Some kids hate reading and if your kid is one of them, you may be at your wits’ end as you try to motivate them to love books. I know what dealing with a kid who does not want to read feels like: our son was a reluctant reader for years. He said that he hated books, hated reading, and didn’t get why everybody kept pestering him to read. Anything we tried to get him to read more would quickly turn into a struggle and we ended up feeling like the more we pushed, the less progress we made.
Dealing with a reluctant reader is hard. It is hard for parents, it is hard for teachers, and knowing that it can have an impact on your child’s social and academic outcomes can be stressful. The good news is that there has been a lot of work undertaken to help reluctant readers get over their reading aversion, meaning that there are many great tips that might turn your child’s dislike for books around.
This article will focus on:
- Why some children think they hate reading
- How to motivate a child who reads reluctantly
- Easy tips to encourage reluctant readers to read
The reluctant reader: Why is reading so important for your child?
If you are worrying about a child who reads reluctantly, it is probably because you are already familiar with all the benefits associated with reading.
Reading is great for your child’s cognitive and language development. It sparks their curiosity and awakens their imagination and critical thinking skills. It opens up their world and makes them better communicators. There is sufficient scientific evidence that reading gives children a head start in life.
This is what the available research on reading says:
- The more your child reads (or is read to), the higher the chances that they will develop good reading and cognitive skills (language, cognition, numeracy) both in childhood and beyond.
- The more you read to your child, the easier it will be for them to pick up reading skills when they start school.
- Children who start reading later than their age mates eventually catch up with them and rarely struggle with reading fluency.
- Reading to your child boosts their brain development.
- Reading aloud to your child can help strengthen the parent-child bond.
- The more you have a positive attitude to reading, the higher the chances that your child will learn to love reading.
We now know that reading is good for your child, but the problem is that some kids have a hard time getting into reading. Several studies suggest that girls read better than boys and that they also tend to enjoy reading more. They says that boys are more likely to spend less time trying to understand the meaning of words, to skip passages or even pages, and to choose “easy books”. But that alone does not explain children’s reluctance to read: there are many boys who enjoy reading and read on a regular basis, and many girls who do not. In other words, gender alone does not explain why some kids hate reading. Let’s look at some of the reasons that may explain your child’s reluctance to read.
Why are some children reluctant readers?
Not all children enjoy sitting with their favorite books, ready to take off to new adventures. While reading comes almost naturally to some kids, it can be more of a struggle for others. In other words, some kids need more motivation than others to adopt and enjoy reading.
There are several reasons that may explain why some children seem to read reluctantly.
- The perception of reading as an “uncool” activity: If your child thinks that reading is boring or “not cool”, they are likely to resist this activity.
2. The feeling that reading is a “chore”. If your child feels like they “have to read” or like reading is a punishment, they are more likely to be resistant to reading
3. Low reading endurance. Some children have a harder time keeping still and remaining focused when reading.
4. Poor reading skills. If your child has poor reading skills, there are high chances that they will not enjoy reading, and this is perfectly understandable: a child who has a hard time processing what they are reading will not follow the story and is therefore more likely to think of reading as a chore.
5. Your child’s gender. As I mentioned earlier, girls seem to enjoy reading for pleasure more than boys.
It is often thought that children who are reluctant readers are poor readers. Or that if your child is “surrounded by books”, they will naturally be attracted to reading without too much effort on your part. These views are not necessarily correct: a child can resist reading even if all the appropriate conditions are in place; they can resist reading for “no apparent reason”. That is why it is not uncommon for an entire family to love reading – expect for one child – or for a child who is a very good reader to claim to “hate reading”.
Both boys and girls may resist reading at some point in their lives, and it is not always easy to understand why they do so. The good news is that several strategies may help them develop a love for reading.
How do you motivate a reluctant reader: 10 strategies for engaging reluctant readers
1) Adopt a read-aloud tradition
It is common to give up reading aloud when children grow older but if your child is a reluctant reader, adopting a read-aloud tradition can help them learn to love books. An easy way to do so is to set time aside every week to read together. Adopting a read-aloud tradition for your entire family is also a great idea that can help your family bond. You can take turns reading if you want to encourage your child to practice their reading.
Here are a few great books your entire family will enjoy reading together:
2) Do not forget that success is everyone’s innate desire
It is normal to match your child’s books to their age level. In other words, if your child is eight years old, it is normal to seek out books for that age range. This is not the best idea if your child is struggling with reading. What you need to do is to match the books they are reading to their actual reading level, even if you believe that it is beneath the level they should be at their chronological age.
The thing is, if your child is not able to process the words that they are reading, they will not be able to understand and to appreciate the story, meaning that they will be more likely to switch off. That is why it is important to begin from the point where they are – if that means reading books targeting kids younger than them, then that’s where you need to begin. They need to feel that they can read the entire book and understand it by themselves, without feeling insecure or like they are less able than their classmates or other kids their age.
