Why Children Have Reading Difficulties and how to Provide Reading Help at Home

February 8, 2021

Why Children Have Reading Difficulties and how to Provide Reading Help at Home

Understanding why a child is struggling to read may help parents provide reading help at home. Some children may struggle to read because of an underlying medical condition (perhaps a hearing impairment), while other children might have fallen behind their peers in reading because of other reasons.

Dyslexia also might be a concern for parents; the Mayo Clinic explains that some of the signs of dyslexia include struggling to identify sequences, reading below the expected grade-level benchmarks, and struggling to distinguish similarities/differences between letters and words.

Properly diagnosing a child’s reading struggles may be vital to helping them to gain proficiency. Parents may incorrectly believe a child is struggling to read when in fact they are reading at an expected level; siblings who had precocious reading skills might have set a high benchmark that is causing undue stress or worry.

So when is it time for parents to intervene? Typically, parents can stay on top of reading progress via reports from a child’s teacher. Many districts test students’ reading levels throughout the year to ensure that they are meeting benchmark standards. These test results should be sent home with students, although schools might not send home every report.

The best way to find out if a child is struggling and to better understand their reading level is by engaging in a dialogue with the teacher. Ask if a child is reading at grade level and if the teacher has any concerns. Parents may discover their worries are for naught, or they may find out that their child is struggling. 

It is important for parents to understand the severity of their child’s struggles. A child who is only a few months behind their peers might need less intervention than a child who is reading several grade levels behind their peers.

Why Children Have Reading Difficulties and how to Provide Reading Help at Home

How to Better Understand Reading Struggles

When a parent learns their child is struggling, what are the next steps? Parents may react very differently and may pursue their own unique solutions. There is no right or wrong solution; every family’s needs and resources may differ.

Some parents may make an immediate appointment with the pediatrician to diagnose any potential medical concerns or for guidance on finding specialists or clinicians who also can help. Pediatricians can be a resource for referrals to hearing specialists, psychologists and other professionals who could potentially diagnose an underlying medical condition or learning disorder. A 2019 report from the American Academy of Pediatrics provided “…guidance to the pediatrician to help families achieve a good evaluation for their child who is struggling in school while facilitating the feasibility for the pediatrician to provide this support.”

The report recommended that doctors conduct a medical exam and also account for previous background details like medical history (and the mother’s pregnancy history, too), developmental/behavioral history, sleep patterns/history, and family/social background. The report also recommends observing a child’s behaviors in the office…how they talk, interact, etc. Past history, exams, and observations may reveal the need for more evaluations or an appointment with a specialist.

Parents also can ask for intervention options from the schools. Teachers may recommend evaluations to help determine if the child may qualify for additional reading instruction or an Individualized Education Plan (IEP).

Why Children Have Reading Difficulties and how to Provide Reading Help at Home

Helping at Home

Medical appointments and evaluations may reveal no underlying causes or explanations for reading struggles. Parents also could discover that while their child is a little bit behind peers in reading proficiency, they might not struggle enough to receive the additional intervention.

Unfortunately, parents may feel that their child is falling through the cracks. Parents can provide reading help at home to ensure children don’t fall further behind. Even when children don’t qualify for additional help from the school, teachers may still recommend resources for parents to use at home. Reach out to teachers for advice on providing reading help at home.


There are many online sites that provide free reading worksheets that parents can use at home to help children. Parents can do a quick search to find these worksheets. Some may focus on reading comprehension, but others may be focused on phonics.

Read with Kids

Children who have trouble sounding out words or comprehending larger chunks of text may benefit from parents reading with them. Parents can help children read the story out loud, or children and parents can alternate reading roles. During the story, ask questions related to comprehension. Focus on the ‘wh’ questions: who, what, where, when, why, and how.

Let Children Pick Books…on Their Level

Children have different interests, and their reading enjoyment may increase when they read a book they want to read. However, parents should ask teachers about their child’s reading level to ensure that books aren’t too easy or too difficult.

Make Reading Fun…with Games

Reading lessons don’t have to be completely instruction-based. That is, lessons don’t have to feel like lessons. Children who have difficulty with phonics might have fun playing word games to better understand their letters. Parents can purchase reading games at stores or online.

Apps also are available online that serve as reading games. Some may help children identify sight words. Others can be crossword puzzles. Do a quick search to find games relevant to a child’s struggle. Just make sure that the game is appropriate, and parents also may want to disable in-app purchase options (if they don’t want a surprise bill). 

Engage in Activities that Support Interest in Stories

Some activities don’t help boost literacy in the traditional sense, but they may help children become more engrossed in their book and immerse themselves in the story. Embrace the five senses of the story with these activities:

  • Parents and kids can cook recipes or sample foods from the book/story. Eating a food that a character munched on in the book takes the child into the story.
  • Watch the movie. After reading a book/story, let children watch the big screen adaptation and ask them to spot the differences between the book and the movie. What did kids like better?
  • Take a book field trip. Visit a place from the book. Or take a virtual tour of a place from the book’s setting online.
  • Embark on a word scavenger hunt. Make a list of a child’s vocabulary or sight words and go on a scavenger hunt for each word. Children might earn a prize or special privilege when they find every word on the list. 

Use a Reading App

Sometimes parents don’t have the time to sit with children to help them read. Or maybe they are unsure how to provide appropriate help. A reading app like Readability provides children with a built-in AI reading tutor that will help them during lessons. The AI tutor will correct any pronunciation errors and also ask questions related to comprehension. Children advance through the program as they display proficiency at each level. Books are never too easy or too difficult, and stories provide engaging content and interactive features to keep children interested. 

A reading app can be a great resource to help children boost their proficiency and help parents understand their child’s progress. For example, Readability’s Parent Dashboard lets parents see their child’s reading level and how long their child engaged with the app.

When parents see their child struggling to read, there could be many reasons for their child’s struggle. Underlying medical conditions or a learning disorder could be impacting their child’s proficiency. However, parents may discover that there isn’t a definitive reason for their child’s struggle.

Parents also may find that their child isn’t falling behind enough to receive help. There are many ways that parents can provide reading help at home, and parents might wish to reach out to the child’s teacher for resources or ways to provide that help. When parents don’t have the time or resources to help their child, a reading app like Readability can provide additional assistance to struggling readers who need to gain proficiency.