Motivate and Engage Reluctant Readers: Ultimate Guide + FAQ

If you’ve never heard of the phrase “reluctant reader” before, it simply refers to a child who does not read for fun and generally shows absolutely no interest in reading. These kids may read for school when absolutely required, but for whatever reason, when given the chance, they seem to gravitate toward more…revelatory activities, like playing video games, watching television or listening to music.

In this article, I’m going to look at some facts about reluctant readers, list some of the causes, and suggest some ways to get kids to read for fun.

What is a reluctant reader?

First, let’s dig deeper into this question: What is a reluctant reader?

A reluctant reader is someone who doesn’t like to read. Because they are reluctant, they may only read when they are forced to read. That’s right, many children can be “compelled” to read, which is why we refer to them as “reluctant.”

The problem is that, over time, most reluctant readers will eventually stop reading altogether if they don’t find something they enjoy. Before they know it, they have reached adulthood and have never read a book for fun, ever. Some of them may have read a blog post or two here and there, but for the most part, these kids are unlikely to ever pick up a book and enjoy it. This is much more common than you might imagine, and the problem is growing.

I am not a psychologist, and I can’t specifically tell you why kids are reluctant readers, but I’ve observed over the years that it seems to be more common among boys than girls. By the time they’re in middle school, reading can be seen as geeky, nerdy, or something to avoid in public or private. Peer pressure likely has something to do with this decision, but teens are already going through so much, they might not think being labeled a “nerd” is worth the trouble.

What causes a reluctant reader?

Besides the obvious problem of kids getting hooked on television shows and video games, there are a few other factors that often cause reluctant readers. If you notice these problems in your child, it’s important to do something about it. Some situations are bigger than others, but they can all be resolved.

  1. Lack of motivation. Kids need a reason to read. If you tell them to read and there is no reward, they won’t want to do it. Kids are motivated by what’s in it for them. Truly. A big part of the problem of reluctant readers is that they don’t see any value in reading. They don’t value themselves as readers and they don’t feel the need to learn how to read.
  2. Forgetting the joy. Kids are too old for the playtime reading that helped us learn how to love reading. That’s okay, but how do we get over that? The key is to find small moments throughout the day to read. A chapter book at bedtime? You bet. A Dungeons and Dragons fantasy book? Okay. The lunchroom newspaper? Great! These little glimpses into the fun of reading are enough to show kids that they do like reading, they just need to find the right thing.
  3. Parental interest. I’ve noticed that children are more likely to be a reluctant reader if they feel their parents aren’t interested in reading. If they see their parent reading for fun, then it’s really easy for them to adopt that habit. If every time you sit down in front of the TV, then your child will feel that TV is more important.
  4. Inability to read. This may sound weird, but I’ve seen it happen. Some kids just don’t have the ability to read, although I don’t know why. It’s like the ability to read is just a gift that some kids have and some kids don’t have. It’s not like they are learning a new language or anything, it’s just a gift.
  5. Downright pickiness. Some children love reading and will read anything. Other children only like to read things that they can turn into a movie. This is a huge problem that leads to a lot of wasted time and effort. If you give them a book and they say it’s terrible, then they’re probably right. If you ask them why it’s terrible, they may say something like, “It’s not like the movies.” Or maybe they’ll tell you it’s boring or too hard or too easy. If you’re doing your job as a parent, you can figure out how to navigate this problem.
  6. Personal problems. Kids who have personal problems at home, like the divorce of their parents or the death of a pet, may have a hard time getting into reading. On the other hand, kids who have been abused or made fun of at school may benefit from reading as a way to relax and escape.

In the end, you can’t really change a child’s reading habits or their ability to read. What you can do is find out what motivates them, what makes them want to read, and then give them the books or make the movies or create the places where that can happen. It is your job as a parent or guardian to find the motivation and make them want to read.

If you’ve tried everything and failed, then it’s time to ask for help. There are plenty of professionals who are trained to help us parents figure out how to make reluctant readers into passionate readers. If you have any problems with your kids, it’s time to solve the problem.

How do you motivate a reluctant reader?

Many parents and teachers give up on kids who are reluctant readers. In some cases, I think that’s a mistake. I don’t mean to say that you should force a kid to read, but if you can find the right motivational push, then you can get a kid who never read to love reading.

