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Help! What Do I Do If My Child Doesn’t Like to Read?

Books to try and other helpful advice for parents whose children don’t like reading.

Kids are different. Just like adults, some kids are interested in some things and other kids in other things. Kids have different likes and dislikes, different strengths and weaknesses, different hobbies, and different talents. And that’s a good thing! Imagine a world where everyone was the same. We might as well not exist if others can do the same things we do in the exact way we do them.

However, celebrating differences is one thing. Meeting standards is another.

It’s all very well that we can agree that it’s perfectly fine for someone to not love reading.

But just as kids who aren’t good in math still have to pass math tests, kids who aren’t fond of reading may still have to fulfill school requirements for, say, reading ability, or number of books read, or number of hours spent reading.

And it’s actually understandable that we all have to meet certain standards for reading because it’s a skill that we use so much up to the very end of our lives. We need to be able to read and understand instructions, for example. In fact, our ability to read (and write) is one of the most important differences between us humans and the rest of the animal kingdom.

For parents whose kids don’t like reading, getting them to read something – anything! – can feel like such a herculean task. One such parent turned to a book club with over a million members to ask for their advice. The group includes fellow parents, educators, librarians, and readers of all stripes, some of whom didn’t like reading either when they were younger.

Here are some of their most helpful recommendations for parents who are trying to get their kids to read.

First of all, DON'T coerce them into reading.

There’s a very real chance that forcing your child to read will result in the exact opposite of what you’re hoping to achieve and make them actually hate reading. It will become a chore to them, something they will resent.

Instead, some parents suggest rewarding reading. You might think that’s basically the same as forcing a child to read but there’s a key difference: they don’t have to do it. It’s their choice; they don’t get punished or have something taken away if they don’t read. Instead, they get something if they read. So make sure your child understands that they don’t have to read – but that if they do, they’ve got some perks coming their way. Those perks could be in the form of:

  • Money – they could get a certain amount for each book they read
  • Screen time – an hour of screen time for every hour of reading, for example
  • A later bedtime – Having a standard bedtime of 8:00 PM, say, but allowing the child to stay up till 9:00 PM if they are going to use that time to read (and of course you’ll need to make sure they are actually reading at that time)
  • Other rewards that best suit your child

Break up reading times.

If a child needs to read one hour per day – when required by the school, for example – but he or she is struggling to read, one hour will seem like a very long time. Instead, you can break up that one hour into shorter reading periods, which they can spread out over the time they have.

For example, a child can read for 20 minutes when he comes home, 20 minutes after dinner, and 20 minutes at bedtime. That way, reading times will not feel overwhelming to them.

Shorter reading periods can help them build confidence and feel more comfortable with the act of reading, as well as letting them gradually increase their reading ability. You can even break an hour down to 10 minutes each if that’s all your kid can do at first. Once they have got the hang of it, they can move on to longer reading periods: fifteen minutes, say, or thirty minutes, then a full hour.

Find books related to their interests.

Does your child love to cook? Perhaps a recipe book will spark their interest.

Do they follow football? There are easily dozens of football-related articles produced weekly, particularly during the season, as well as biographies of football icons.

Do they play Minecraft? There are Minecraft books, official and unofficial, that could draw them in.

Are they history buffs? Obsessed with dinosaurs? Fascinated by trivia? Non-fiction books on topics they’re enthralled by can do the trick.

And keep in mind that these books don’t have to be ones written specifically for children. One book club member reports that their reading-resistant child – who tried but disliked kids’ books like Captain Underpants and Diary of a Wimpy Kid – positively adored reading Tom Clancy’s The Hunt for Red October.

Remember that reading isn’t limited to full-length printed books.

Poetry can make inroads where prose cannot, especially if the poem in question is imaginative and fun to read out loud. Think Dr. Seuss’s ABC, Edward Lear’s The Duck and the Kangaroo, or Hilaire Belloc’s Tarantella.

