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How to Get Kids Who Hate Reading to Read… and Like It!

October 10, 2011

First of all, reading is awesome.  It’s what separates us from… uh, you know, people who don’t read.  As strange as this sounds, there are people out there who can read but choose not to.  They say they don’t like reading.  Some say they hate it.  If you’ve got a kid who hates reading, then you’ve got a kid who is probably going to struggle in school, and if you’ve got a kid who’s struggling in school, life itself can be a struggle.  Therefore, if you have a child who (can read but) claims to hate reading, it’s in your best interests to change his (or her) attitude. 


A reluctant reader is someone who is capable of reading but doesn’t like to.  From my experience, reading is kind of like eating: everybody eats, but sometimes you don’t want to eat what’s on your plate.  Some kids hate reading because the stuff that schools (or well-intentioned relatives) give them to read is like the literary equivalent of spinach (or broccoli, or asparagus, or any other healthy food that makes a normal kid wretch). 

For example, a friend of mine in school years ago would refuse to read anything school related (or novels, or nonfiction, or anything anybody suggested), but this kid could memorize a TV Guide (back when they were pocket sized… ah, those were the days) after one reading, and he would absorb any comic book drawn by John Byrne (in the 1980’s, but this obsession eventually ended with Next Men and Danger Unlimited a decade later). 


I have no background that gives my advice any credibility.  It’s just that we dysfunctional literates tend to get along with people who hate reading.  We share the same interests (the ones that don’t involve reading), usually sports, video games, and popular culture. 

I mean, I’m kind of an expert, but I don’t have any training or paperwork that declares me as an expert. 

However, if you’re trying to encourage (or force) a reluctant reader to read, here are a few suggestions.  Remember, none of these strategies are guaranteed to work, but they’re easy and cheap and not really time consuming. 


Some reluctant readers hate the idea of reading fiction.  Why waste time and energy reading about something that’s not even true?  Instead of fighting this, see if your reluctant reader will read non-fiction. 

For example, there are a bunch of books about how to make paper airplanes.  Depending on your kid’s age, get a copy of a paper airplane book and see if your kid reads it, folds a bunch of paper planes, and zings them across the living room.  If this happens, you may have found your solution.  Get books where your child can read, follow directions, and build stuff at the same time.  It might not be your kind of reading, but your reluctant reader is reading and doing something productive (in his/her mind) at the same time. 


These used to be called comic books, but graphic novels are bigger and sometimes are a bunch of comics collected in one book.  The bad news is that these are expensive.  The good news is that more libraries are starting to carry them.  The bad news is that graphic novels get checked out quickly.  The good news is that graphic novels can be pretty cheap on internet auction sites (without giving away free advertising) if you buy them in sets. 

If you’re not sure what kind of graphic novels to purchase or borrow, here’s a quick rule: Girls tend to read graphic novels where women look classy and dress fashionably, and boys tend to read graphic novels where women carry weapons and dress slutty. 

Yeah, you might want to read them first before you give them to your kids.  It won’t take long.


If you give your kid a book and say “Sit down and read” and then you drink a beer and watch tv… then your reluctant reader probably won’t read.  Your best bet is to either read to/with the kid or read something next to the kid. You don’t have to always read the same thing your kid is reading, unless you like tossing paper airplanes or staring at anatomically disproportionate women gunning down bad guys.  Your presence reading next to your reluctant reader may be enough to inspire him/her to read for a while.

And if you manage to have a discussion about what the two of you have read… Okay, let’s not get ahead of ourselves. 


Some people need to hear information to understand it, and if your reluctant reader is an “audio learner,” an audio book may interest your kid.  Personally, I despise audio books because the reader usually has a different interpretation of the words than I do (and I’m right, and the reader always gets it wrong, even when the reader is a trained professional or the author), but kids who hate reading fiction don’t normally have their own interpretations, so that shouldn’t be an issue.  It might be worth a try, especially if you want to “share” a literary experience with your reluctant reader. 


Mute the television and read some tv.  Yeah, this will really tick off your kid, but you might want to first try it with a show that your kid has seen several times.  Kids watch stuff over and over (and a lot of the kid’s channels run the same stuff over and over), so if your reluctant reader has a particular show almost memorized, make them mute it.  This is really helpful when the show has annoying background music (which most kids/teen shows do).  You can have a temporarily peaceful house while your kid reads television. 

Warning!!!  Don’t try this with live programming because the spelling on the captioning is horrible, and that can frustrate a reluctant reader (unless the reluctant reader thinks it’s funny). 


If you are absolutely set on giving your reluctant reader fiction to read, here is an article (written for Dysfunctional Literacy, of course) that offers some suggestions for teenagers: “Best YA Books for Young Adults Who Hate to Read”

One Comment
  1. I used to hate reading. What helped me was my English teacher, who showed me how fiction books are not just about the plot, but they can be closely related to real life too. It also helps to talk with other people about books. 😀

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