Julie McKinney, MS
April 13, 2021

My child struggles with reading. How can I help?

Many children have trouble with reading and literacy. But there are ways to help support them! Here are some tips on how to help a child struggling with reading.

When my son was in 2nd grade, he had a hard time with reading. It took so much work to get through a sentence and he would be exhausted after a few pages. Of course this made all reading pretty intimidating for him. I started to worry…what will happen when it gets harder?

You’ve probably heard the saying about 3rd grade: it’s the year when students stop learning to read and start reading to learn. Indeed, most things we learn about from that point on depend–at least partly–on reading skills.

But what if your child is still learning to read in 3rd grade? What if they’re behind in 1st or 2nd? This is all too common and can set kids up for years of struggling in school. And perhaps worse: low self-esteem.

But you can help! Here are some steps to keep your child on track with their reading:


Encourage reading at home: We can’t stress enough the importance of reading with your child! Have books around, read to your child and with them, read other printed things like signs, recipes or online games. Show them the joy in reading!


Keep track of your child’s progress in school: Check with the teacher regularly and know if your child is reading on grade level. Ask how your child is doing with the different skills needed to read well. Schools assess reading progress throughout the year. Make sure they share these reports with you.


Work with the teacher to give extra support: If your child is struggling with reading, make a plan together to try some different teaching strategies or interventions. Do this as soon as you notice that your child needs help. The sooner they can get reading support, the more easily they can catch up!


Check for learning disabilities like dyslexia: If your child is consistently behind, ask for an evaluation to see if they have a learning disability like dyslexia. (There are other kinds as well!)

There are many strategies the school can use to help your child catch up with reading skills! Don’t be afraid to ask for help if your child needs it. A little help early on can make a big difference for many years to come.

Are reading and literacy the same?

Reading is only a part of literacy. Literacy goes beyond knowing how to read words, sentences and paragraphs. It includes writing, numbers and graphical information like charts and schedules. Literacy also includes using the information you read to make the most of your life. (Read more here about the importance of literacy.)

After we shared our concerns with his teacher, my son got extra help in the classroom and worked with a reading specialist for several years. And I’m so glad he got this help when he did! Now that he’s older and has discovered his passion (music technology), I see every day how he uses his literacy skills to teach himself new techniques and learn everything about the music world. (Yes, everything… young people are such sponges, right?!)

Want to learn more? Take a look at our full Guide: What to Do If Your Child Struggles in School. This was written for Louisiana, but most of the information applies to kids from anywhere!

  • Julie McKinney, MS

    Director of Training / Health Literacy Specialist

    Julie McKinney has over 25 years of experience in health literacy, plain language, and adult education. She has deep expertise in writing information so it’s easy to understand, and has developed trainings for educators in clear communication.

    At Exceptional Lives, she ensures that our content is clear and friendly. She also works to strengthen relationships with community partners, and designs trainings that help them connect with families.
    Julie also has experience parenting kids with ADHD, learning disabilities and significant intellectual disability. She has ushered her own children through schooling and transition to adulthood, and is committed to helping make this process easier for others.

    Her core view is that good relationships are the key to just about anything we hope for.

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