Reading helps lots of people unwind. But for some kids, reading is anything but relaxing. It stresses them out. Even just thinking about reading can put them on edge or give them anxiety.
Why does reading make some kids so anxious? Here are five common reasons kids might have reading anxiety.
1. Trouble Sounding Out Words
Reading isn’t fun when every word is a chore to get through. Sounding out words can be extra stressful for older kids whose classmates have already mastered this skill.
Potential solution: Notice when kids read a tricky word correctly and praise them for it. The right kind of praise can go a long way toward encouraging kids to read more.
2. Not Knowing the Vocabulary
Kids get frustrated when they don’t know the meaning of a lot of the words they’re reading. This vocabulary problem can get worse over time if frustrated kids start to avoid reading. Less time spent reading means less time being exposed to more words and ideas.
Potential solution: Keep reading out loud—even to older kids—to help expose them to more words and ideas.
Find books at the right reading level, too. This is very helpful for kids who struggle with sounding out words or who need extra help building their vocabulary.
3. Trouble Staying Focused
Kids who have trouble with focus may have a hard time paying attention to what they’re reading. This can make it hard to understand and answer questions about the text. And that can lead to feeling anxious about reading.
Potential solution: Help kids find books on topics they’re interested in. Librarians can help find books on topics that are interesting to kids your child’s age but written at lower reading levels. (These are often called “high-low books.”) Kids might also do better with text in different formats, like graphic novels.
4. Losing Their Place on the Page
Not only is this stressful, but it also can be very time-consuming. Some kids lose their place so often that a page of text can seem like a jumble of words they keep having to hunt through.
Possible solution: Give kids a ruler to hold across the page to keep track of which line they’re on. Or cut a small window in the middle of an index card to help kids focus on a few words at a time.
5. Thinking About Past Failures
This is often the biggest source of reading anxiety. Kids remember getting teased for reading slowly or for mispronouncing words when reading out loud. They remember the sting of not knowing the answer to a reading question.
What may seem minor to others can seem like big failures to struggling readers. And thinking about past failures can heighten anxiety about reading and make kids reluctant to try again.
Potential solution: Remind kids of a “reading win” they’ve had, big or small. Maybe it was sounding out a tricky word in a reading assignment. Ask them to describe how it felt. This can help kids connect a feeling of success to new challenges they face.
For example, you can say, “Remember when you sounded out basketball? This new word is a lot like that word.” This gives kids what one expert calls a competence anchor. (Learn more about this approach.)
More Ways to Help With Reading Anxiety
Understanding why your child is anxious about reading lets you find the best ways to help. A good first step is to connect with your child’s teachers. See if the class is still being taught phonics rules for reading and spelling, for example. You can use these conversation starters to get a better sense of what’s happening at school.
The teacher may be able to do things in the classroom to help ease your child’s reading anxiety. For example, the teacher could:
Give kids a chance to practice the reading before being called on in class.
“Pre-read” books with kids to explain key words and main ideas before they start reading. This kind of background information can help kids understand what they’re reading.
Kids develop different reading skills at different rates. But it’s never too early to reach out to your child’s teacher if you think your child might be struggling.