  1. Give them a reason. Kids need a reason. If they are forced to read, they probably won’t want to. If there is some benefit, they will pay attention more. If they know that they will learn something, they will learn more. Forcing them to read won’t work. Instead, give them a reward, or an opportunity, or a necessity. Whatever they need, whatever they want.
  2. Turn reading into play. This is the key. Kids who don’t like to read are often afraid that reading is work. It’s not. If you make reading a game, then it’s fun. If you give them a play sheet or some other reward for reading, then they will see the reward as valuable.
  3. Use incentives. You can give your child a reward for reading, but it needs to be a good reward. If you tell them, “If you read you can have all the spaghetti you want,” then I don’t think that’s fair. Rewards don’t have to be illegal. If a child wants a new skateboard, then you can ask them to read a couple of chapters to earn enough money to buy the skateboard. Whatever they want, you can make it happen. They just need to know that reading will help them get it.
  4. Find what they like. Find out what your child wants and make sure it’s in the book you’re reading. You know, “Oh, there’s a dragon in this book! I love dragons!” Your child is like a dog who will only listen to you if he knows you have a treat. He needs to know that reading is a treat. What can you do to make sure it’s a treat?
  5. Introduce them to LitRPG. This genre of fiction combines MMORPG video games in a narrative format. Yes, there are books about being trapped in a video game. These are actually a great way to get a reluctant reader to read. If you love the idea of your kid reading about playing video games instead of playing them all the time, should at least check out LitRPG.

How do you deal with reluctant readers?

This is the ultimate question! I wish a had a perfect answer that worked for every child, but I don’t. While things like the LitRPG book genre can help get kids interested in reading, you have to find something that works for your child.

As a parent, you need to remember to be encouraging. You should never give up on a child. Even if you make them read fifty books in a row, even if they hate every single book, they will find something out of these books that they can like. Keep your eye on the prize and don’t let the kids give up. Encourage them, help them understand what they are reading, and don’t give up on them.

If that doesn’t work, then there are a lot of parents and teachers who have ways to get kids to want to read. Maybe an older sibling who loves to read. Maybe a teacher who can inspire the kids. Maybe a mentor who can show them the joy. Maybe a family friend who can give them the push. Maybe a parent who can make it fun. Maybe they just need time to reach their potential, but they can get there.

How do you help a child who doesn’t want to read?

As a parent, it’s our job to help children who don’t like to read become passionate readers. That’s our job. If we are not doing that, then we are failing. It doesn’t matter if the kid is three or twelve or twenty-three, we need to help them. We need to find the joy and the passion in reading.

The secret is not to force them to read. The secret is to find what they are interested in and make sure reading is about that subject. If your child loves the stories of magic, then read fantasy books. If he loves comic books, then read comic books. If he loves video games, then read about video game characters.

We have to be smart about this and not push them too hard. If they don’t want to read, they don’t want to read. If they’re forcing themselves to read because you told them to, then they are going to hate reading. That won’t help. You have to figure out what they are interested in, then help them find a book that touches on that subject.

The other thing to remember is to find the joy in reading! We have to remember that reading is a joy. It’s a passion. Books can take us on a journey to places we would never go. We can learn about places and cultures that would otherwise be foreign. We can see the world and understand so many things.

It’s our job as parents to help kids find that joy in reading. It’s our job to help spread the joy.

What are the top three things that push kids away from reading?

Here’s what I think. I think that kids want to read if they can find something that interests them. It’s up to us, as parents and teachers, to make sure they have access to books that are about the things that interest them. We need to promote the joy of reading, we need to show them what will happen if they read, we need to make reading seem relevant to their lives.

And when push comes to shove, we need to find a book they will enjoy.

Why do students lose interest in reading?

If the kids don’t have anything to connect to in the book, they might get bored. Maybe they don’t find the subject relevant to them. Maybe they aren’t interested in the topic. Maybe they are reading something that is too hard for them. Maybe they are reading something that is too easy for them.

As a parent, your job is to provide a variety of subjects your child may be interested in. You can’t give them every book in the world, but you can make sure they have books that speak to a variety of subjects. They will find things they love.

Does ADHD make it difficult to read?

Again, I’m not a professional psychologist, but I believe from reading the definition of ADHD that it could be a problem. I think that if a child has trouble paying attention, then they won’t be able to understand what they are reading. And that is a big problem.

If a child has ADHD, it could be hard for them to read because they cannot pay attention. While one issue is that they might be reading a book that is too hard, or too easy, they might have trouble concentrating no matter what, depending on their particular severity of the ADHD.

I think those are the biggest issues. Outside of that, I believe that the issue is in one of the three things I said earlier: the child might not find reading relevant to their lives, they might not be interested in the subject, or the book might not be written in a way that appeals to them.

Ultimately, it’s up to us as parents and educators to figure out how to help the children find the joy in reading.

How do you teach a stubborn child to read?

