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Monday, July 25, 2016

When Your Kid is a Reluctant Reader: What’s a Smug, Self-Assured Parent to Do?

Yes, I was a smug parent. I admit it. I figured reading would be easy for my kids because I’m a reader. I adore the printed word. How could I not, when my mother, a former teacher, read to us from infancy and took us on weekly trips to the library? Our home was filled with books. Once when I was a teenager, a friend was scared (her word) when she stopped by my house and everyone, including both parents and all three kids, had a book in hand. The TV wasn’t on; we were reading. Oh, the horror! Seriously, my idea of heaven is a place like the library from Beauty and the Beast. It's always open. And, there’s chocolate. 

Well, when I had children, I was certain they’d love books the way I did. No problemo, right? Kid #1 fulfilled my expectations in every way and then some. She loved to be read to, and she took to reading, drinking up the letters, sounds, syllables and words like a parched dromedary in the desert. By kindergarten she already knew basic sight words and was put in the highest reading group right away. Now in middle school, she devours books and has read above her grade-level for a long time. *sigh* I patted myself on the back for a job well done.

Enter kid #2. She loved to be read to, but she didn’t take to reading. Not at all. She participated in a great preschool group taught by myself and other parents, just as I'd done with kiddo numero uno, but that whole alphabet “thingy” never seemed to totally make sense to her. I still vividly remember spending an entire extra week on the letter P.  We ate popcorn and pizza, went to the pet store to look at parrots, sang silly songs, traced and wrote the letter P ad nauseum, made letters out of playdo, and everything else I could think of. When I was certain my child had that letter solidly in her sweet little head, I wrote a giant letter P on a paper and asked her what letter it was. Her response?  She shrugged, and said: “I don’t know. What letter is that?” Registering that child for school was humiliating, because when the time rolled around, she didn’t yet know the entire alphabet. I still cringe as I recall the expression on the kindergarten teacher’s face when she asked me if my child had gone to preschool. When I explained I’d done it at home and with a neighborhood group, I got THE LOOK. You know the one. 

By that time, I knew something was going on. Being a speech-language pathologist, I suspected a learning disability or a language delay. However, at that time I wasn’t working outside the home and I no longer had access to the testing materials or the ears of other professionals who could have helped me determine what exactly was going on inside my kiddo’s head. So, my sweet, bright, funny reluctant reader started school and continued to have a hard time learning her alphabet and her sight words. It was tough for her to pay attention in class. Luckily, her teacher listened to me as I expressed my concerns and frustrations, and agreed to have her tested for speech/language and learning issues. Finally, things clicked into place. I learned that my child has ADD, or Attention Deficit Disorder. This difficulty in attending to the right things at the right times, or inability to focus, impacted her learning and her social skills. Seeing the test results for the first time was a nice “Ah ha!” moment for me. 

Finally, I knew what was going on and knew where to go from there! My daughter got additional help with reading and received language therapy to build her vocabulary knowledge, which I implemented at home as well. Guess what? She improved immensely at school, and caught up to her peers. Now about to enter third grade, she can read at grade level. Woo hoo!

And guess what else??? She still doesn’t like to read. 

Kids may be reluctant readers for many different reasons. If reading is something that is hard for them to do, you can’t blame them for not liking to do it. But reading is essential for success in school, and I’d also say it’s necessary for success in life, frankly.

So, what to do??? I don’t have all the answers, here, but I do have a few suggestions that are helping me support my daughter’s learning and increase her interest in books.

1.      Make books part of your everyday life.  Obvious, but important. If your kid doesn’t see you read, why would she think of it as a fun or an enjoyable part of life? If you spend hours watching Netflix or keep your nose stuck to the screen of your smartphone for hours on end, what does that teach your kid about the joys of reading? Whether it's from an actual book or an ebook, just read. 

