Research continues to prove the sooner you get your child started with reading fundamentals, the better readers they will become in the long run. However, despite getting an early start, some children still face hurdles when it comes to mastering reading skills and improving as time goes on.

As parents, we often wonder why our children are having a harder time than others and what can be done to remedy the situation. In many cases, children just need a little more time and practice to master reading skills, while others may require specialized support. The helpful tips outlined here can help you recognize common reading challenges and identify solutions.

Specific Word Reading Difficulties (SWRD)

One common reading issue among younger children is called specific word reading difficulty (SWRD). Children who display specific word reading difficulties can generally understand what they read but tend to struggle when focusing on specific words. In other words, they struggle with “decoding” written words. In addition, they may have poor spelling skills.

Research suggests that children with SWRD may benefit from a systematic phonics approach that focuses on increasing the child’s ability to hear and identify phonemes, or the distinct sounds that distinguish one word from another. (For example, in the word cat, each letter represents a phoneme or distinct sound, and together they blend to create the word.) Children who are taught to read with a phonics approach are taught to “sound out” words. However, some schools use other techniques to teach reading skills. Whatever method the child’s school uses, parents can help by having their child read to them, helping with the pronunciation of any words the child stumbles over, and discussing the meanings of these words.

Some children who are later diagnosed as dyslexic have a history of SWRD, so if your child continuously exhibits difficulty with recognizing words, sounding out words, or spelling, it may be worthwhile to have them tested for dyslexia. Dyslexia is a learning disorder that can make decoding words difficult; in people with dyslexia, the brain has difficulty connecting letters to the sounds they represent and combining them into words. The condition can affect people in different ways, but it often makes reading difficult. However, the good news is that children with dyslexia can still become good readers with proper support and intervention.

Specific Reading Comprehension Difficulties (SRCD)

Some children can recognize or sound out words with no issues, but still struggle with comprehending what they read. Specific reading comprehension difficulties (SRCD) present themselves as difficulties remembering or understanding what is read. Children with SRCD often show the following signs:

  • struggling with understanding the main points in reading passages
  • not understanding the meaning of individual words (vocabulary problems)
  • confidence to read aloud, but very little retention of what was read

Educators can help children with SRCD according to their specific weaknesses; for example, a child may require extra help with vocabulary. Teachers can also assign activities based on the text—for example, the child can be asked to come up with a question based on what they’ve read. Parents can help children with SRCD by reading out loud with their children and then discussing what they’ve read. Flashcards can be helpful for children with vocabulary troubles.

Mixed Reading Difficulties (MRD)

Mixed reading difficulties (MRD) are particularly challenging because they involve several different issues that make reading more difficult for these children compared to those who only struggle with specific word difficulties or reading comprehension. Children who exhibit MRD often have problems with decoding words as well as comprehension. Children with this reading challenge often display rushed behavior and will just try to get through a passage of text as quickly as possible, with little regard for the meaning behind what they are reading.

Some children who display mixed reading difficulties have some form of social anxiety surrounding reading, which can be directly tied to their self-confidence. If you notice that your child is struggling with reading overall, they may have mixed reading difficulties. The remedy should be tailored to the child’s individual problem, as discussed in the sections above, but parents can always help by reading with their children out loud. In addition, depending on the severity of the problem, the child may benefit from a dedicated reading tutor or other professional help.

Being Supportive Makes a Big Difference

Aside from learning about the different types of reading difficulties that kids face, one of the most important things parents, caregivers, and teachers can do is provide emotional support and positive encouragement along with academic help. Additionally, for parents, it’s good to remember that some reading challenges can be naturally overcome with consistent practice over time, but some reading difficulties are indicative of larger issues. By enlisting the help of teachers and other professionals, you can ensure that your child receives the instructional support they need to become a successful reader.

For additional parenting tips on reading, visit our blog or check out this article on How to Make the Most of Reading to Your Child.