Q&A Patrons ask; librarians answer. The Reluctant Reader

Q&A: Children's Librarians answer questions all day, every day, from children, parents, caregivers, and teachers. This is part one in a series sharing a question from a patron and an answer from a children's librarian.

The Reluctant Reader. Part 1.

Q: My son is 8 years old and he hates reading. It's like torture to get him to sit still for the 20 minutes each day his teacher requires. I'm at my wit's end. I'm worried about him, and I know he's feeling stressed about it, too. What can I do?

sketch of a librarian ready to take notesA: It's not time to panic. I've met plenty of kids who say they don't like to read, and who avoid reading at all costs, and yet they grow up to be readers. Parents don’t always know that each person starts reading in their own good time. Statistically, this often happens sometime around or before 3rd grade, but it's not universally true that by 3rd grade everyone reads on their own. Plenty of bright children become readers later than anyone expected.

The single best predictor of whether or not a child will learn to read, read capably and with ease, and read for pleasure for the rest of his or her life is whether or not he or she enjoys reading.

“Yes, but how do I make this happen?” you ask? The two best ways you can help your child enjoy reading are:

  • Read aloud to him
  • Let him choose his own reading material

If we enjoy something, we put more energy into it, we are patient with ourselves about it, and we keep trying even if we don't succeed immediately. You are the ideal person for this job; to give your child the joy of reading. Share your enthusiasm with your son. Allow him to choose what he wants to read, and then read it to him – up until the moment when he says he wants to read it on his own.

sketch of a kid reading to her mom

As you visit the library and read aloud to him, try for a light-hearted, breezy, low-stress attitude. If your son continues to express dismay, frustration, disappointment in himself, or fear about his abilities, I would suggest that you acknowledge his feelings, and then tell him that eventually it will “click” for him. In the meantime, enjoy your time together.

Don't fear that you must read aloud to him for the rest of his life. This phase can last just long enough so he gets the strong message that reading is fun, it's important enough to you to really spend time on it, and you are enjoying this parent-child activity as much as he is. At some point, his ability to sit still, focus on the page long enough, recognize a sufficient number of words by sight, and bring various decoding skills into play without strain will all reach critical mass, and he'll embrace reading on his own. It will happen eventually.

Note: If your child is struggling with other issues like nearsightedness, dyslexia, or another condition that might need some attention, know that the signs of those kinds of constraints could be subtle, and not very different from what is perfectly, developmentally normal in all children. It doesn't change the advice here, but there may be other work involved to get him from where he is today to being an enthusiastic reader. If you observe or suspect something like this, talk to your child’s teacher or pediatrician.

“Wait!” you say? “I need a book, not advice.” Okay, I get it! When you go to the library, talk to the children's librarian. Mention that you want to find a good book to read aloud to your son, age 8, and to make sure it's a really captivating, exciting, wonderful story. So many people ask this question, that we will know how to take it from there. Try us.sketch of mom reading to kids at a table

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