If full-length books are too intimidating, it’s worth trying out short stories and novellas.

And don’t forget magazines! More than a few parents have reported taking their child to a bookstore, instructing them to pick out anything they’re interested in, and the child coming back with a magazine in hand. This especially works with kids who are interested in specific topics such as sports, or cars, or wildlife.

Ebooks are another great format to try out. The great thing about books is that font settings can be changed so that you can make the letters bigger or you can choose a font that works better for you. Ebook stores also tend to let you read the first chapter or so of a book – for free! – so it’s very easy to keep on searching and trying books until you find one that captures your child’s interest.

However, by far the two most recommended alternatives to books are:

  1. Comic books, graphic novels and manga
  2. Audiobooks

Comic books, graphic novels and manga

Ah, no, we won’t go into the difference between comic books, graphic novels, and manga here! Suffice it to say that this genre – comics in general – can be especially accessible to kids who prefer, or even need, a visual accompaniment to what they’re reading. There are many kids who avoid chapter books but devour manga.

One book club member says that reading comic books and graphic novels helped her son go from being behind in his reading level to being two years ahead all in a span of one year.


Audiobooks are a great alternative to printed full-length books. Books spoken out loud are still books, albeit using a different type of sensory input, in much the same way as books in Braille are still books even though they are read using touch.

One book club member reports that they had their son listen to the audiobook while reading the printed book. “After a while, he just started to read ahead, saying the narrator was reading too slow.”

Another parent whose child had attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) says that her child absolutely hated reading so she started him on audiobooks at age six and now he is a speed reader.

Some helpful tips to keep in mind with audiobooks:

  • If you can, get the printed book and the audiobook. Have your child look through the former while listening to the latter. Parents whose kids have dyslexia or ADHD or both have reported success with this technique.
  • Try to find audiobooks with excellent narrators; you can usually listen to a sample of an audiobook before having to buy it, giving you an opportunity to evaluate the narrator.
  • If the audiobook seems to be paced too slow to keep your child’s interest, playing it at 1.5x speed might be better.

Do they just not like reading or are they actually really STRUGGLING to read?

This is an important question.

Sometimes kids refuse to read – even coming up with reasons such as that the books that are given to them are boring or uninteresting – because they are actually finding it hard to read. The act of reading is hard for them.

Two things you need to rule out are:

  1. Eye problems
  2. Learning disorders

Eye problems

One book club member said that she never liked to read when she was younger. It turns out she needed glasses, which she wasn’t able to get until she was already in the 8th grade.

Another member reported that her son wore prescription glasses and needed to attend vision therapy for a year, after which his reading significantly improved.

A simple eye test may sound, well, too simple. And sometimes eye problems are just part of a constellation of symptoms related to a more complex diagnosis. But, whether or not it’s the only problem, a visual defect that’s detected and corrected can go a long way to helping your child.

Learning disorders

Kids who don’t like to read may actually have dyslexia or another learning disorder that makes it practically torture for them to get through paragraphs, let alone full-length books, if they haven’t received the help they need to cope with their unique abilities.

If there is even the slightest possibility that there is a learning disorder at the root of your child’s reluctance to read, please, please, please get them tested.

Ask your child’s teacher for help accessing testing services or go straight to their school’s Director of Reading or Director of Special Education if they have one.

When it comes to dyslexia and other learning disorders, it’s better to know for sure so that, if necessary, your child can get the help he or she needs in terms of individualized education programs, learning accommodations, therapy, support, and helpful tools and techniques. There are even books designed with dyslexics in mind – because many dyslexics do better with certain fonts and formatting – and those might be the types of books that best suit your child. If you aren’t sure where to get printed books catering to dyslexics, try ebooks that you can read on your phone or an e-reader using dyslexia-friendly font settings.

