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Tips to help you support your reluctant reader

Here are some tips that can help you work with your child to overcome some of their reading resistance and perhaps find something that changes their mind.

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Reading to shelter dogs
Sarah Stanley
, St Timothy's School in Raleigh
RALEIGH, N.C. — Two of the most common statements made to librarians by parents are something along the lines of “My child absolutely devours books!” or “I just can’t seem to get my child to read anything.” The last statement is always said with a twinge of shame and as a kind of apology to my profession. So, before we move on, I want to reassure any parents in that second group that no apologies are needed. As a parent of two (neither of which I would call a “voracious” reader), I understand the struggle. It would be awesome if every kid were naturally drawn to reading as a hobby, but it's definitely no indicator of intelligence or success. And I promise that a kid who hates reading is just a really fun challenge for librarians everywhere.

However, as an educator, I know how important it is for students to develop literacy skills and feel confident with decoding and comprehension. And while practice may not make perfect, it definitely makes it easier. It does not, however, make it any easier to convince your reluctant reader to pick up a book. So here are some tips that can help you work with your child to overcome some of their reading resistance and perhaps find something that changes their mind.

Let your child lead

Nothing can be more overwhelming than walking into a bookstore or library filled with books and trying to narrow down possible options for your reluctant reader. The impulse to suggest (or sometimes push) books that we loved as a child can be huge, especially when faced with a bunch of new titles that you’ve never heard of before. And while I would never discount the genius of past selections (From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler is and will always be my favorite book of all time) many amazing books have come out in more recent years and they are often a bit more accessible to young readers.

One of my favorite questions to ask reluctant readers is “What’s your favorite show or video game?” Kids often don’t know what genre they want to read, but they always know what they want to play or watch. As an expert on your child, you already have that information, so it’s always good to start there. If their favorite show is about summer camp, maybe look for books that take place at camp. If they love playing video with a spooky element, try books that have the same kind of atmosphere. Librarians and book store employees are great resources for guidance here, but there are also tons of “read-alike” lists online that can offer suggestions as well.

Support their interests

Sometimes parents can feel a lot of pressure for their kids to read the “right kind” of books. Whether that be reading the classics or just not another graphic novel, there can be a temptation to judge what your child has chosen and want them to choose something different. As someone who has had to bite her tongue when her own child is reading an “inferior” book to the one in the same genre that she would recommend, I’m going to pause here to beg you to resist that temptation. With reluctant readers, our goal is to create habit and confidence. Nothing undermines that more than having someone second guess your choices or arbitrarily refuse to let you read what you have discovered you like. Yes, you may have to suffer through some painful retellings of book - but your child is excited enough to talk to you about their reading! That’s the ultimate goal and it’s important to remind ourselves of that when our own preferences or insecurities start to slip in.

Model life long reading

You may have heard of an initiative in schools called Drop Everything and Read or “D.E.A.R. time.” The premise of this program is to set aside a certain amount of time every day, often 20-30 minutes, where everyone in the building stops what they are doing and reads. Sometimes schools will have administrators and support staff pick a classroom to read in to demonstrate to the students that literally everyone is reading at that time. From the outside the goal seems pretty straight forward- to have kids get in the habit of reading every day. But it’s more than that. The goal is actually for students to see adults reading on a consistent basis. The sad truth about reading is that while we stress the importance for students to be lifelong readers, they rarely see the adults in their life doing it themselves. After a while, it can start to feel like reading is a “kid” activity and not actually all that important.

The great thing about a model like D.E.A.R. is that it is easily replicated at home. Set aside a few minutes a day or even one day a week for the family to sit down together and read - yes, even you. Will you meet some resistance at first? Oh, absolutely. We do this in my own house and there are days when the majority of time is spent with one of my kids watching the clock and reporting back a real time countdown. But I promise it matters overall, especially on those days when no one is watching the clock and everyone gets sucked in past the allotted time.

While I’m under no illusion that these suggestions will turn every kid into an enthusiastic reader, they are a good place to start. As a librarian and educator, I want to release you from any pressure that you feel to raise a particular kind of reader and encourage you to support the one you have. And remember that our goal is not perfection, but to build confidence in reading and in finding things to read. If one day you end up being able to tell a librarian that your kid can’t get enough of reading, that’s just icing on the cake.

Sarah Stanley is a mother of two with a master’s degree in library science from University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. She is currently working on an M.Ed in Curriculum and Instruction. She is the Librarian and Educational Technology Facilitator at St. Timothy's School in Raleigh.


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