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How to Get Them Hooked! Motivating Reluctant Readers

June 19, 2015

One of the frequent issues we hear from parents is about children who can read well but have ‘switched off’ from reading. Parents often ask how they can encourage their children to get back into reading.

Liz Bray, Better Reading’s Children’s Expert, has some tips for parents in this situation:

  • Don’t panic: reading’s really important, but it’s not unusual for kids’ enthusiasm for books to wane at different times (boys especially, but girls too)
  • Be patient: often the ‘switch’ that turns a child back onto reading is one book which they happen across at just the perfect time. Keep seeking out that book, but gently
  • Remember, any reading at all can lead a child back to longform narrative reading.

max with fact book for wordpressThere’s no ‘one size fits all’ solution, but here are a few strategies you could try:

Give them choices:

  • Give your kids access to as many different styles of books as you can, dealing with as many different themes as possible – fiction, non-fiction, funny, serious, adventurous. Kids’ interests and tastes can change by the day.
  • Buying quantities of books, which your child might or might not end up being interested in, can be a financial stretch, so where possible join a school or local library and start borrowing, or get creative with swapping and passing down books among relatives and friends.
  • We know several Mums who’ve successfully used the technique of letting kids ‘happen across’ books for themselves: they leave a variety of books lying around the house without making any comment about them, and their kids more often than not pick one up and start reading in their own time.
  • Visit libraries and book shops often. When there, give them the freedom to choose for themselves.

Lower the stakes:

  • Encourage your child to start a book, but make it okay to stop if it hasn’t ‘hooked them’ after 20 pages. Then start another one …
  • Avoid pushing your child to ‘read up’ or stretch their reading skills all the time. Picking up an old favourite and re-reading it, even if it’s a ‘book for younger kids’, can be comforting and reassuring –and fun! (Have you ever rewatched a favourite movie?) Kids often bring a different perspective to a favourite story, and discover something new in it, when they re-read it weeks or months or years later.
  • Try reading books aloud with your child for a bit. You can do this even if your child is more than capable of reading on their own – they might simply be tired or distracted or overwhelmed by other things going on and need you to ‘start them off’. Then encourage them to swap roles: you read two pages, and then they read the next two pages to you.

Welcome any reading, of anything:

  • We don’t mean you should encourage your kids to read books with concepts or language that are inappropriate for their age. But if they’re in the mood to read ‘silly’ comedy, comics, a book of sports facts, or whatever, encourage them. These books might not be ‘great literature’, but your child is still engaging with story, building their vocabulary, travelling somewhere in their imagination, and seeing the world from different perspectives. And if they’re having fun doing it, you can harness their enthusiasm and move to ‘serious’ books later.
  • Go even broader and encourage reading of the sport, car or computer sections of the newspaper if they’re interested in those topics; food packages; information on a website – any reading helps build their literacy and again, you can bring them back to the narrative, imaginative stories later.

Harness the people around you:

  • If you’re lucky enough to have a good children’s bookseller or librarian nearby, draw on that resource. Ideally you want someone to talk to you – or directly to your child – not just about how old your child is and how strong a reader, but about specific books they’ve enjoyed. Try to get recommendations for a few books at a time – that gives your child the freedom to say ‘no’ to some of them, and come out with one that really appeals.
  • Look for another ‘influencer’. Aggravating though it may be, we all know kids sometimes ‘hear’ things better when it isn’t Mum saying them. Is there another family member who could introduce your child to a book? Ask other parents whether they have a child of the same age who has just read something really good – that child’s endorsement could do the trick (and you could find out about a new book you hadn’t heard of).

Be seen reading:

  • Reinforce your child’s understanding that reading is important and enjoyable by making time to read yourself
  • For boys, consider encouraging Dad or other male role models to be ‘seen reading’ (my nephews were SO chuffed recently when I dropped off a bag of children’s books for a donation to their school and their Dad and Uncle pounced on it and each pulled out a book and started reading. Those books are now officially ‘cool’).
  • And make reading a conversation: you can tell your child in very general terms about why you enjoyed the book you just read and what it was about, and encourage them to do the same with the books they read

Let us know if you have any special ways of getting your ‘reluctant readers’ to read in the Comments below.


  1. Kim

    I used to read one page and my daughter the next page when had readers from school and tried to make it fun. Also when she was older and found a difficult word when reading on her own to skip it if no one handy to help (even write it down for older ones) and so she got used to the flow of books and didn’t get discouraged. When we had quiet time we would talk about the hard words and spend some time looking up the meaning. She also went through a non fiction stage so had all sorts of animal fact books! Go with the flow my advice.

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