Get ’Em Hooked: Strategies for Reluctant Readers

Annette Lyon
Mar 7, 2018 · 4 min read
My then-fourth-grade daughter. Photo provided by the author.

My nine-year-old daughter tested well above grade level on every reading test, so why was I pulling my hair out trying to get her to open a book at home? Any attempt to push an easy chapter book into her hands was met with a brick wall of resistance.

My mother heart panicked; if she didn’t learn to read, and to enjoy reading, she’d have a harder time in school, college, and life.

Thanks to some detective work on my part, plus advice from educators, my daughter finally became what I’d hoped she would: an avid independent reader. She’s now a junior in college (majoring in math — somehow, she’s still my kid), and she loves books as much as ever.

Some of the things that helped her learn to love books proved useful with my other children as well.

Take away the Intimidation Factor

The fix proved remarkably simple: We checked out an audio book from the library and got her the same book in hard copy. Then she followed the text as the audio played.

Tackling a whole book and mountains of text no longer seemed so scary because someone else (the voice actor) was doing some of the work. After reading a few books this way, her confidence level shot up and she could read easily a chapter book alone.

Have Them Listen to Books

Literacy involves a lot more than deciphering words on a page. Listening to books helps hone skills like comprehension, prediction, making connections, understanding symbols and themes, and more. Those skills carry over to when a child reads independently.

Back up a Bit

Find a book a few levels easier and try again. Can your child read 90% of the words on each page with ease? If so, it’s probably in the Goldilocks zone of being just right.

Once they see that yes, they can do this, confidence grows, and they’ll gradually move through harder levels.

Find What’s Interesting to Them

The truth? They’ve never been given a book they actually like.

While they’ll have to muscle through some books that are simply assigned at school, try to find ones for reading at home that strike a chord with something they personally find interesting, whether that’s comic books, nonfiction about snakes, novels about martial arts or ballet or Legos or horses, or whatever else your child finds interesting.

Admit to Hating Some Books

The students knew Mrs. Staheli as someone who loved books, devoured them, and wanted her students to love reading too.

So imagine their shock when she pulled out book after book from that suitcase with statements like, “Couldn’t get past the first chapter,” and, “I was required to read this one in college, but it was so boring, I read it backwards.”

Whoa. If Mrs. Staheli could hate some book — could NOT FINISH some books — then maybe hating some books didn’t meant mean her students were bad readers after all. For many students of the years, this demonstration blew their minds in a good way.

Use Mrs. Staheli’s technique at home. If your child knows you as an avid reader, then saying how how you had to slog through a certain book in high school or how you can’t stand a certain author’s style will open up that same aha in your home.

Visit the Optometrist

That’s when I noticed how often she complained of headaches in her forehead.

A visit to the eye doctor showed that while she had 20/20 vision, she had significant astigmatism in both eyes. That meant her eye muscles had to work significantly harder to focus on small things like text. Eye strain led to headaches.

In other words, reading was physically painful for her.

She got a pair of cute reading glasses. Days later, I caught her curled up on her bed with her glasses on her cute little face and her nose in a novel.

Holding back tears, I tiptoed away so as not to disturb her.

Learning to read affects children’s lives in ways nothing else ever will, empowering them with skills that are vital for success in a world that’s more connected by the written word than ever.

If your child is a reluctant reader, don’t give up. Keep trying. Play detective. The rewards are well worth it.

Annette Lyon

Written by

USA Today bestselling and award-winning author of women’s fiction & romance repped by Heather Karpus, ICM Partners. Word nerd. Chocoholic. Mom.