When Your Child Hates to Read: 7 Ways to Encourage Reluctant Readers


silhouette of a little boy learning to read

My son is seven. He loves math, science, engineering, crafts, board games, and sports. He is smart, thoughtful, caring, and funny.

I have to remind myself of all his wonderful traits because one thing I cannot cope with is that he really really really dislikes reading.

Now to be clear, my son CAN read. And he loves being read TO. He just, for whatever inexplicable reason, doesn’t have the time or patience to read to himself. Especially late at night before bed.

As an avid reader from a very young age, I just can’t wrap my mind around this. I have spent countless hours encouraging him, telling him how much fun reading is, how it “opens up worlds you can only imagine,” etc. etc. And he looks at me like I’m crazy and says, “Can I go play with my Legos now?”

The last thing I want is for my son to hate reading, so once we determined that he is actually capable of reading and just prefers not to, I’ve backed off a bit. And we’ve gotten really creative with our approach to reading.

Here are some things we have tried with at least mild success that encourage him to read more often:

Start with something easy.

Picking a book below his reading level helped build his confidence. We started with Baby Monkey Private Eye, which has maybe 50 words in the whole book (and lots of pictures), but it is laid out in chapters so my son felt like he was reading a “real book.”

Have circle time, where your child is the teacher.

When he first started reading, my son was easily frustrated if he didn’t know a new word right away and would quit super fast. Part of the issue was if he knew we could see the word, too, he was embarrassed we knew he couldn’t read it right away. To decrease this stress, we asked him to start reading to us by facing us as if we were in the classroom. He could be teacher, he was in charge, and we couldn’t peer over his shoulder to see if he was “getting it right.” We will still use this tactic sometimes by saying, “Mommy is too tired to read. I’m going to lay here with my eyes closed; can you just read to me?” (I can’t believe this one works!)

Assign characters.

This has been a hugely successful tactic for us. We started with the Mo Willems series Piggy and Gerald, with me reading Piggy and my son playing the part of Gerald, and that really made a difference. For some reason, just thinking he only had to read half the book made it more tolerable. It has also helped him work on expression and pronunciation because we read it like a play, which is much more entertaining for his younger sister.

Take turns reading pages.

This is similar to the character assignment in that it decreases the number of words to read. We will often take turns reading pages, so my son gets a break and doesn’t feel the burden of having to read the whole book himself.

Avoid reading late at night.

Our son is exhausted by the time we get into our bedtime routine, and he has much less patience for reading out loud when he’s tired. This one is tricky because on busy work days we just don’t have time in the afternoons/early evenings to read; however, we try to whenever we can. My husband and I therefore actively seek out times to read with our kids in the mornings, afternoons, and especially on weekends.

Choose graphic novels.

<cringe> My son’s biggest complaint with reading is that there are “too many words.” (Oh, the painful irony!) As much as this hurts my novel-loving heart, we as a family have delved into the surprisingly large world of graphic novels. We started with Captain Underpants and quickly veered to Dogman, a slightly more tolerable version by the same authors. These series have fewer words and more pictures, and while the themes are agonizingly limited, at the end of the day, at least he’s reading something!

Other series we are working our way up to read: The 13 Story Treehouse, Bad Kitty, and Bad Guys.

Be patient and positive!

If your child is anything like mine, he or she gets easily frustrated. With my son, we give lots of praise for his efforts and for trying to pronounce new words.

At the end of the day, we want him to enjoy reading, so meeting him at his level and providing encouragement are our best tools.

What tips work for you? How do you encourage your child to read?


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Meredith is a transplant to the Bay Area and has fallen in love with the weather, gorgeous scenery, and plethora of local wineries. A wife and mother of two, she works part-time as a Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist. She hails from Texas, where she attended the University of Texas and will always bleed orange. She then moved to Washington DC to attend Georgetown's School of Medicine, where she fell in love with her future husband, a fellow student, and has been happily married for almost a decade. She and her husband lived in Cincinnati, Ohio for several years for their medical training and found it the perfect place to start a family. She relocated to the Bay Area a few years ago and has quickly adapted to West Coast living. Meredith enjoys the balance of part-time working and full-time parenting and loves to write about this ongoing struggle. In her persistent drive to find more "me time", she actively pursues her interests in reading, running, soccer, baking, and wine tasting.


  1. I had the same issue with my son who is now 29. He was diagnosed with ADD at the end of 2nd grade.
    I searched high and low for books that would interest him. Holes by Louis Sacher fit the bill when he was in 3rd grade. Then, fortuitously, Harry Potter books came along. They were a Godsend! After the Harry Potter series, my son became interested in the Redwall fantasies. Luckily, there were 13+ Books in the series. That got us through early middle school. So, from my perspective, let it happen naturally. Introduce books and give it time for it to happen. Don’t fret so much!
    My son is now an avid reader and TV consumer of interesting and esoteric things. He frequently informs me of shows to watch on National Geographic or the History Channel.

    • Thanks, Cheryl, for reading and sharing your experience. I’m excited to hear your son found books he likes and now enjoys reading!


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