Maybe it happens when it’s time for your child’s nightly homework of reading for 10, 20, or 30 minutes. Maybe there’s a book report coming up. Or maybe, on a rainy vacation day stuck inside, you innocently suggest, “Why not read a book?”
“I hate reading!” declares your child.
When your child doesn’t want to read, it’s hard to know what to say, lest you get into a battle of wills and risk turning their reluctance into a deep-seated aversion. Here’s how experts suggest parents respond to a child who declares, “I hate reading!”
Find out why your child hates reading
When kids say they don’t want to read, the first thing Melissa Taylor, the author of Book Love: Help Your Child Grow from Reluctant to Enthusiastic Reader, recommends to parents is that they figure out what’s behind the reluctance. When a child doesn’t want to read, your first step should be a conversation with her teacher, preferably an ongoing one. Undiagnosed learning differences can manifest as reluctance, and the teacher is the first stop in determining whether your child could benefit from specialized assessment and support.
“For some children, it’s because it’s really too hard for them. Some kids it’s just that they haven’t found the right book. Some kids are really just distracted by technology,” Taylor says. “Finding out the why behind it will help you figure out how to address the problem.” That might mean choosing a book more appropriate for your child’s reading level, finding a book on a topic that’s interesting to your child, or ensuring more tech-free time in your child’s schedule and thus more low-pressure opportunities to pick up a book.
What would you rather do?
When your child resists reading, says Jane Bluestein, the author of The Win-Win Classroom, offer some choices. “Say, ‘How many pages do you think you can read before you need a break?’ Or, ‘Do you want to do one of your chores and then sit down and read?” Bluestein, who spent much of her career as a teacher in an inner-city school in Pittsburg, PA, helping kids become avid readers, says that having some agency over how they spend their time makes a difference. If your child has to read something he’s not interested in because that’s the reality of school, she says, set a timer and give him 10 minute breaks. “Let them break up the reading, have them finish this page or that chapter, and then tell them, ‘Let’s do something else and get back to it.’ They deserve that. They deserve a break, they deserve playtime.”
How about I read to you?
“When you are developing as a reader, your listening comprehension is higher than your reading comprehension. This is why kids need to hear text the way it’s supposed to be read,” says Readicide author Kelly Gallagher. Being read aloud to also sparks kids interest in reading because it engages them with more complex language and plots than they could access themselves. So encourage your child to read a book that’s appropriate for his reading level, and also read aloud to him as much as you can — preferably about something he’s excited about.
Related: See our lists of read-aloud books for preschoolers, kindergartners, 1st graders, 2nd graders, 3rd graders, 4th graders, and 5th graders.
Let’s go to the library
Taylor also suggests letting kids loose at the library. Let them roam the aisles and tell them they can check out as many books as they can fit in a bag. “If they can fill a bag with books that look really good to them, they’re going to read some of them. They don’t have to read all of them. They might only read one and that’s better than nothing,” she says. But having freedom and ownership over choosing books that look appealing to them will make them more excited about reading.
When it feels hard, that’s your brain growing
When kids say reading is boring, they don’t like it, or “I hate reading,” read between the lines. What they may really be saying is: “I am afraid I am not good at reading,” says Carol Dweck, the acclaimed author of Mindset. “Often behind this screen of ‘I don’t like’ is this idea that some people are good at something and some aren’t, and maybe I am not good at it. If we teach kids that skills like reading are things you become better at over time by doing it when it’s hard, that can make a really big difference.” You can cultivate this growth mindset by modeling it yourself — for example, by checking yourself before you say things like, “I’m no good with directions” or “I have no talent for music.” And when reading is a slog for your child, remind her of how far she’s come as a reader, and that when it feels hard, that’s when she’s growing connections in her brain and getting smarter.