3.       Let them read what they want. Grit your teeth and put The Hobbit aside. Let Harry Potter go. If they don’t want to read a certain book find what they do want to read. I’ve had to learn to accept all those “trademark” paperbacks, like the “My Little Pony” or “Strawberry Shortcake” stories that make me want to puke because my daughter was motivated to read them.  Some day, she’ll fall in love with Harry, I just know it! 

4.       Read with your kids, even when they’re older.  My oldest still loves it when we read together. (Don’t let her know I shared this.) We read out loud a lot in the evenings or during road trips. It passes the time and introduces reluctant readers to great books they haven’t tried yet, while building their vocabulary by introducing unfamiliar words in context.

5.       Try not to make reading a chore, but DO make it a daily requirement. This is hard. Since reading is difficult for many kids, by default it becomes a form of torture and something that definitely isn’t fun. So, start a reading chart and reward your child for time spent reading. Use whatever works, and find ways to motivate your child. For example, if a book has been made into a movie that your kiddo wants to see, require your child to read small parts of the book, even if the entire thing is beyond them. Then, read the rest of it out loud or have your child listen to the book on CD. Once they've read or at least heard the entire book, reward them by letting them watch the movie version.

6.       Get professional help, if possible.  My kids like me as Mom. They do NOT like me as “teacher., tutor, speech therapist, etc.” For that reason, it often helps if I enlist outside help for challenging homework or difficult projects.  There are lots of after-school programs and tutoring services available. If it’s feasible, try extra reading help from an outside source.
      Love your kid. Accept her the way she is. She is a reluctant reader, but that doesn’t make her any less valuable, does it? It certainly doesn't that mean you love her any less. Don’t get sucked into the comparison trap when other parents start bragging about how great or talented or mind-blowingly brilliant their kids are. Don’t let it make you feel bad when your kid doesn’t seem to measure up in every possible way. Just remember, your child is perfect the way she is.

So, long story short, this has been a challenge for me. Kiddo Number Two made me question myself and humbled me to the dust. To the dust, people!! I had to let go of my smug assumption that I “knew it all” and would raise a couple of book-loving nerds with ease. She made me realize that I don’t have all the answers and that’s okay. She reminded me that every kid is perfect just the way they are. 


  1. Hi Rebecca,
    How are you? If you were anywhere within armslength right now I'd give you the biggest and longest hug ever. What an accomplishment! Congratulations! I believe in the beginning of the year I told you that you would soon get published. How could you not? Your writing kept getting noticably better each time you made a revision. I was amazed but not surprised. I knew twenty or so years ago you were destined to be a great writer. I mean before there was blogging, there you were daily in the writing lab working on something. It was sometimes in English, but mostly in Italian. I could only pick out a word or phase here and there, while you would be translating it all to me. I was also writing for the Thunderbird newspaper at the time. It was a thrill for me to see my work in print with my name on it. I can imagine how excited you must feel with your novel coming out. I share your excitement! I've tried to put the word out about your novel. I also plan to get on that writer's website where it says help Rebecca. I think you have a cool writing support center going on with great comments and feedback. I love the fact that you are not only part of writing contests, but also hold your own contests to encourage others to write. You then get to judge, and the winner gets an advanced copy of your new novel! Way cool! And since I can't write a lick, I'll have to wait until December to get my copy😁 I look forward to it! It seems like a perfect time for it to come out just before Xmas. At last check, I had about twenty people interested. And you know me, I'll do my part! You want me to buy a million copies I'll try my darndest 😃
    I know I am not a part of your everyday circle of friends anymore, but I would love to stay in touch. It's funny that back in the early 2000s I wanted to look you up. I was in the Twin Falls area. A beautiful area! I was near the snake river. I wanted to invite you to an indian artifact dig. I remembered you enjoyed doing that too. I can't even remember the name of the indian tribe that is up there now. Anyway, I'll stop my rambling and let you go. Take care! God Bless! Best wishes for future success, with your writing, as well with life in general. I enjoy hearing from you. Love your blog! You're awesome! You can pat yourself on the back for many reasons!
    Hopefully still friends,
    Jim Hakes
    p.s. ignore my incognito google login☺

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  8. Hi!
    I am so sorry for all the deleted messages. I thought I had hit the publish button once and for some reason the same message kept coming up again and again. Anyway, I have a question. Is it possible to purchase books directory from you? And could you sign one and write a message in one for me? I would like to purchase as many that are available. I will of course also reimburse you for the postage. Let mě know what you can do Rebecca. Thank you.

