What To Do When Your Child Struggles With Reading: Practical Advice For All Ages


I did everything right. From exposing my kids to countless books to blending fun literacy activities into their everyday lives, I was convinced that my kids would have absolutely no trouble when it came to their reading skills.

Boy, was I wrong. 

Even with hours and hours of reading at home, the letter and sound work, word games, and countless trips to the library… my first grader still hit a roadblock with his reading. 

As soon as I noticed, I tried absolutely everything I could think of to help him. The only problem was, he really didn’t want my help. He completely shut down when I encouraged practicing reading skills, which was a big shift from his normal behavior. It was beyond frustrating – and not just because I’m his mom. My background is in teaching English and Special Education, so this should have been easy for me to help resolve! After many (many) trials, I finally found the single thing that would motivate my son to practice reading at home: homework.

I know, it sounds crazy! Most kids run as fast as they can at the mention of the word. But after brainstorming with his wonderful teacher, it turned out that “assigned homework practice” was the answer to reading with my child at home without a fuss. The best news? The targeted practice worked, in addition to the extra direct instruction he received at school! His reading fluency is progressing – and, more importantly, so is his confidence. 

I wrote this post to remind you that if your child is having a hard time with their reading, it’s okay. Do NOT panic. It is very common for kids to struggle to with their skills, even with all the valuable learning tools we equip them with at home. In fact, according to the U.S. National Center for Education Statistics, 34% of students are below the basic reading level in the fourth grade, and 31% are below the proficient reading level.  

If you notice that a child in your life is not making progress with their reading skills and you feel completely lost, here are some practical ways to help – and none of them are age-dependent.

Talk To Your Child

This is where I’d recommend starting. I had an honest conversation with my son about his reading, and reminded him that I’m on his side. I also reminded him that reading is hard and not something that comes naturally to the human brain. Noticing and pointing out his strengths – especially those not necessarily related to reading – was really helpful to our discussion as well.

If it’s not initially obvious, I suggest asking a lot of questions to find out what it is, specifically, that they don’t like about reading. Is it the subject matter or format of the book? Learning sight words? Individual letter sounds? Blending letters and sounds together? Is it hard for them to focus on what they’re reading? Are the letters confusing? Is it hard to remember reading rules? Their answers may dig down to the root of the problem, and that information may be essential when it comes to thinking about strategies, support, and solutions. 

Talk To Your Child’s Teacher 

I can’t stress this enough – reach out to your child’s classroom teacher as soon as you notice a stall in their skills. The earlier, the better! Their teacher is not just a valuable ally on your child’s reading journey, but an expert in their field. Use them! They want to know what’s happening reading practice at home, and they want to support you in helping your child succeed. Not to mention, they have lots of resources – including some you might not have access to – at their fingertips. 

Think About What You Know About Your Child

This is where your expertise will shine, because you know your child better than anyone. What are the things that you know that your reader’s teacher might not? For example, what would truly entice your child to practice at home? Would reading a different genre or style of book be helpful? What about finding a better time of day for them to read, perhaps when they’re less tired? How are their eyes, ears, and ability to focus and hold attention? Perhaps working with someone at home who’s not their parent, like an older sibling or grandparent, is the winning solution to practicing their reading outside of school. Every little thing you know about your kiddo is important in answering the big question: what will help my child with reading?

Come Up With A Plan

With their teachers’ help, along with everything you know about your child, strategize the next steps. As far as practicing at home is concerned, you don’t know what will work for your reader until you start trying. It’s recommended that kids read for at least twenty minutes a day outside of school. That doesn’t sound like a lot, but it’s a lifetime when you have a child who is refusing to do any reading practice at all. Having a plan that works, and then sticking to it, will help immensely.

Make Practice Fun!

Here are a few ideas that didn’t work for my reader, but might work to help your child’s reading skills blossom:

  • Have them read to a younger sibling 
  • Help them create their own cozy reading nook to use during practice time

  • Prepare and offering special “reading snacks” or small treats for them to enjoy while practicing at home

  • Play games 
  • Complete a reward chart  
  • Make use of online reading games for practice  
  • Start a book club for for your child to read with family and friends
  • Schedule practice sessions via Zoom or FaceTime with beloved, out-of-town relatives who would love to listen to them read
Learning to read is hard work. If you’re feeling a little helpless in supporting your child with this monumental task, don’t forget that you are an amazing parent. Taking an active role in your child’s education is the most important part of the battle – and knowing when to reach out for outside help when they’re struggling is just as valuable.
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I’m a Maine native and after a long stretch of time living in Chicago, I feel lucky to again call the Seacoast my home. I currently live in Kennebunk with my husband, two sons, and a spaniel mix who truly believes he is a furry big brother to our boys. I hold a Master of Education degree from the University of Maine and as a certified English and Special Education teacher, a passion of mine has always been helping students and connecting them to reading and writing. Free time is best spent in the sunshine with family and friends, curled up with a good book, eating my husband’s incredible cooking, or creatively writing for the kids in my life. Being a mom is the most challenging and amazing job I’ve ever had. I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world.


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