respond to the story – jump with excitement, hide behind a cushion in fear, look closely at a picture. “Illiterate” furry animals who fall down in amazement when your child reads a particularly challenging word also go down a treat.

6. Wear a silly hat

Well, not specifically a silly hat, but do something fun when it’s time to read. For example, whoever reads a book gets to wear the hat, sit on the special cushion, or read under the table. You can suggest whatever you think your child will find surprising or amusing. Novelties wear off, so have new ideas on hand. The wonderful thing about kids is that it doesn’t even have to be that imaginative. If you say that it’s special and demonstrate it yourself, they will want to copy you. I once just put a scarf on the back of my chair and said it was the “special red reading chair” and my twins were arguing over who could sit on it first!

7. Don’t feel limited to books 

Any reading is good reading. It could be that your child might prefer to read something other than stories – this is often particularly true for boys. Try comics, junior magazines, toy catalogs, reading apps, kids’ websites – my son loves the LEGO site. Even if they only manage to read a few words, and a lot of the time may be spent looking at pictures or playing a game, the important thing is that they are associating good feelings with having to read words.

8. Let them read below their assigned level sometimes

It can be tempting to keep pushing, especially when you see progress, but let them read books that they can read confidently if they want to. After all, even adults like to indulge in an easy read occasionally. The general rule of thumb is this – children should know 9 out of 10 words in a book they are reading, but it can be a nice break for them occasionally to read something where they know every word. It’s also a good reminder for them to see how a book they once found hard, has become easy for them.

9. Keep it varied

If you can take away one tip from me, this is it. If your child finds reading burdensome, making the act of reading repetitive and unchanging only makes it worse. I know lives are busy, and you can’t make reading a special experience each time, but every so often try one of the different suggestions I’ve made – cycle through them. If you feel you have got into a rut and either you or your child are dreading reading together, make a change. It’s refreshing, and will prevent forming negative associations with reading for both of you.

10. Be patient

Reading involves a lot of different skills that need to come together in order to make sense of the written word. Some children pick this up quickly, while others need more time. With good teaching and encouragement, they all get there. I didn’t enjoy learning to read as a child but when I grew up, I loved studying literature, worked in publishing for a while, and now, writing is my hobby! A slow start doesn’t have any bearing on what kind of reader your child will be when they grow up.

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10 Tips to Encourage a Reluctant Reader

 This post was syndicated with permission to BonBon Break Media, LLC.

Isabelle Lee is a delighted but exhausted stay-at-home mom to seven-year-old twins; frequently bemused, often fascinated and perpetually behind schedule. Being a twin parent provides an endless supply of perplexing issues to solve, interesting questions to answer and fundamental ideas to contemplate. You can follow the answers she makes up as she goes along on her blog at Perplexed Parent. She also writes for Huffington Post and Multiplicity Magazine. Originally from the UK, she has been enjoying compliments on her accent in California for three years now.