First Steps to take when Your Child Struggles with Reading

First Steps to Take When Your Child Struggles with Reading

Each child differs from the next in how they learn, what their strengths are, and what they prefer as they learn. Within traditional classrooms whether at home or in school, many children struggle and others fail outright. Children that struggle or fail are very sensitive to their failure, which gives rise to a whole new set of issues. The confidence that fuels success in learning is an emotional state that arises from our experiences. If we have confidence that we can accomplish something, we will perform to our maximum, but if we have lost our confidence, we will likely under perform or fail completely. Confidence or lack of it is directly tied to our experiences. If we have attempted something and have failed, depending on the importance attached to that task, we will shrug and try again, or we will shut down, convinced we are incapable.

When a child is struggling, I believe in looking at the child first and uncovering the beauty of her design. Next, I believe in tailoring instruction to her. Most of the time, this will not happen when a child is in a traditional setting. Testing as an option or solution will likely come up first and the child will be evaluated. For sensitive children, testing is a huge red flag telling them that something is wrong with their brains. And this is sad. The intention with testing is to detect the underlying issues so we can help the child. But what all too often happens in testing situations is that parents are told there is a disability present, but how to successfully remedy or make up for that disability is not forthcoming.

My personal belief is that testing should not be the first line of defense. Testing puts the focus on the child as though something is wrong with him. Reality is, what is lacking is a methodology that matches the child. What I would like to do is to list a couple of common scenarios and then suggest some things a parent can consider trying before resorting to testing.


My child is able to sound out letters in a word, but he laboriously sounds everything out. Years have passed and now he cannot sound out words that have more complex spellings, or he’s so sick of the tedious nature of sounding out words that he will not try any longer. Every time he comes to a word it is as though he’s never seen it before.

1. Use 3" x 5" cards and choose a handful of words that are easy to sound out. Ideas are "help," "sand," "tent," "stop," "grass," "hand," and "desk." Write the words, one word per card, in nice block letters. Lay them out in front of your child and have her pick up a card and tell you what the word says. She will likely sound it out.

2. Next, ask her to think of ideas with you to help her remember that word the next time she sees it. It is NOT necessary to sound out a word… words are like faces that we can see and remember. Say she chooses the word “sand.” An idea you could use to help your child remember “sand” is to use colors or markers and make sandy colored dots all over and around the word. If you want to pretend you are at the beach, she can put a head on the D and let it be a child who is sitting in the sand at the beach.

What to do when your child struggles with reading3. When she has finished decorating the word
, have her choose another word and do the same thing. For “tent” she could draw a tent being held up by the two t's that are at the beginning and end of the word. Take your time with this and avoid the temptation to hurry through. The point of this exercise is to help your daughter learn how to help herself, which will result in her gaining confidence in her own ability to learn and her own ability to use her gifts to her advantage.

4. Over time, choose more difficult words. For example, one set of cards can be words that use the sound spelling OI in the middle of the words or the sound spelling AY at the end. Have all the words in the group contain the same target sound spelling.

5. Remember that your child will be her own best helper if she is encouraged to believe in her own abilities and be shown that she can help herself. Every child needs to feel her own competence!

(SnapWords® are designed to make it easy for your children to learn sight words using their visual strengths.)

My child can recognize words, but reads one word at a time, tediously, without phrasing and with very poor comprehension if at all.

Nothing is wrong with your child’s brain. What is happening is that your child is doing what he thinks you taught him to do: name words he sees one after the other. We assume children understand why they are learning to call out the words we teach them. We most often don’t introduce the concept of reading as the magic communication that will open all sorts of worlds of rich images and concepts to our minds. We approach teaching of reading with letter recognition and then with the tasks of sounding out words. Many, many children focus on doing just that and are never led into the skill of using words as messengers for ideas and images.

1. Choose a word that you feel your child is interested in. Maybe it is “truck” or “dinosaur” or “mountain” or “airplane” – any word you feel he would be drawn to conceptually. Talk about how those letters in the word are just symbols that are used to make many different words. It is the arrangement of the letters that make up the word “airplane” that make that word mean something totally different from the same letters arranged to make “a praline.” So, say you choose the word “airplane” to play around with.

2. Using the word airplane as a theme, ask your child what he imagines when he hears that word. If he likes to draw, let him draw a picture of what he’s imagining when he hears you say “airplane.”

3. Once the picture is complete, working together to write a sentence or two using the word “airplane” that tells what the drawing is about. Repeat this exercise several times over time. You are attempting to connect the symbols (words) to images and stories in your child’s head. However long it takes, keep it up if you see that your child is absorbing the point.

4. Next, choose a book that you feel your child will enjoy. Share with him that this time, the words are there already, and he will need to imagine or draw the pictures that go with the words he reads. Start with a short paragraph. He will read to you, think for a moment and then draw what he read. This is a powerful exercise that at first will seem so very slow to execute but is effective to help your child perfect his ability to translate those black squiggles on the page into beautiful and colorful images in his head.

The more actively your child is involved in 1. finding out wherein his talents lie, 2. working through the learning process, and 3. finding ways to help himself, the more his confidence will rise which will, in turn, fuel greater and greater successes.

Above all, remember, there are no bad brains out there. Let’s purpose to run away from name calling our children's particular learning tendencies. Let’s instead celebrate their unique design and focus on their strengths, gifts and talents. Remember that if we have a child who is just not growing, it will not do any good to take him from office to office getting him measured. Maybe just buy shorter pants to fit his frame.

Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published