My son is twelve years old.
I clearly remember him in his sweet little preschool classroom at four years old. He loved the arts, the crafts, the playtime and the other children. But the letters, the writing his name, the sounds?
Not so much.
Even back then, it was obvious that reading was not his strength.
He has struggled with it since he was four.
For eight years we have been trying to figure this thing out.
He amazes me with his dedication, his tenacity, and his spirit to just keep trying.
And, the truth is, the longer he struggles with reading, the more anxious about reading he becomes.
I understand. I’m not sure if I would keep doing something for eight full years without feeling like I’d mastered it. (I take that back – Motherhood. I keep doing motherhood without ever really feeling like I’ve mastered it. I have no idea what I’m doing on any given day as a mom, and yet fifteen years later, I keep showing up, keep trying, keep failing and keep learning.)
Parenting a struggling reader is the same mix of trial and error, tears and fears, more trial and error, and just showing up, over and over again.
In order to share what has worked well for my son, I have included a couple of affiliate links below. Thank you for your support!
Anxiety And The Struggling Reader
Over the course of the past eight years, my son and I have both made progress. He has learned the top 100 sight words. I have figured out the best ways to help him stay engaged.
Most of what he struggles with these days nothing to do with the actual reading.
It’s the increasing fear and anxiety.
I’m never going to learn to read.
I must be stupid. My brain doesn’t work right.
What if I am an adult and I can’t even read the stupid menu?
As we continue to work on his reading ability, it has become increasingly clear that we need to focus on his anxiety about reading as well. Here are my top tips for parents of anxious, struggling readers.
7 Important Ways To Help A Struggling Reader (and then 7 more)
1. Don’t Panic
This is absolutely my most important tip! It’s easy to slide into the “Oh my goodness, what if he never learns to read…this is all my fault…why is this so hard…maybe we need to try a million other programs, tutors, books…oh no” trap.
My experience has been that it helps no one. In fact, it only communicates to our children that their anxiety is an accurate reflection of their ability.
Try instead, to remember that your child is still young and has plenty of time. Even at twelve, my son still has six years before he is eighteen and an adult. A lot can happen in six years.
Repeat after me, “Don’t panic.”
2. Find A Reading Program That Works For Your Child’s Needs
Sometimes, a child who thinks and learns differently requires a different approach.
This has certainly been true for my son. In fact, we saw very little progress with more traditional reading programs. My friends all shared their tried and true methods with me. Not one made any difference.
All About Reading is a multi-sensory program that is easy to teach, and even easier for my son to practice. Designed by a mom whose child was also struggling to read at twelve, it incorporates a variety of exercises and practice activities in a consistent approach.
Because All About Reading builds in a way that works well with my child’s natural learning style, he feels less anxiety when learning.
3. Incorporate Your Child’s Interests
My son can read every single Pokemon card in his deck. He has learned to spell many words by typing them into the Minecraft screen. I am not ashamed to say that I have used both for reading practice.
By using the topics and interests that naturally work well for him, anxiety is a nonissue and he continues to practice and learn.
4. Audio Books, Audio Books, Audio Books
Seriously, one more time, audio books.
Giving my child the chance to experience wonderful stories and be surrounded by rich language is just as valuable (if not more valuable) than the mechanics and drills in learning to read.
Now that he is older, he loves the freedom and independence audio books provide. (NO, mom. I don’t need you to read it aloud.) Plus, getting lost in a great book is a wonderful way to calm an anxious mind.
5. Less Is More
Reading is really, really hard work for my son.
I have learned that short (like no more than 10 minutes short) lessons are best for his learning and retention. Any longer, and he begins to lose focus, grow anxious and feel defeated.
We do a quick reading lesson in the morning and another reading activity in the afternoon. Both are no more than 10 minutes.
6. Get Help If You Need It
There is no shame in reaching out for help if you have serious concerns. Dyslexia runs in my family, so when my son was still struggling in first and second grade, we had him evaluated.
We also saw an educational therapist for a year to help establish good learning practices and fundamental skills.
7. Focus on Other Strengths
No matter how much my son struggles with reading, there are so many other areas that are strengths for him.
It is just as important, if not more important, to make these a priority in his learning.
He loves science, so we often spend hours on biology and different experiments.
In the beginning, this worried me.
I feared he needed more time working on reading because it was the most difficult subject for him.
The truth is, my son needs to feel confidence as a learner, in order to work diligently in areas that are a struggle.
Focusing on his strengths is teaching him that he can learn, and learn well.
This adds to his ability in reading. It also helps decrease the anxiety he feels because of it.
Watching our children struggle to read and seeing their anxiety increase can overwhelming. The anxiety and worry I felt in my son’s younger years was paralyzing at times. If you feel the same, please know you are not alone.
You are doing the best you can for your child. And it matters.
More than anything I have listed above – it matters.
This post is part of an ongoing series, 5 Days Of Anxiety-Free Homeschooling.
Shawna Wingert is a former training and development professional turned education specialist, and has homeschooled her two children for the last ten years.Shawna has written four books about homeschooling unique learners and has been featured in homeschooling discussions on Today.com, The Mighty, Simple Homeschool, My Little Poppies and Raising Lifelong Leaners.
You can find her online here at DifferentByDesignLearning.com.