Pediatric HealthSource: Tips to Help Struggling Readers

If your child is having trouble understanding what they read, here are some pointers to set them up for success.

Sarah Denny, M.D.
Reading aloud helps children improve their vocabulary and the skills needed to be successful independent readers.

Q: How can I help strengthen my child’s reading comprehension skills?

A: While reading can be fun, entertaining and informational, there may be times when your child struggles to understand content. It is crucial to help your child overcome any reading-related obstacles they encounter because reading is a skill that they will use for the rest of their life.

It is important to identify behaviors that suggest your child may be having a difficult time understanding what they are reading. If you notice your child struggling to recall important character and plot details or suddenly becoming disinterested in reading, they may need a little extra support.

Reading is a skill that takes time and practice. Expecting your child to read material far above their suggested reading level may hurt their confidence if they are unable to comprehend the information. In fact, children at their correct reading level should be able to read 90 percent of the words without any help. Many educators suggest that children should read books at home that are one to two reading levels below what they are reading in school, so that reading at home is fun, not work.

Finding age-appropriate books that meet your child’s unique reading level will help advance their skills. Your son or daughter’s teacher is an excellent resource and can offer book suggestions at the correct reading level for his or her individual learning needs.

In order for your child to comprehend what they are reading, they must be able to read the text smoothly. If you notice your child struggling, have them re-read a passage or read the text aloud. This can help them process information, and it sets them up for success the next time they feel themselves getting lost on a page.

Choose books that are of interest to your child or, even better, let your child pick out their own book. Reading aloud to your child helps them improve their vocabulary and skills needed to be successful independent readers. Children who are read to have improved reading and listening skills, as well as improved academic performance.

Always consult your child’s pediatrician concerning your child’s health and development.

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Sarah Denny, M.D., is a primary care specialist at Nationwide Children’s Hospital.

Sarah Denny, M.D.

Set Kids up for Reading Success

Help struggling readers with the following tips:

  • Build a habit. Set aside a time every day that is specifically meant for reading—about 30 minutes to an hour should do the trick. Set your child up in a quiet area with a book and let them read without distractions.
  • Talk about it. Engage with your child by asking questions about what they are reading. Ask about their favorite characters, whether they have learned any new fun facts or if they are enjoying the book.
  • Look for real-world examples. If you child is struggling with a certain concept or needs further explanation of something they read, look for creative ways to provide an explanation. Consider a field trip to the backyard to look at stars, or point out a special landmark when driving to the store.
  • Talk to their teacher. Teachers are instrumental in identifying any learning concerns. They (and librarians) are a wealth of knowledge on books and reading levels that might be of interest to your child.