PARENTS
10/27/2011 11:57 pm ET | Updated Dec 27, 2011

Kids Reading: How To Get A Reluctant Reader To Pick Up A Book

Dear Susan,

I have an 11-year-old who gets A's B's, but one big F when it comes to reading. She is required to read three books per semester, checks them out of the library, but never reads them. What is the problem? The more I tell her to catch up on the reading, no go. I have now taken away her cell phone, iPod and PC. Can you give me some other ideas and help?

Thank you,

The Bookkeeper

Dear Bookkeeper,

It's so great to hear that you want your child to read. Books are one of life's greatest pleasures, and in many families, they are falling by the wayside. More and more of us watch TV or surf the Internet during our down time. And, if children don't see their parents reading to relax or expand their horizons, it's unlikely they'll take the initiative to settle down with a good book on their own.

Unfortunately, as is human nature, children resist reading when it's forced upon them by mandatory requirements of parents or teachers. So, here's my advice:

The first step to getting a youngster to embrace reading as an enjoyable leisure activity is to associate reading with something pleasurable. Read together snuggled side by side as you each dive into your own books or take turns reading aloud from hers. Have a no-screen time several days a week when the entire family settles comfortably together to read quietly, sharing a favorite passage now and then. Make something yummy, like popcorn or a cup of special herb tea, to make reading time something your daughter looks forward to. Light a fragrant candle to make your reading ritual something special. In other words, don't tell her to go and read; be involved in reading-time so she sees it as something everyone does for enjoyment, not simply a requirement from her school.

There are some children who have legitimate vision issues that may interfere with their ability to read, and you may want to explore this if your daughter complains of having headaches, nausea or other discomfort from reading. Beyond a simple eye test that will determine whether she needs reading glasses, you might want to have her checked out by a developmental optometrist who can assess her eyes to determine whether they are tracking together. In my practice, I have seen vision therapy work wonders with reluctant readers.

Some families have also found the Irlen Syndrome work to be effective in helping their children read more willingly. This approach involves an assessment to determine whether scotopic sensitivity is making it difficult for a child to read. The low-tech solution involves colored transparent overlays that make the page more comfortable to read.

By associating reading with a time for the family to relax and come together, rather than a chore to be crossed off your daughter's To Do list, I trust you'll see things turn around. Check out the thousands of great reads on Amazon, or ask your local librarian or bookstore seller for recommendations. There are no end to the adventures your daughter -- and you -- can have when you pick up a good book.

Yours in parenting support,
Susan

Parent Coach, Susan Stiffelman, is a licensed and practicing psychotherapist and marriage and family therapist. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in developmental psychology and a Master of Arts in clinical psychology. Her book, Parenting Without Power Struggles, is available on Amazon. Sign up to get Susan's free parenting newsletter.