My seven-year-old nephew is such a reluctant reader that despite the many teacherly suggestions I have been able to offer his mom and a lot of work with his own teachers he still just won't read. She isn't yet ready to have him tested for dyslexia or anything, but I wondered if anyone visiting this site might have some additional suggestions.

Things she has already tried:

  • She reads a lot with him already (though she does all the reading while he does the looking).
  • Working with easy readers that are super short and simple such as "Bob's Books," "Spots adventures with Dick and Jane" and the like along with phonics awareness curricula.
  • Using a yellow film over the letters to make the pages easier to view.
  • Having his vision checked.
  • Taking Turns Reading Sentences.
  • Playing lots of pre-reading games such as Down by the Bay.
  • Book Walks before Reading.
  • Providing ample choices of books in his interest area.
  • Introducing him to sight reading of high-frequency words through flash-cards.

I actually think it might just be there is too much pressure. He has three older sisters that all read well and read on-time or early and a cousin that is almost his same age that started at three. It looks to me more like a matter of if mom just relaxes and lets it be for awhile, he might come around, but it is really hard to tell from a distance for sure.

With that context in mind, is there anything else I could suggest to her that may be helpful for him to get him started?

Requested Update The mom never did have him tested, but did take the advice to back off and enforcer her daughters backing off. She instilled a 30 minute period of "reading choice" at bedtime so they were choosing either reading or going straight to sleep in order to make sure there was a time for reading in the house when all was quiet and he had time to himself. I also suggested she start really focusing on his talents and strengths instead. They actually installed a back-yard pool and he swims a lot. They also started celebrating his accomplishments in math.

A year later, while math is still his best subject (and probably always will be - nothing wrong with that), he is now reading and doing well. Thanks for your ideas.

  • It's been over a year now and I would be keen to know how things turned out.
    – halirutan
    Commented Dec 31, 2013 at 16:26
  • Reading to a kid will not help him reading by himself. "Dick and Jane" is garbage. "Phonics awareness" is not enough, he should use synthetic phonics exclusively, no guessing, no cueing. Take him off Whole Language / Balanced Literacy BS.
    – Rusty Core
    Commented Sep 8, 2020 at 17:08

4 Answers 4


It sounds like there might be a couple of different things going on: too much pressure and perhaps his mom is taking too much of an active role but in the wrong way.

And it seems like she needs to spend the time to find out why he's a reluctant reader. I know the idea that your child my be dyslexic or have some other learning disability is scary, but ignoring it isn't going to make it go away and will only make the situation worse. You know this. You're a teacher. But I also know that you can make every recommendation in the world...parents are going to do what parents are going to do (or not do, as the case may be)

Once she's ruled out everything else, then if he still isn't super interested in reading she can back off and sort of allow things to evolve naturally.

Is she, perhaps, reading to him too much? I only say this because I used to work with a teacher whose son was a reluctant reader. He simply loved that his mom read to him and wasn't at all motivated to learn to read for himself. Gina finally had to tell him that if he wanted to know what was going on in a book he had to learn how to read. And he did. He's in middle school and reads The Lord of the Rings and books of that sort now so clearly this method worked. Sometimes it takes a little tough love.

  • It might be an issue of getting read to too much. Not necessarily by his mom, but between she AND his sisters he's kind of got it made. In regard to dyslexia/dysgraphia - I don't think it would hurt to have him tested, but from what I've observed when he is visiting with us (or us with them) he just isn't interested yet so your theory might make a lot of sense. Commented Nov 26, 2012 at 15:31
  • I agree @balanced, and I like the book I mentioned for trying to assess what's going on. In reading the question, I, too, wondered, is it because he can't read or because he won't read? Seems like there are different strategies once we know more! :) Commented Nov 26, 2012 at 16:21

Sounds like she's tried a lot of great things. She would be welcome to check out The Learning Tree by Stanley Greenpsan. It's written for parents to help them understand any learning difficulties their child might have and activities to boost skills. I'm not saying this child has one, but it's a way for the mother to think about possibilities without getting doctors involved if she's not ready for that.

Otherwise, some helpful things may be to:

  • consider if the parents are reading in front of the child(ren) so that reading is viewed as a pleasurable leisure activity for adults, too, not just something adults make kids do.

  • see adaptations of books they've read together: plays, movies, etc and compare/contrast

  • read through the dialog in the child's video games if relevant, it can make the game's plot make more sense and it might be something the child is more inclined to go along with

  • make reading more engaging by being animated when the parent reads to the child, use voices and lot's of "oooh! I wonder what will happen next? Can you guess?!" - be sure to leave off at cliffhangers!

  • when the parent is reading to the child, be sure to read books that are slightly more advanced than the child could read himself, to keep pushing the limits of his vocabulary and comprehension

  • use books as a reference aid when the child asks one of those typical "why?!" questions respond with "huh, I'm not sure, let's find out" and go to the library to find out or internet if you have to, but better to get a child-friendly science book.

otherwise, it might help to understand the problem, which is why I recommend the aforementioned book. Is it vocab, phonetics, dyslexia, comprehension, processing, etc.

Best of luck!


I don't teach reading, I teach eighth grade algebra, but I've run across many reluctant readers during our SSR period. I don't think there's much to be done by 13 years old beyond hoping they stumble across the series that catches them. It does happen, but you can't make it happen, so starting younger is vital.

With my own kids, the single biggest factor in making them enthusiastic readers was eliminating TV. Starting when the oldest hit kindergarten, we never turned on the TV on a school night. We would record a couple of favorite shows for everyone, but no TV during the week. Reading became more attractive. We also read. We read a lot. The whole family would gather on our bed and read. At first, the adults read to the kids. Then we moved on to passing the book around, everyone reading a page. (Shel Silverstein is a great way to try this out.) Then we read books to each other.

My daughter is almost 19, just home from college, and she reads on the same bed with me or my wife or both. My youngest is almost 15, and has a Nook. She buys what she wants within reason.

First, though, you have to kill the TV. Use a brick if you have to. If you can't do this, and it takes the whole family to do it, you lose the time to read, and you lose the motivation to read.


It would make sense for him to be tested for dyslexia/learning difficulties as that's the only thing that hasn't been tried. It may be the case though that he simply doesn't like to read. Maybe books just aren't his thing, he won't be the first and won't be the last if that's the case.

My advice would be to get him tested, and if he is fine simply to back off. He may feel pressured to read even though he doesn't want to, and that could lead to negative associations with reading.

  • Well yes, but certainly there are many more possibilities than just dyslexia! :/ Commented Nov 26, 2012 at 14:39
  • Good point @ChristineGordon, I did mean a broader range of learning disabilities, and I've edited accordingly
    – GdD
    Commented Nov 26, 2012 at 14:52
  • 1
    Judging by my own experience, I could never have made it through college if "books just weren't my thing" and I "simply didn't like to read". A college education requires an immense amount of reading. If every paragraph of every page of every book is drudgery, how's a kid make it through? Simple - he doesn't. That's why teaching kids to read and to enjoy reading starts at birth and never ends. TV and video games suck up the reading time and make reading seem too much effort. Turn them off and leave them off.
    – Marc
    Commented Jan 4, 2014 at 3:55

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