Is Your Child Struggling To Read? Here’s How To Help (Complete Guide)

If your child is struggling to read, it’s totally natural to worry about their learning progression – particularly if other children of the same age appear to have more advanced reading skills compared to your child. 

As a parent, numerous thoughts will race through your mind:

‘Is my child not as clever as other children?’.

‘Will they catch up with their peers?’.

‘Will their teacher(s) do anything to help?’.

‘What can I do to help?’.

‘Should I be worried?’.

…and so on, and so forth.

Before we delve into – and answer – these questions, it is absolutely imperative to remember that reading, like any other form of learning, isn’t a race, and that your child’s progression should always be viewed as a ‘marathon, not a sprint’. Children develop at differing rates; therefore, it is to be expected that some children will learn to read at a slower pace than others in their class/age group. 

At what point should I become worried about my child’s reading ability?

As stated above, children learn at different rates. Sometimes, even the most intelligent of children struggle or find it challenging to develop their reading skills as expected. But at what point should start to be concerned that they’re lagging behind too far?

If your child is four or five years of age and is still not able to read, it is important to speak to their teacher(s) to gauge their feelings and discuss how to move forward in a positive fashion. At this age, there is no real cause for concern; there are plenty of activities and tasks that can be introduced both in school and at home to give their reading skills a boost.

If, a year, later their reading ability has not improved, it is crucial not to worry. Although the vast majority of children will be capable readers by the age of six, it’s not the end of the world if your child’s reading skills aren’t on the same level as their peers. Again, speak to their teacher to formulate a plan of action that can be introduced both at home and during school. Communication with your child’s school and teacher(s) is vital to helping their overall learning ability progress.

Is my child actually struggling, or are they just reluctant to read?

Children who are having issues with reading can typically be split into two groups: those who are genuinely struggling to read and those who are reluctant to read. 

For example, if your child has absolutely no desire to read, i.e. they don’t readily and frequently pick up a book and start reading, they can be described as a ‘reluctant reader’ – even if when they do try to read, they don’t appear to have (m)any issues pronouncing words or progressing their reading skills. Although reluctant readers are most commonly boys, it can affect girls to a small degree also. The best way to address this issue is to provide them with reading material they’re interested in. Purchasing books and magazines dedicated to topics and hobbies they enjoy is a surefire way to address a reluctance to read. 

On the other hand, if your child is having difficulty remembering common words or the sounds of letters on a daily basis, it is evident that they may, indeed, be struggling to read. This, as you would expect, leads to the question: ‘why is my child struggling to read?’.

Why is my child struggling to read?

There are a plethora of reason why your child might be experiencing difficulty with reading. Although it is impossible to list every cause, here are some of the most common:

– They may have trouble sitting still and focussing/concentrating on the task in hand.

– They may have anxiety attached to reading/learning to read, which, in turn, stops them from learning.

– They may have pre-existing language or speech difficulties.

– They may have some degree of hearing loss.

– They may be in the preliminary stages of learning English (if they speak a different language at home/outside of school).

– They may have hereditary literacy difficulties, i.e. a family history of slower progress where reading and spelling is concerned. If you suspect that your child might have dyslexia, speak to your child’s teacher and consult authorities in this field, such as <insert websites here>.

Although the above list provides numerous reason as to why a child may have issues learning to read, many children who struggle to read find simply find it difficult to process the sounds present in spoken words. For example, they may not be aware that a spoken word like ‘load’ is constructed of three distinct sounds (l-oa-d), or that it rhymes with ‘toad’. If they don’t pick up on this, it makes it harder for them to recognise – and ultimately learn – the connections between sounds and letters.

One factor that you must factor in is the date of your child’s birthday. If they were born in June, July, or August, they will nigh-on a year younger than the older children in their class, so it’s perfectly natural for them to be lagging slightly. It may simply come down to needing a little more time to get to grips with reading and writing entirely. 

I’m worried about my child’s reading – what should I do?

Being proactive is, of course, the way forward (reading this article is a very good start!). The first step we always suggest is talking to your child’s teacher(s). This is essential because they will either put your mind at ease by telling you your child is progressing as expected, or they’ll discuss with you plans to assist your child in improving their reading abilities. When talking to your child’s teacher, it is important to mention any family or hereditary reading, writing, or spelling problems, as this may alter their plan of action for your child. 

Your child will always benefit from a combined effort of both you, the parent(s), and their teacher, so always contact their teacher straight away if you’re concerned about their learning. However, it shouldn’t stop there. There are a multitude of things you can do at home to boost your child’s reading confidence and ability.

