Growing Reader

8 Ways Parents Discourage Their Kids from Reading

by Melissa Taylor

Photo credit: Cultura/heshphoto, Collection Mix: Subjects/Getty Images

Sometimes we unintentionally discourage our kids from reading.

I know. It’s hard to believe, but it’s true. Here’s what not to do — and why.

1. Having the Wrong Books

If you only have Steinbeck or The New Yorker as reading options, your kids will be discouraged from reading. It’s highly unlikely your children will read unless they have access to books at their reading level and books about things in which they are interested. Get your dog lovers books about dogs and your Lego fans books about Legos.

2. Having Limited Access to Books

Books encourage kids to read. No books = no reading. Borrow lots of books from the library. Not just one or two books — borrow thirty. Flood your house with books. Then leave them in different rooms and piles so they’re easily accessible. (This works. Trust me.)

3. Only Reading Aloud to Our Littles

We sometimes forget that our older kids need us to read aloud to them as well. As you probably already know, research shows that reading aloud to kids is the best thing you can do to improve their literacy skills, not to mention that it motivates them to read on their own. Plus, you’ll get the opportunity to read amazing chapter books that can inspire discussion and bonding.

4. Not Letting Them Choose Their Books

Kids want to read books that they get to pick out themselves. That’s not to say you can’t advise on picking a good book, show them how to pick a just-right book, or even model reading the back cover or jacket flap of a book — but being able to actually choose the book themselves predisposes them to want to read that book. Let kids pick from a selection if that works best for you, but let them be in charge of the final decision. As Maya Angelou said, “Any book that helps a child to form a habit of reading, to make reading one of his deep and continuing needs, is good for him.”

[RELATED: 15 Tips for Starting a Lifelong Conversation About Books]

5. Offering Nonsense Easy Reader Books

Warning: This is my pet peeve and is somewhat controversial. Okay, here goes … Many early readers are asked to read easy phonics books that are mind-numbingly boring. Boring because these books have no plot thread whatsoever. So the kid sits and strings words together, missing the whole point of reading: the narrative and exposition. Not only that, the child becomes uninterested and frustrated. So try to find easy readers that actually make sense. Tug the Pup and Bob Books are two good book series that have both decodable text and narrative meaning. Climbing off the soapbox now.

6. Making Reading Punitive

If you subscribe to the Love and Logic parenting method, which I generally do, we’re not supposed to punish (“You didn’t read, you don’t get screen time.”) or bribe (“I’ll give you screen time IF you read.”) but rather reward for positive behavior (“Wow, you spent so much time reading, I’d like to treat you to 30 minutes of screen time.”). I think this is hard and tricky and it totally makes my head want to explode, but I bring it up so you can think about it. We don’t want reading to become something dreadful or punitive. We want reading to be lovely and fun and rainbows and unicorns. Consider how you can reward for reading, not punish.

7. Not Reading Yourself

Your kids are watching your every move. Plus they copy you. So they need to see you reading regularly. The experts say this is good modeling. (I use this as my justification for reading all the time, especially when I should be making dinner or doing some other job around the house. Feel free to borrow this most excellent reasoning, too.)

8. Not Having Any Time to Read

If our kids are too scheduled with activities, they’ll have no time to read. I know this makes sense, but it’s something we need to think about carefully. What is your daily schedule like? Do you have time for reading? It’s critical that kids have unscheduled time every day for reading as well as relaxing.


  • dnotes

    Reading aloud I agree encourages reading and speech skills, especially if it is between each other sharing information with conversation. A lot of reading material around the house is good too (including magazines in the bathroom!)
    I strongly believe that the reason for my testing at college level vocabulary and reading speeds at age 12 after moving to a new school was the reading, reading aloud and reading material that was in our home then. Naturally, the new school after receiving my results beginning with the school principal wanted to know what my parents may have been doing to encourage my reading at the level it was found to be! When I was growing up the most common thing between my parents was not only reading to us, but they would constantly read aloud to each other too. For example, in the mornings with the newspaper picking out articles of interest, reading aloud a paragraph or two and sometimes a complete article with discussion back and forth to each other was typical.
    Also, seeing an older sibling obviously using reading material to make things and using other reading material for personal entertainment created a situation where I wanted to know what he was enjoying with the result that he began to teach me how to read better and to always have a dictionary with me to find words used in the material I did not understand. The result was a pre-adolescent that was reading not only more age appropriate material such as my older brother’s ‘Tell Me Why’ by Arkady Leokum or several books in the Raggedy Ann series by Johnny Gruell but also Mother’s Cosmopolitan magazines and Father’s National Geographic and any other adult level reading material learning about the realities of adult life that most do not learn until they are in their 20’s and beyond!

