6 reasons why kids refuse to read

By Elizabeth Babbin, EdD

Do you find yourself listening to endless complaining — or even watch a child run and hide to avoid reading? If you answered yes, you’re not alone. Many families and teachers struggle with what experts call “reading avoidance.” Kids may know how to read but refuse to do it.

Understanding why a child doesn’t want to read can help you figure out how to encourage reading more. Here are some common reasons why kids won’t read.

1. The format of books doesn’t interest them. 

Social media, video games, and quick online videos are all tough competition for the experience of reading a paper-and-ink book. Kids need adults to help them slow down a bit and set aside time to read.

How to help: Limit the amount of time kids can spend on screens each day. And get creative with book formats. For example, graphic novels are a great way to rope in reluctant readers. These books can help build comprehension skills, too.

2. They aren’t interested in the topic. 

You may hear, “Books are boring!” But what a child may really be trying to say is, “I need help finding something to read that’s interesting to me.” Sometimes well-meaning adults steer kids away from what they want to read, and it can zap a child’s motivation. 

How to help: Brainstorm with a librarian, a teacher, other students, or the Understood Community to find engaging books or topics. Comics, sports stories, fashion magazines — there’s such a variety of reading material out there. Encourage kids to explore.

3. They don’t see the point of reading. 

Kids who don’t like to read probably haven’t experienced the joy of getting lost in the magic of a story or learning something new about a favorite topic. So reading may feel like a lot of work for no particular reason.

How to help: Choose books that are above a child’s reading level to read out loud. These books help kids build comprehension skills, expand vocabulary, and expose them to more interesting stories than they can read on their own. Stop to talk about what’s happening and the meaning of harder words.

4. Reading a book feels overwhelming. 

Sometimes kids just shut down when they see a long page full of text. Having to get through all those sentences can seem like running a marathon or climbing Mount Everest.

How to help: Try trading off pages as you read aloud to each other. This can make assigned reading feel more manageable. Offering to share the load can make a big difference. It gives kids a break and lets them hear fluent reading. It also keeps them engaged in a story they might not have the stamina to tackle all on their own.

Struggling to find the time to read? Try these ideas.

5. They choose books that are too hard for them.

Kids may be drawn to more difficult books that seem cool. That might be because older kids are reading them. Lots of young readers pick up Harry Potter, for example, when they’re not ready to tackle it on their own.

How to help: Finding books for kids to read independently is easier when you know their reading level. And reading books that are on their reading level can help build comprehension skills and create positive reading experiences.

6. They’re struggling with basic reading skills.

The process of learning to read isn’t easy, and some kids have more trouble with reading than others. Finding out what’s behind the struggle can help you support kids’ reading growth.

How to help: If there are concerns about a child’s reading skills, caregivers and teachers should connect. Talking through these concerns can help both teachers and families see if they’re noticing the same struggles. It may also be helpful to find out when the school last did a vision test to rule out any eyesight problems.

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    About the author

    About the author

    Elizabeth Babbin, EdD is an instructional specialist at Lower Macungie Middle School in Macungie, Pennsylvania.