3) Find the right connection to reduce your child’s reluctance to read
The easiest way to increase the chances of turning your child into a reader is to give them books that they can connect with. If you want to find books that stand a chance of increasing their interest in reading, start by looking at what they already like – what movies do they watch? What kind of topics do they find interesting? Are they into fantastical worlds? Change the perception of an uncool activity into a cool one by connecting to their world. To be able to enjoy reading, your child must succeed in developing a positive relationship with books.
Getting a book your child can relate to increases the chances that they will enjoy that book. This may mean being able to connect on a cultural or geographical level, or perhaps privileging books whose characters share similar interests. Generally speaking, your child is likely to relate more easily to books that feature children their own age.
It may be easier said than done but finding a book that your child won’t want to put down is the easiest way to get them into reading. Fun and colorful books are more likely to attract their attention than books that they associate with schoolwork.
4) Offer your reluctant reader books
If your child is a reluctant reader, offering books may help them learn to appreciate books more. Book subscription boxes are a great idea if you are trying to increase their interest in reading because they propose different kinds of reading material to your child according to their reading level.
Subscription boxes are also a great gift idea for birthdays, Christmas or any other special occasions. What’s really great about these boxes is that you can try them out, say over a three-month period, or even choose whether you would like your child to receive books every one, two or three months.
Here are a few subscriptions you may want to check out:
5) Let go of your perceptions
There are authors that you fall in love with as soon as you open the first page. There is little chance that your child will feel the same about those books.
You may think that some books are simply awesome, or that others are classics, but your perceptions of what a good book should look like can actually fuel your child’s reluctance to read. Shifting away from a fixed vision may make it easier for them to turn to reading. This means allowing them to decide what an awesome book means even when their views differ from yours.
6) Don’t force your child to read
There’s a thing about being forced to do something – most people do the exact opposite of what is expected. They feel like they must rebel against this thing that they are being forced to do. If you force your child to read, they will begin to associate reading with a chore or even with punishment.
Instead, think of interesting ways in which you can increase their interest in reading. For example, you can start a read-aloud tradition for the entire family. Or you can even schedule a specific moment – say Tuesday evenings – during which the entire family reads together or individually.
A reading challenge is also a great idea that can encourage your child to read more. You can adopt something like “A Book a Week” challenge the whole family can participate, or even “A 3-books-per-month” challenge in which your entire family identifies several themes in advance and each family member is expected to read a book around those themes. This could look like:
January reading challenge:
- One book by a first-time author
- One book set in a different country
- One non-fiction book
February reading challenge :
- One science fiction book
- One comic book
- One book recommended by your librarian
March reading challenge :
- One book from an author you’ve never read
- One audiobook
- One book borrowed from a friend
If you think this is something your family would enjoy, get everyone together and select challenges in line with your family. When our son was reading reluctantly, reading challenges are the one thing that helped us most. We also had a treat for the entire family but only if everyone had finished all their books. I know that it sounds like a bribe, but it works 😊
7) Make time for exploration
A famous quote by James Patterson says: “There’s no such thing as a kid who hates reading. There are kids who love reading, and kids who are reading the wrong books”. If you child is a reluctant reader, you are probably thinking “why is it taking years for my kid to find the right book? But here’s the thing: they won’t know the right book unless if they “read everything”.
Making time for exploration is a great way to help a reluctant reader become more aware of the different types of books out there. Help them explore as many books as possible. Take them to the library and ask them to read the first page of at least 10 books and to choose only one book (great if they choose more!). If you try the reading challenge I mentioned earlier, try and choose as many different themes as possible to make your child explore different reading genres – mystery, fantastical, historical fiction, science fiction, biography, classic literature, poetry and so on.
8) Build up your child’s reading endurance.
One of the reasons that explain why some children appear to read reluctantly is because they have poor reading endurance. This is what makes them appear fidgety or distracted after only a few moments of reading. If your child is a reluctant reader, start small. Make them read for seven minutes the first week, then double that time the second week, and then see if you can double that time two weeks later. The more they read, the better readers they will become.
9) Set the scene
Having a “reading space” can help some children get into reading. Find a comfortable space and make it cosy with cushions or anything that you feel your child will appreciate. Let them participate in creating a reading space that they will enjoy.
10) Everything counts
Anything that counts as reading is great: is your child into mangas? That’s okay. Are they more into fantastical novels? Great. Do they prefer audiobooks? That’s great too. Remember that to get a child who reads reluctantly into reading, it is important to allow them to learn to enjoy reading on their own terms.
We all associate reading with “reading books” but if your child is a reluctant reader, anything that can get them to read is a great idea. There are thousands of opportunities that can ensure that your child gets to read texts other than books: recipes, cards, short form texts, magazines that feature short entertaining facts, etc. are all great options for reluctant readers.
Although it is possible to turn your child’s aversion to books around, some kids will always perceive reading as boring compared to the other activities that they can engage in. Instead of pressuring your child to “become a reader at all costs”, show them that reading can be fun. Let them see you enjoy reading. Surround yourself with books. Print out interesting stuff they may like. Get them books or magazines that talk about things that interest them and make sure that you place those where they can see them.
When dealing with a reluctant reader, it is important to remember that your child will not become an avid reader overnight. Also, it is possible that reading will never really become their thing, and that’s okay.