  • Jaime Woodard

    Yay! Exactly what parents need. More fucking lists about how were fucking up. You know what… My kids don’t sit around the house reading all day but all three of them are reading at atleast two grade levels above the grade they’re in.

  • Lorraine Smith

    I am one of the lucky ones. My parents were readers and the whole family of us kids (10 of us) are now avid readers. When my parents were alive, we had our own lending library. My Dad kept a box full of books near his chair and we could take one and return each one after we read it. I still have some of my favorites

  • SusanB999

    This is in general a very good article, but there’s one thing I have to disagree with. If you want your children to genuinely love reading, it doesn’t “work” to give them rewards, for the same reason it doesn’t work to punish them for not doing it…it takes away from the intrinsic value of reading. If they’re reading to get a cookie or a trip to the zoo or whatever, then they’re not focused on the good things they get out of reading, and they might not do it when the carrot goes away. They focus more on the reward than on the activity itself. I understand that this is a way to get some kids to read who otherwise wouldn’t, but if parents follow all your other advice, then I add this as a suggestion: let them be rewarded by what they get through reading: snuggle time in your lap, sharing a laugh at a funny line, delight in a great story, learning something new about what they’re reading, and so on.

    Thank you for the thoughts!

  • Megan Conelly

    If you’re having trouble finding “just right” books for you child — books at their reading level AND about things that interest them — don’t hesitate to ask the children’s librarian at your local library! They (we) keep up with the trends, know which book you might like if you liked that one, and can find appropriate materials for those kids who are highly skilled readers, but still need kid-appropriate content. And as a bonus, we can help the grownups find books to pique your interest too!

    • This is SO true, Megan. Thanks for this comment. An underutilized resource, for sure!

  • Melissa Candage

    Wow all of this apply’s in my home. I’ve been reading to my kids since my first was 6 months old. They see me and their dad reading all the time and guess what. Both of my kids are amazing readers. I had a friend ask me how I taught my oldest how to read. Ummm I didn’t. I didn’t have to. And my oldest is also amazing at writing and spelling. My son is awesome at story telling. I am one proud mommy!

  • The fact that a lot of early readers are not terribly interesting (including some assigned by some teachers) is all the more reason to keep reading aloud to children who are able to read on their own. Keep them inspired with fascinating chapter books that are ahead of their current reading level, so that they know the hard work they’re doing now will make it possible for them to read great books as their skills increase.

  • Grace

    And don’t limit your choices of what to read aloud to “age-appropriate” material. When I was 5, my dad started reading me “The Hobbit” as my bedtime story. By the time I was 6, we’d finished the Lord of the Rings Trilogy. I loved the stories, even things I didn’t understand, and I fully credit my love of language to that early exposure to such rich and varied vocabulary.

  • Patricia Favreau

    I used commuting time to have my kids listen to books on CD’s. They even had favorite narrators who used accents, different voices and inflections to make the written page come alive. We listened to books which might have seemed intimidating or boring in actual book form. We also delved into different genres and widened their interests.

  • Lisa Graziano

    I wish the schools knew even half of this. Per the elementary teachers (ours, anyway), my kid was “too old” to be read to before she was 7; the books she chose to read were “outside her reading level” and she was told to put them back on the shelf; reading books above her state-test reading level was “bad” for her; and a lot of other idiocy.

  • Lila Toney Fair

    My pet peeve is when parents or teachers try to force children to read from a singular list of books because it’s easier for THEM. I’m not talking about the occasional school assignment to read a Newbery winner or the parent who wants to share their passion for E. B. White. You know the ones.. they’re shoving yellowed copies of The Bobbsey Twins or The Black Stallion at their child, and yelling at the Youth Services Librarian for suggesting Sharon Draper’s “Sassy” series or Lemony Snicket, because “I’ve never heard of them.” Or the parents who come in with “the paper” from school showing a Lexile range or a Reading Counts logo, and they want the first book that comes up in a search, because they’re in a hurry. Then there are the parents who want you (us) as Youth Services staff to tell their children NOT to read Goosebumps or Junie B. Jones, because they (the parents) don’t like the way the books are written, and they don’t want their children to be seen “wasting” their time and talent reading trash”. Most of the time, it has nothing to do with their child’s experience with reading, but the way their child (and by extension how they) might appear to others…

  • Greta Woller

    You forgot: Too much XBox, Playstation, computer games etc. Many of my students tell me that’s all they do all weekend!