  9. Hi Rebecca!,
    Okay, first of all, you have to stop this whole novel writing thing; you're costing me way too much money. @big laugh@ You know I'm teasing you. How are you doing? Still can't compleletly wrap your head around what you've done? Let me tell you that it's nothing short of amazing! I read something online that said only two percent of new first time authors ever get published! Wow! You took care of that. Now, after reading the reviews, it looks like we can place your novel in the instant classic best-seller category! 'One of the best YA books of the year.' Are you kidding? It hasn't even come out in print yet! How is that even possible?
    It's only possible when you have a special, talented, mind-blowingly brilliant author. And this is just the beginning of your career so I gotta save more money in the future�� I really like Kenna. I think that novel will be next if I had to make a prediction today. By the way, do need an agent? I work for free and for cannolis �� And I didn't mean to insult you by asking you for your book. I don't want any free handouts. Rebecca didn't spend the last ten years or so painstakingly working, pouring blood sweat and tears into her artistic creation for some dummy to just come along and say, "hey, how about a book?" So, the final step in all of this now is hopefully, helping each other out. I trust you 110 percent. But with more and more blog traffic comes moře prying eyes. I guess I feel a little uncomfortable putting my address out there. I can't change my address; I can always change my phone number though, so here it is: 7023066560. You don't have to call and talk just text me. Let me know if you have any copies and what kind of compensation you expect. @nice firm friendly handshake@ Also a friendly hug for being such a wonderful person and friend. More than likely, this is my final blog comment for 2016. I look forward to hearing from you anytime between now and the end of the year. God bless! Happy holidays! Best wishes to you Rebecca!
    Your friend,
    Jim Hakes
    P.S If you want to throw in an embroidered pillow or t-shirt with books, we can text about that too��

  10. Hi!
    I don't want to make you feel uncomfortable. If you prefer email I just got a brand new computer so it took me awhile to change my passwords and accounts. Hugs Whatever you feel best using you can text or email anytime. I look so forward to reading it!
    Your friend,
    Jim Hakes

  11. Hi,
    Everytime I think I've commented or congratulated you enough already, another interesting piece of news pops up seemingly out of nowhere. Big hugs to the newest Idaho state writer's award recepient. You shouldn't just be one of the best in Idaho, but the whole country as well. Also, awesome youtube video! It looked like a hollywood movie trailer! Speaking of hollywood, at this point, it wouldn't surprise me one bit they contact you wanting to turn your book into a tv movie. With you, anything absolutely amazing is possible! I'll be writing you again next month congratulating you on winning the nobel prize in literature! Could you say you absolutely blow my mind? Well..yeah. Could you also say a tad bit jealous? Sure, in all honesty, who wouldn't want to be published for the first time with an awesome book? That's a dream that only a select few can achieve in their lifetime. But, my happiness for you far outweighs
    me being envious. Could any of this happen to a sweeter person? Of course not. It's only because I know you how kind you are why I'm not compleletly intimadated by you. Just 99 percent@laugh@ Do I even feel worthy enough to receive a copy of your book? No, not really. But you have all my contact info now so I'm hoping there might be a chance@laughs@ Anyway, I realize now that I can't write to you everytime you accomplish something or else I'd be writing you everyday of your life@laugh@ I hope your new book sells a million copies and that you can quit your job and retire to some tropical island! I hope to ať least buy one copy if possible. I may just have to take a trip to the Barnes and Noble at the Red Cliffs mall in St. George and see if its on the shelf. Or I may have to order it; I have no idea. Please keep me in the loop if possible. Hopefully, you still want to be friends with this crazy dumb guy@laughs@
    Your friend Rebecca