The million dollar question! In all seriousness, I think it comes down to perseverance. And I think it comes down to making reading relevant to their interests. The concept of reading is a fairly simple one: you read words and they make sense. But if you can’t connect to the words, if you don’t understand what it is you are reading, you won’t have anything to connect with.

Our job as parents and teachers is to make the connection. Make sure they are reading books that are relevant to their lives. Make sure they read books they will enjoy. And, ultimately, make sure they learn to love reading and make it a part of their daily lives.

How can we get kids to want to read instead of using technology?

This is one of the big problems today. I think it is a generational thing. If you were born in the 70’s and younger, you grew up with technology. Most of us didn’t have cell phones, but we had video games, home video games, and computers. That is to say, most kids born in the 80’s or 90’s grew up with technology as a big part of their lives.

We need to understand that they love technology. It’s how they learn things. It’s how they do their homework. It’s how they communicate with their friends. So by not giving them lots of technology, they aren’t going to like reading.

They are accustomed to technology. They are used to technology. So you have to figure out what it is you have to do to get them to love reading.

Should you force your child to read?

No. This can actually do more harm than good. You have to make sure they want to read, they enjoy reading, they find reading enjoyable. If they are forced to read, they are not going to like reading. They may learn to read, but they won’t enjoy it.

You have to find what it is they enjoy. You have to find the joy in reading for them. And you have to make sure that the books you are giving them are what they will enjoy and what will inspire them to keep reading. This is the key – the secret sauce.

What happens if children don’t read?

This is a big problem today. We are losing readers. We are losing people who love books. We are losing the joy of reading. And, ultimately, we are losing a great part of our culture and history.

The biggest problem is that if people don’t know how to read, they are going to be helpless and unable to earn money or support themselves. Or they will be forced to use technology to gain a basic understanding of things.

We have to bring back the joy of reading. We have to make reading relevant to young people’s lives. We have to find the joy in reading for them. We have to help them find the joy.

At what age should children start to read?

I think it is important for kids to start learning to read early. But you have to make reading fun for them, you have to make reading enjoyable for them.

Somewhere between 3-5 is a good time. As adults, we want to force them to read words. But children are not adults. Their minds are not fully developed. So as adults, we have to understand that children are not going to read in the same way as we do.

We need to make reading fun for them. We need to find ways that reading is fun. We need to help them love reading. One thing you can do is read to them early – even in the womb! This can nurture a love for “story” that is inherent in all of us and make sure they get that joy from books and not TV.

How do you convince your child to read?

I think the trick is to get them to see the joy in reading. I think the trick is to find the thing that will make them love reading.

Some kids may love science. Some might love photography. Some might love a certain kind of action adventure book. Some will prefer comics – manga.

If you can find what it is that your child loves, then you can help them find the joy in reading. You can find books that connect with them, that bring them joy. And you can introduce them to other books that connect with those things.

I know a little boy who really loves reading Batman books. So I try to find other books that are like Batman books. I try to find books that are a little more sophisticated, with more depth, that will give him some depth to read.

The key is to find out what it is that excites your child and then introduce them to books that are like the books they are already reading and that have the same kind of interest.

Books for Reluctant Readers in High School

Again, I think the LitRPG book genre is a good one. It is fun, it is creative, it is exciting. It is something that can appeal to a lot of kids because it mixes something they already love – playing video games – with written text. It’s a great way for them to get into reading.

The good news is that there are thousands of LitRPG books published or in progress. The bad news is that there are thousands of LitRPG books published or in progress! As in, how do you choose one?

This is where you can get your child involved. After investigating LitRPG on your own, you can casually mention that it might be something they’re interested in. Or, you can be bold and order a LitRPG book (or three) and drop them somewhere your teenager will find them.

If they’re too “cool” to read, you’re probably not going to get them to read much. So getting them involved with picking out the next book you read will help them bond with the idea of reading again. You might not get them all the way over to the other side, but you can get them at least in the middle of the river.

Reluctant Readers: Conclusion

Being a reluctant reader isn’t the end of the world, but it can lead to an unfulfilled life. We need to get kids to develop a love for reading and make it a part of their daily lives.

We need to try new things to help them love reading. We need to search for books that are relevant and that they will enjoy. We need to get them reading and make it fun for them.

We need to promote reading in kids. Kids who know how to read can see the beauty in words. Kids who know how to read can learn to write and express themselves. Kids who know how to read can read about anything and everything – and they can be any or anything they want. We need to teach kids to love reading.

This is our goal here at Hoosier Chapter Books. Our team is dedicated to helping kids find the joy in reading. We are dedicated to helping them develop a love for reading. Because when that happens, we all win.

The team at Hoosier Chapter Books is proud to bring you fun and entertaining chapter books for kids!