There are also lesser known diagnoses such as visual processing disorders so try to get your child assessed for those too. (It can be a slog as you make your way through the system, but if it helps your kid in the long run, you certainly won’t regret it.)

Other “hacks” for getting your child to read

Parents whose kids were initially reluctant to read say they’ve witnessed remarkable improvement in their child’s reading habits after they tried these:

  • Turn on subtitles when watching videos. Even though your child will, naturally, not get school credits for this, the point is to get them used to reading.
  • Read out loud to them. Reading to your kids when they are very young can turn them into lifelong readers. With older kids, sometimes you think they’re too old to be read to but they’re actually not. Some parents have reported reading out loud to their teenagers. Aside from being quality time, this actually gives the parent and the child the opportunity to discuss what they’re reading, which gives it an advantage over audiobooks. One parent says that when she gets tired or her voice grows hoarse from reading, she has her child take over for a bit – and, voila, the child is reading!
  • Have your child practice reading out loud to animals. If your child is a struggling reader, one way that they can boost their reading ability and confidence without the pressure of a human audience is…finding a non-human one! Some studies have shown that reading to animals can help struggling readers. Your child can read to your pet, if you have one, or you could look for an animal shelter that welcomes these unique reading sessions. And for those in situations where reading to a living and breathing animal isn’t possible, well, how about reading to a stuffed animal? Try anything to get your child reading without them getting anxious about being judged and subconsciously associating the thought of reading with the unpleasantness of anxiety.
  • Ask your child to write something and read it out loud. Although many people get into writing because they were first readers, some kids have actually gotten into reading by writing first. Let them write about anything: things they love, things they hate, what they want for Christmas. Again the point is to get comfortable with the written word.
  • Have them read into a microphone or make a video of themselves reading. Just like animals, a microphone is a non-judgmental audience, and if they listen to or watch what they’ve made, it can give them feedback without another person present.
  • Do trial chapters. You can prepare a bunch of books and read, together with your kid, the first chapters of each book. The child can then choose whichever book captured his or her interest the most.
  • Turn background sound on. For some people, music or other background noise can be a distraction, but for others, it helps them focus on what they’re reading. It can’t hurt to try!
  • Draw. Some people are low on visual imagery, meaning they can’t form a mental image of what they are reading. Those who don’t have the ability to do it at all are said to have aphantasia. Now, for many people with aphantasia, it’s not a problem; there are many paths to the brain – to the meanings of the words – outside of visual images. But some people find it much easier if they are looking at something that goes with the words. Comics can help with this, as already mentioned, but if your child is reading something that doesn’t have images, one thing they can do for visual stimulation is to draw what they’re reading.

Do remember that not all these approaches will necessarily work with all kids but the best way to know if they will work with your kid is to try them out.

And sometimes a child just needs the right book for something to *click*.

For the kid mentioned earlier in the article, it was The Hunt for Red October.

For other kids, it’s a Choose Your Own Adventure book – actively engaging, exciting, and where you are in the book doesn’t necessarily reflect how many pages you’ve read and how many pages you have yet to read.

For yet other kids, it’s On This Day in History Sh!t Went Down by James Fell – interesting, with short entries, and the “swearing” in the title makes many kids giggle.

Here’s a list of all the titles the book club members say made the difference:

  • Calvin and Hobbes
  • Cirque du Freak by Darren Shan
  • Goosebumps by RL Stine
  • Harry Potter by JK Rowling
  • Hatchet by Gary Paulsen
  • Help! My Cat’s Too Fat by Tony De Saulles
  • The Hunt for Red October by Tom Clancy
  • “I Survived” series by Lauren Tarshis
  • My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George
  • The Outsiders by SE Hinton
  • Percy Jackson and other Rick Riordan books
  • Ripley’s Believe It or Not!
  • The Swiss Family Robinson
  • Warrior Cats by Erin Hunter
  • Wings of Fire by Tui T. Sutherland

Here’s hoping you find one your child will adore.

Good luck!

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