How Can Parents Ease Anxiety for Struggling Readers?

April 21, 2023

How Can Parents Ease Anxiety for Struggling Readers

Millions of children struggle to read. In the U.S., the majority of fourth graders don’t read at a proficient level. The Nation’s Report Card shows that less than one-third of fourth graders in the country scored at a proficient reading level (or above).

Children who are reading below grade-level expectations could experience feelings of anxiety or even shame associated with their struggle. If reading is difficult and increases anxiety, children could avoid reading or even try to avoid going to school. How can parents ease anxiety for struggling readers? Here are 10 tips to help parents de-stigmatize a reading struggle and help their child gain confidence and embrace books, too.

  1. Read aloud to children.
  2. Be there to help.
  3. Make sure they choose books at their level.
  4. Choose high-low books.
  5. Try not to make reading a chore.
  6. Don’t belittle a child or focus on the negative.
  7. Help children understand that their struggle is shared by others.
  8. Don’t compare a child to a sibling or their friends.
  9. Encourage children to take reading breaks.
  10. Use a reading program.

Read Aloud to Children

Children of all ages enjoy hearing a story or book read aloud. Parents can use this read-aloud time to bond with their child and let them enjoy a reading adventure through listening. Children who read below grade-level might not be able to read the same books as their friends; parents can level the playing field by reading these books aloud to children.

As parents read aloud, they can pause to talk to children about the book to gauge understanding. When reading a chapter book, parents can review what happened at the end of each chapter.

Be There to Help

Children who struggle with reading could feel anxious because they have trouble pronouncing words (or decoding them). Parents can work with children to help them sound out those difficult words. In addition, parents also could keep a dictionary handy and teach children how to look up words that are new to them.

A child also could struggle with comprehension. Parents can teach children techniques that aid their comprehension. Use a bookmark to teach children to chunk text and think about each section as they read. In addition, visual cues like a reading comprehension bookmark or a graphic organizer can help children think about the book or write down pertinent information after they read.

A reading comprehension bookmark can include basic comprehension prompts or even spaces where a child can jot down notes. Graphic organizers are like reading worksheets, but each organizer could feature a different literary element (like theme, characters, etc.). Reading comprehension bookmarks and graphic organizers can be found online; some sites let parents print them for free.

Know the Child’s Reading Level and Help them Choose Appropriate Books

Trying to read a book that’s beyond a child’s reading level can cause stress and anxiety. However, children might choose the book because all their friends are reading it. Encourage children to choose books at their appropriate reading level when they read independently (or with parents) at home.

If a child wants to read or enjoy a book beyond their reading ability, parents could read the book (or series) aloud to them. Parents also could find the audiobook for the title. Many public libraries provide access to audiobooks.

Choose High-Low Books

An older child might be one or more grades behind in reading. However, a third grader does not want to read a book written for a first grader. There are many books that are written in high-low formats; this means that they are written with the child’s age or grade in mind but correlate to a reading level conducive to the child’s reading abilities.

Reading Rockets offers a list of popular books that are considered high-low formats. Parents might be surprised at the titles they find in the list.

Try Not to Make Reading a Chore

A child could learn to dislike reading because it’s always presented as homework or just another assignment; they could stop reading or avoid it and then fall behind. Other children who struggle to read hate feeling pressured or lectured about reading.

Parents might feel that they are in a difficult situation; after all, children need to read to gain proficiency and confidence. However, parents could choose to create a reading rewards system or even schedule a reading time that focuses on the child and parent reading together (or taking turns reading).

When children begin to read independently, parents also could try to create excitement around reading. They might build a fort or schedule a weekly trip to the library to let children choose new books for the week.

How Can Parents Ease Anxiety for Struggling Readers

Don’t Belittle a Child or Focus on the Negative

When a child already feels down because they are struggling to read proficiently, belittling them or making negative comments about their reading will only push their self esteem lower. Be positive about reading; encourage children and praise them when they sound out a word correctly.

Parents also could create a rewards system that makes children feel celebrated after they completed a specific number of books or accumulated reading minutes. Be a motivating force that encourages a child to want to read.

Help Children Understand that Their Struggle is Shared by Others

Reading struggles are common. Again, the majority of fourth graders in the U.S. do not read at a proficient level. Help children understand that they are not alone in their struggle. This can help relieve the stigma about the child’s reading struggle.  

Don’t Compare a Child to a Sibling or Their Friends

Children are unique and so are their learning journeys. Don’t compare a child to their sibling or to one of their friends. This will only increase a child’s anxiety and shame. The unfair comparison may cause a rift between siblings or friends. In addition, children may grow up feeling inferior.

How Can Parents Ease Anxiety for Struggling Readers

Encourage Children to Take Reading Breaks

Some children have difficulty staying focused as they read. Children who struggle to stay on task or who have difficulty with concentrating for a long period of time might need to take more breaks while reading. Again, parents can teach them how to chunk text and focus on a portion of the story at a time.

Parents can gauge their child’s attention level and schedule breaks accordingly. Forcing a child to read for 30 minutes straight when they begin zoning out after 15 minutes might be counterproductive.

Use a Reading Program

A reading program like Readability can be used for children in kindergarten through sixth grade who struggle to read at grade level. Children begin the program one level below their current reading level; this helps them build confidence.

Readability includes a built-in AI reading tutor who works with children during the lessons. Like an in-person tutor, the AI tutor helps children with pronunciation and provides encouragement, too. The AI tutor is programmed with voice-recognition software; Readability requires children to read books aloud, and this is how the tutor learns each child’s voice.

Vocabulary knowledge can help boost a child’s reading comprehension; each book in Readability includes a list of vocabulary words found in the story. In addition, children can tap any word that they don’t know to hear the definition or hear it used in a sentence. Readability includes a comprehensive vocabulary list that includes all the words for each story—including those that children ‘discovered.’

The AI tutor also gauges a child’s reading fluency as they read. This is measured in words read per minute. At the end of each book, the tutor also tests the child’s reading comprehension through a short quiz.

Parents can follow their child’s reading progress via a private portal. This portal shows the child’s reading level, reading comprehension mastery, reading fluency and how long they used the program.

Can Readability Help Ease Reading Anxiety?

Children who struggle to read at grade level might develop reading anxiety or even shame related to their struggle. Many children struggle with reading, and parents might work with children to help them understand that their struggle is common. Readability can help children gain both reading proficiency and confidence. Parents can sign up for a free seven-day trial period to explore the program with their child; this trial lets children use all the features and even meet the AI tutor. Sign up today to help children develop reading confidence and learn to love reading!