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My five year-old daughter likes to keep her abilities to herself. She pretty much taught herself to read about a year ago, but didn't let us know. If you asked her what something said, she would shrug, but if you gave her instructions that required reading silently, like "Click on 'check out'" at the library kiosk, she could do it easily.

Now the cat's out of the bag, but she's still reluctant to read aloud to her full ability. She will fluently read a word like "beautiful," then pretend to stumble over "the." As a result, we have no idea what her true reading level is.

Any ideas what could be causing this? It's not a lack of confidence, as it's very intentional. It's not stage fright, because this is one on one in her own home and she's treating it like a game. It's not lack of praise. In fact, praise actually shuts her down harder. It's almost as if how well she reads is her own private business that she simply doesn't care to share.

Any ideas how to persuade her to show us her best?

  • Are your praising her ability to read, or her ability to follow your directions, or her ability to pronounce "hard" words? Certain types of praise can be be ineffective, so it'd help to know how you're using it, to decide whether or not it's part of the problem. – user11394 Apr 13 '15 at 18:37
  • We don't praise much at all about her reading anymore, because of her response to it, although she readily accepts praise in other areas. We're aware of the studies about praising effort versus intelligence and try to follow that. – Karl Bielefeldt Apr 13 '15 at 18:43
  • I was thinking more along the lines of praising her for completing a read-aloud session versus praising any individual part of the session, although it may be irrelevant. Do you also test for reading comprehension and vocabulary? An aside: I found a related article. Your daughter clicking on the "check out" button seems to be an example of receptive language, which may be the better way to judge her abilities. – user11394 Apr 13 '15 at 18:53
  • Her vocabulary and comprehension are pretty good too, we just don't know how good, because she resists anything that feels like a test. She's somewhat reserved in public, but is quite talkative at home. – Karl Bielefeldt Apr 13 '15 at 19:08
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    Re: giving her reading material at the "correct" level, I wouldn't worry too much about this with her ability and at this age. Have you tried letting her go to the library and pick out some books by herself? If they are too hard, you can always take them back and get some easier ones. If you think they are too easy, I would just stick with what she enjoys and feel comfortable with for now. As a personal example, I was an early reader, but well into elementary school I would sometimes enjoy reading my mom's very simple phonics books just to revisit the little stories that I had learned on. – Aravis Apr 15 '15 at 15:25
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Before you can figure out what to do about it, you need to understand the root cause.

Maybe she's shy about receiving praise. I'm a 56 year old man so obviously not the same situation, but I get uncomfortable when people compliment me. I just really don't like praise. Especially if it's drawn out.

Maybe she feels like she's being asked to perform and she's afraid of disappointing.

Maybe she doesn't like reading and wants to only do it when necessary.

Etc.

I'd try simply asking her why she doesn't want to read in front of you. She may give an honest answer. BTW, don't dismiss an answer because it's not the way you think. I mean like, if a child says "I don't like to read out loud because I don't like people watching me", don't say, "That's ridiculous! Everyone loves to be the center of attention!" Maybe she isn't like you. (Just a hypothetical example, of course.) If she can't or won't explain, see if you can narrow down the circumstances and get some clues.

It may just be a whim that she can't explain. You probably do lots of things that you can't explain. Why do you not like to wear brown shoes or eat broccoli or exercise or fill-in-the-blank? You'd probably have a hard time giving a reason. You just don't.

Most of all, don't go into a panic and think it's time to call in psychiatrists or begin beatings or whatever! Is this a serious impediment to her learning and development? Probably not. While you don't want to be complacent about problems, you also don't want to panic and go to extremes over nothing.

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Step 1: Give her any book to read on her own and then ask her basic questions on it like "What are the names of the characters?" and "What is the book about?" This will help her to feel more confident in her reading ability.

Step 2: Keep repeating step 1 using different books until you think she is more confident.

Step 3: Try asking her how to spell simple, short words like "to", "it", "so", "the","ten", etc. If she is able to spell those out loud then she might be able to spell in front of people. You could also try to get her to spell her name.

Step 4: Now move onto reading short sentences like "How are you?", "What time is it?". If she is able to do this then she will become more confident.

There are somethings that you shouldn't do:

  1. Cheering or clapping might put her off and make her feel awkward. Try saying "very good" instead.

  2. Don't put her on the spot.

  3. Don't move onto harder words until you are 100% sure that she will be confident spelling them. If she isn't confident spelling long words her confidence could drop but you will just need to repeat step 1 if this happens.

Another reason why she isn't confident might be that she is afraid of being incorrect. This can be cured by using the steps.

  • Do you have any references or supporting evidence? As this stands, it almost completely disagrees with what I understand (which is largely similar to Brian's answer). Only giving 'easy' challenges is a poor way to help a child find the self confidence to accomplish difficult things; instead encouraging her to try difficult things, even in failure, is better. – Joe Apr 13 '15 at 21:01
  • @Joe Yes but if she succeeds in small tasks then it will improve her confidence. It gives a kind of "I feel like I can do anything" feeling. – one2three Apr 13 '15 at 21:05
  • No, it encourages her to do things that are easy to accomplish to get positive feedback. Like I said, this goes directly against what I've read elsewhere on how to raise children who are confident enough to overcome challenges: by giving them challenges. – Joe Apr 13 '15 at 21:07
  • You dont sprint in a marathon and get too tired to reach the goal. You jog until you are close to the goal – one2three Apr 13 '15 at 21:17
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My wife actually sent me this link on raising smart kids. I think the principles here translate very well into your situation.

The focus of the article is on training yourself not to tell your kids they're smart. Instead, it focuses on teaching them a method to figure out how to accomplish things and seek greater challenges. Things like this for praise:

“Wow … that's a really good score. You must be smart at this.” We commended others for their process: “Wow … that's a really good score. You must have worked really hard.” I read this article daily to remind myself how to be a better parent.

This is the same answer I gave to this question. I do think the same principles apply here even though this question is not a duplicate :)

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Is she meeting your local school system's expectations for literacy? If so, I'd say that her reading skills are more an interesting peculiarity than something to make a big deal about.

I don't think it is the parent's job to quiz or test a kid about his or her skills, unless there is a concern that the kid is having issues. It is generally considered that effective methods to foster literacy are access to quality books, being read to daily, and seeing adults read for pleasure.

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Mr Rogers taught children in his television programs that they do not have to share. In other words, children should not be forced to share something that they prefer to keep private.

Perhaps it would be helpful for you if, in your own internal thinking about your daughter's reading, you concentrated on feeling joyful for your daughter about her discovery of reading, and enjoyment of reading.

(Then, after a few months, when you are good and over your urge to push her to do something she's not comfortable with, try some simple reader's theater with her -- FOR FUN. You each take one or more roles.)

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