What To Do When Your Child is Struggling With Reading

Reading proficiency is foundational to a child’s overall educational experience. Since almost every subject requires some reading, if a child has trouble with this skill it can have knock-on effects on their academic performance. 

The problem is far from rare, too. As revealed by an analysis of NAEP test scores, 67% of 4th graders read below grade level, and this contributes to a drop-out rate of 8000 high school students per day. Furthermore, only 37% of students graduate from high school with the recommended level of reading proficiency.

When a student is having trouble reading, frustration and shame may follow, and absenteeism or low homework or test scores is common. It’s important to find ways to reduce these consequences and instil the pleasures of reading in a non-punitive manner. 

Here, we’ll provide 9 tips for doing just that. These include creating the right environment, varying the texts, and seeking expert support.

Tip 1: Understand Your Child's Reading Challenges

Strive to identify what aspects of reading your child is struggling with. Is it decoding the letters and words, comprehending their meaning, or something else entirely? If your child is having difficulties in reading it may be worth arranging a test for visual learning impairments like dyslexia (a condition resulting in difficulties tracking the order of letters or digits).

By finding out what specific aspects of reading are a problem, you may be able to identify interventions which work (larger print, picture books, or specially designed learner texts).

Tip 2: Create a Reading Haven at Home

As with all home-based learning, its important to establish a conducive space. This should be as comfortable and free from distractions as possible. This means no computers, smartphones, or nagging siblings! It’s also worth considering the furniture, lighting, and temperature, the better to create a space for reading that’s inviting and encouraging.

If shared spaces are too busy, perhaps a garden, bedroom or other under-utilized space might be conducive to reading. Make sure there are plenty of books around to encourage browsing and to normalize the act of reading.

Tip 3: Read Together and Bond Through Books

Ideally, you’ll kickstart your child’s enthusiasm for books at a young age by talking them through picture books and then helping them read along. Most children’s books have a recommended reading age indicated on the cover to help you select age-appropriate texts.

Help your child with difficult words and concepts but let them struggle a bit with pronunciation before you step in to supply the answer. The feeling of effort and eventual success can act as a spur to continued reading.

Tip 4: Incorporate Reading into Daily Activities

Provide books as a guide or assistant with other activities, such as cooking, nature walks, or shopping for hobby-related products. Once children learn to associate books with activities they enjoy, they will seek out the information contained within. With older children, suggesting websites for research can be a helpful way of having your child locate and read the answers to questions for themselves.

If your child is into skateboarding, for example, then Tony Hawks biography, or a guidebook demonstrating various tricks might spur their enthusiasm to do more reading.

Tip 5: Invest in Additional Reading Support

Sometimes you may not have the time, energy, or skill to support a child with reading difficulties. It’s perfectly fine to seek extra support from external tutoring agencies such as TutorOcean. Such experts will know tried and tested techniques to help readers of all ages and levels of proficiency.

They may also be able to assist you with additional pointers for supporting and encouraging reluctant readers.

Use TutorOcean to find a tutor for any subject and academic level
Use TutorOcean to find the tutor that is right for your child.

Tip 6: Build a Strong Foundation Using Phonics and Vocabulary

Although many keen readers are largely self-taught, for others a more methodical approach is worthwhile. Phonics is the use of spoken syllables to help with pronunciation and meaning. In phonics, a child learns how groups of letters are pronounced, then links these sounds with the words they represent, rather than memorizing whole words and their appearances.

Vocabulary can be expanded by using books specifically designed for this purpose, which highlight and explain new words as they are introduced. You can also use flashcards to help with the identification of specific words, and even make a game out of it.

Tip 7: Be Patient and Encouraging

None of the above will work, of course, if you lose your temper or give up in frustration. It’s important to remain calm and level-headed when progress is slow. Sometimes it can take many repetitions before a spelling or pronunciation sinks in.

Remember that words can be learned from their context, as well as in isolation. It’s also okay to move on from a difficult word if the child becomes repeatedly stuck with it. You may find that comprehension clicks into place next time around.

Tip 8: Foster Open Communication with Teachers

If you do see your child struggling, don’t remain silent out of any misplaced sense of shame. Your child may have a reading impairment, such as dyslexia, that can be addressed with specialist support. They may also lack a quiet reading environment at school. Only by maintaining communication with teachers can you help your child keep up.

Why not write an email requesting a brief meeting (without your child present) so you can discuss the issues they are having?

Tip 8: Celebrate Your Child's Reading Progress

Particularly with reading, it’s important to celebrate small victories. The harder your child struggles, the more you should cheer when they finally pronounce a polysyllabic word or understand the meaning of a complex sentence.

Set easily achieved targets (a few pages per day) and award your child whatever motivates them (a high five, a gold star, a treat). Sometimes the pride of a pleased parent can make all the difference!

TLDR: How can I help my child with reading?

As we’ve seen, there are a range of interventions you can try to help a child struggling with reading, from reading alongside them, to using books in other activities or employing a specialist tutor.

Given how vital reading is to almost all forms of education, it’s worth doing whatever you can to instil this essential life skill and valuable leisure pursuit.

Use TutorOcean to find a tutor for any subject and academic level
Use TutorOcean to find the tutor that is right for your child.