Ten Steps to Improve Your Child’s Reading Ability

1. Acknowledge and Praise Their Strengths

There are no two ways about it; your child has lots of strengths and abilities. Signing, drawing, speaking, sports…there is an endless list of things that your child may excel at. It is vital to ensure you both acknowledge your child’ strengths and praise them for it. 

Although this might seem like a ‘state-the-obvious’ piece of advice, you’d be surprised at just how many parents (and teachers) are all-consumed by their child’s deficiencies; so much so, that they forget that their child is accomplished in other areas. 

But how can this help to boost their reading skills?

Let’s say your child is talented at drawing; you can harness their artistic skills and utilise them to improve your child’s understanding of a story, for example. Encourage them to draw what’s going on in the story or a picture of one of the main characters. Just because your child may have difficulty decoding words when reading, it doesn’t mean that you can’t encourage them to express their natural abilities in other ways. By encouraging your child to use their strengths, you will help to build their overall confidence, which can have a positive impact on their reading and in any other areas of learning they struggle with. 

2. Success Should Be Celebrated

Every success, no matter how big or small, should be celebrated with a high-five or words of praise. Never rely solely upon their report card to gauge their reading and learning progression; instead, judge it for yourself by practising at home. If they get a word right, let them know they’ve got it right and celebrate it! 

Get into your child’s mindset, i.e. put yourself in their shoes and their reading level, as this will help you to understand how big an achievement getting a challenging word correct (for example) is. For instance, if they’re still relatively new to reading, celebrate even the most basic of words; whereas if they’ve been reading a little longer, celebrate when they correct their own reading errors. It may seem a little odd to begin with, but it’ll soon become a habit. 

3. Realistic Goals are Key

Regardless of which methods, tactics, and strategies are employed, a child’s reading skills will not be magically improved tenfold overnight; therefore, it is essential to be honest with both yourself and your child with regard to their reading progression, which includes realistic goal setting. The path to improving a struggling child’s reading ability is a long one; therefore, it is advisable to set a series of short-term goals that can be achieved within a relatively short time period. A common suggested goal in this situation is to move up a reading level; however, at home, this can be whatever you like. 

When starting out, setting a target of practising reading for at least 10 minutes every day is an excellent way to begin. Then, as your child improves their reading ability, other goals can be set. This can include such things as reading a specific number of books per month (outside of their school reading) or reading a certain amount of chapters in a specified timeframe. 

Before setting any goals for your child, it is imperative to remember that all goals are achievable and will have a positive impact on your child’s reading skills. Said goals aim to help them realise that they are capable of successfully reaching goals. This will not only help them to enhance their reading, but also builds confidence and strength of character. 

4. Poor Spelling Shouldn’t Impede reading

In most instances, struggling with spelling often hampers reading progression; however, just because your child might not be the most proficient speller in the world, doesn’t mean that their reading ability has to suffer automatically. To help them through their spelling difficulties, encourage your child to use a dictionary, spell-checking or text-predication apps and software. Starting a ‘personal dictionary’ is an excellent tool to use when writing as it allows them to look up words they’ve struggled with before, in addition to making a note of new words they’re unsure of. Furthermore, discussing any spelling issues with your child’s teacher is paramount; there may be a myriad of other techniques, methods, and strategies that are available for your child to use both at school and at home.

5. Show Your Child That Have Difficulties Too

Something that can have a profound impact on a child’s confidence levels is learning that you, as a parent and adult, have difficulties in life – whatever they might be. Do this by showing them and explaining that you struggle to do things too! This will help your child to understand that people have both strengths and weaknesses, and that struggling to do something is part of life and that everyone has things they’re good at and not so good at. It’s crucial for them to see this in action, so, for example, if you’re useless at a particular sport, try playing it with them (or with others in their presence) to illustrate you lack ability, but, more importantly, you’re willing to give it a try despite being terrible at it! The moral here is a simple one: children (and adults) should always try things they’re not particularly good at. Seeing a role-model working to improve in areas where weakness exist can benefit a child massively. 

Where reading is concerned, it is essential to be aware that when a child finds something difficult, they typically don’t want to do it. And, what makes the situation even more disheartening and anxiety-inducing is the pressure that surrounds learning to read at school and home. So, by showing them that you strive to work hard on things that you find difficult, it eases the pressure on them and makes them feel better about their struggles with reading. 

