Understanding Your Child’s Trouble With Reading

By The Understood Team
Email Email
Chat's logo Chat's logo

At a Glance

  • Many kids struggle with reading.

  • Reading challenges can show up at different ages and can change over time.

  • Having reading difficulties doesn’t mean a child isn’t smart.

If your child seems to be having a hard time with reading, you might be wondering why, and what can help. Some kids just need more time and practice than others to learn reading skills. Others may need extra help and support to get there.

Learn about reading challenges and ways to help kids who have trouble with reading.

Reading Difficulties You Might Be Seeing

When kids struggle with reading, it can show up in unexpected ways. They might avoid doing homework or not want to go to school. In some cases, they might even act out in class because they’re frustrated.

Kids who have trouble reading might avoid reading altogether—especially reading out loud. That can happen at home or at school. The teacher might notice, for instance, that your child asks to use the bathroom during activities that involve reading aloud.

You or your child’s teacher might notice specific reading challenges, too. Your child might not be able to sound out words yet, for example. Or maybe your child can’t explain what a story was about.

Sometimes, reading challenges show up early on. In preschool and kindergarten, kids might struggle to recognize letters or rhyme words. They might have trouble pronouncing words, like saying “mawn lower” instead of “lawn mower.” Or they might take much longer than the other kids to learn the alphabet and the days of the week.

Other times, reading challenges don’t show up until later—even as late as high school. Starting in grade school, kids may read below grade level. Here are some skills kids may struggle with as they get older:

  • Spelling

  • Summarizing a story

  • Doing word problems in math

  • Reading out loud correctly

  • Remembering facts and numbers

  • Learning another language

  • Following directions

  • Keeping track of time

  • Getting jokes or common expressions

What Can Cause Trouble With Reading

When kids struggle with reading, it doesn’t mean they’re not smart. It also doesn’t mean they’re lazy. In fact, kids who have trouble reading are often trying as hard as they can. They just need more and better support to improve.

When young kids are “behind” in their reading skills, the first thing to look at is how old they are. Not all kids develop at the same pace, and some may take longer than others to learn to read. The differences can be even greater for kids who are young for their grade.

You can also look at how they’re being taught to read. If they’re not getting the type of instruction they need, it can have an impact on how fast they learn and how well they read.

Another possible factor is heredity. Reading difficulties often run in families.

Are there people in your family who hate to read? Maybe they read very slowly or make a lot of mistakes as they read. If a close family member struggles with reading, it wouldn’t be surprising if your child did, too.

Some kids learn and think differently, and those differences can cause trouble with reading. This includes a common reading difficulty called dyslexia.

The good news is that whatever is behind your child’s difficulties with reading, there are things you and the school can do to help.

What Can Help Kids With Reading

No matter what’s causing your child’s trouble with reading, there are ways to help. An important step is to take notes on what you’re seeing. If there’s a pattern that goes on for a while, you may want to talk to someone. Your child’s teacher and pediatrician can be great sources of information and advice.

Even if you’re not sure what’s going on with your child and reading, you can still work on building skills at home.

Struggling with any skill can make kids feel like they’re not smart. And that can take a toll on their self-esteem. Celebrate small successes as your child works on reading skills. And let your child know that everyone has difficulty with something—and that all people have strengths, too. Discover your child’s strengths and do a fun activity to celebrate them.

And if you’re concerned about dyslexia, see next steps. One option is to ask for a free school evaluation, which can help you better understand your child’s challenges and strengths.

Key Takeaways

  • Kids develop reading skills at different paces, so sometimes what looks like trouble with reading is a matter of catching up.

  • Kids need to know that having trouble with reading doesn’t mean they’re not smart.

  • Celebrate progress, big and small, as your child works on reading skills.

About the Author

About the Author

The Understood Team 

is made up of passionate writers, editors, and community moderators. Many of them learn and think differently, or have kids who do.

Reviewed by

Reviewed by

Bob Cunningham, EdM 

serves as executive director of learning development at Understood.

Did you find this helpful?

Up Next

Stay Informed

Sign up for weekly emails containing helpful resources for you and your family.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Please wait...

By signing up, you acknowledge that you reside in the United States and are at least 13 years old, and agree that you've read the Terms and Conditions. Understood.org does not market to or offer services to individuals in the European Union.