6. Read Aloud on a Daily Basis

It’s imperative to read to your child each and every day – without fail. Reading to your child will help them immensely; not only will it amplify their interest in reading, books, and words, which, in turn, will also promote creativity – it all also help to improve their reading comprehension without the struggles that arise from decoding the text.

A child who struggles with reading is often limited to short books with little depth and which lack the ability to promote interest and intrigue. This can decrease their motivation and desire to read and get better at reading. When reading out loud to your child, you allow them the opportunity to entirely focus on the content of the book and the meaning of the words in it, not to mention helping them to develop background knowledge and foster their imagination. Furthermore, reading to your child (or allowing them to listen to audiobooks) will give them access to books that their classmates are reading, which will not only improve their understanding of words and content but also make them feel part of the group. Plus, by reading to them, you can explain things they don’t understand. 

7. Work Together With Their Teachers

Your child’s education and learning is not something that is solely the concern of you (as parents) and their teachers. Your child must play a part in this and certainly not be excluded from it; after all, it is their education! Your child needs to be aware of what is happening as this will help to promote self-advocacy. They will not learn anything if they’re removed from the situation while you and their teacher(s) discuss the current state of their educational progress – it will feel like you’re telling secrets about them, which will, of course, make your child feel pretty lousy about themselves! This must be avoided at all costs. Instead, let your child know where they stand, i.e. furnish them with information that shows them what their strengths are, what they need to work on, and a plan of action to help them progress further. Both your child’s teacher(s) and you, as parents, will have ideas for plans going forward. Children feel a lot more confident and supported when they see adults working together as a team for their benefit. 

8. Even The Smallest Of Steps Can Result in Big Improvements

I could sit here all day listing a wide array of activities for improving reading, language, and spelling skills. Still, the most crucial point concerning such activities and the idea of progressing your child’s reading ability is that it never needs to be complicated.

If your child is relatively new to reading or is a slow reader, work on learning the alphabet and letter sounds. Break down short ‘consonant-vowel-consonant’ words, such as cat, hat, dig etc. and blend the letter sounds together. 

If your child is slightly more independent, sit with them when they read to assist with difficult words. Read aloud to them every night before bed and engage in discussion with your child about what’s happening in the story, who the main characters are and what they’re doing etc. 

If your child is older and struggling, switch roles and allow them to be ‘teacher’ and read to you and/or their siblings. In today’s tech-obsessed world, encourage your child to record videos or audio notes of themselves reading. You can go back over the video/audio to correct any errors and talk to them about what they’ve read.  

9. Reading Slowly is Perfectly OK

Children who struggle to read are typically slower readers than children who don’t struggle (or don’t struggle to the same degree). It’s essential to be aware and let them know that reading slowly is absolutely fine. It can be easy to become bogged down in reading speed or fluency when, in reality, the primary point of focus should be in relation to accuracy and correct word pronunciation. Never pressure your child to read faster. Instead, suggest strategies they can use to help them remember what they’ve read (both the words and the story); this can include such tasks as drawing a picture of what as happened in the story or writing a sentence on what they’ve read. Teaching them how to deal with any difficulties or struggles they are experiencing at an early age will set them up to better deal with similar issues later on in life. 

10. Teach Your Child ’Self-Help’

If your child’s struggles with reading stem from dyslexia, it is imperative to understand that he or she will not ‘outgrow’ this learning disorder but at the same be aware that it doesn’t automatically mean they won’t learn to read or lead a successful life. But regardless of whether or not your child is diagnosed with dyslexia or other forms of learning difficulty, teach them how to cope with their struggles will give them an incredible boost not only in their early years but later in life too. Instil in your child the need for self-advocacy, i.e. speaking up for themselves and asking for help when they need it. Teach them to understand accept what strengths and weaknesses they have. Furnish them with all the resources they need to improve their reading, learning and overall skills and abilities needed in life. By teaching your child this when they’re at school, they’ll go out into the big, wide world full of confidence, knowing what is required of them and how they fit in. 

Child Struggling To Read? Here’s What To Do: A Summary

Worrying about a child’s reading progression is something that many parents will experience; it’s completely natural. However, despite worries you might have, today’s world is exceptionally well-equipped to help children of all learning abilities improve their reading skills. There are a plethora of things you can do to help your child boost their reading and overall learning, both at school and at home. As a parent, all you need to do is be pro-active, speak to your child’s teachers, and make learning fun, enjoyable, and something that your child has excitement for.