someone has to teach my child to read (and it might have to be me)

As a parent, you’ve already got a million things going on. The average chaos of a school morning while you’re getting your kids up and out the door is overwhelming.  You’re finding lost homework, packing lunches, and searching for misplaced shoes without losing your cool. Then you rush off to work or care for younger children for the rest of the day only to have to make dinner, do the dishes, help with homework, and run out for evening activities and extra-curriculars. At the end of the day, you collapse into bed just to repeat it all again tomorrow.

The last thing you need when you’re already overwhelmed is one more thing to worry about. If you’ve made the decision to support your struggling reader at home, now you’ve got a whole new job to jam into an already bursting schedule. Every adult needs to be able to read, and you’re going into it with no training, no experience, and without any real choice in the matter. Talk about intimidating!

Is This My Fault?  

If your child’s teacher has been after you with things like sticker charts for read-aloud time and increasingly large packets of sight words for your child to memorize- you might feel like your child’s reading delay is your fault. You might feel like it’s something you caused.  If only you’d been a better parent! You could have read more baby books, breastfed, played make-believe more often, or cut back on how much screen time they had. Everything you’ve ever screwed up as a parent comes flooding back to you.

There is nothing that has been found to definitively CAUSE things like dyslexia. As a neurological difference, there is only so much credit that you can take for the neurological structure of your child’s brain. Are there things you could have done when they were babies that might have helped? Sure, it’s possible, but there’s no research that indicates it’s preventable. We can’t blame ourselves for not doing things when we didn’t know we should have done them. Regrets are normal; we were doing our best.

woman reading book to toddler
Photo by Lina Kivaka on

I Don’t Think I Can Do This.

You might be feeling completely inadequate. How are you supposed to know where to even start? There is often a lot of conflicting information coming from individual teachers and school districts- do we memorize the words or the pattern? Do we look at pictures or only focus on the words? Do we use phonics or not? What are you supposed to be doing?

It would be one thing to grapple with this if it was your only job, but you’re (probably) not a teacher! If you work, have younger children, are lacking support, or have a lot of things going on in your life, then finding time is a huge struggle. If you have dyslexia, then you might feel like you’re starting ten steps behind. If you have ADHD, then organize materials and sticking to a routine might feel impossible. If life is already so hard that you’re barely putting one foot in front of the other, than tackling another overwhelming task might be enough for you to want to nope out of this whole situation completely.

This doesn’t make you a terrible parent. This makes you a parent in the real world, facing real challenges.

I’m Scared For My Child

The mental load of watching your child struggle cannot be understated- you get that quivery sense of “what if they never get it?” Maybe that awful mix of fear and shame, whispering, “this is my fault.” Perhaps you see what the teacher is sending home and think “this isn’t going to help.” Or you look at the reading charts and think, “I can’t do this, I don’t even know how to start.” You might be hearing your child say things like, “I’m just stupid” and now you’re worrying about your child’s learning and their mental health.   

What happens when these fears feel like they’re going to swallow you whole? Sometimes fear comes out as anger- you find yourself snapping at the child who needs you the most because your brain is so full of worry. Maybe you squash the fear down and tell it to shut up, but it sneaks through with chronic problems like stomach pain or insomnia. Maybe the fear makes it impossible to pull out the bundle of work your child has been assigned –it’s just too much, you can’t even face it.

tired mother asking for help while sitting with children
Photo by Gustavo Fring on

Fear Doesn’t Have to Stop You.

Sometimes when the fear is at it’s peak, we think we need to change our whole lives. Buy the expensive curriculum! Study for 5 hours every weekend! Throw out the television! The problem with huge goals is that they’re hard to stick to, and you finish the week feeling like a failure when you worked for less than an hour and still have a TV. The best thing you can do when the fear is overwhelming is to take a small step. Even just one step, but make it something achievable and sustainable.  

You might be thinking, “I’m not even a teacher, how am I supposed to do this?!” It’s true, you won’t be a perfect teacher for your child. You are going to get things wrong and make mistakes. Teachers are also human and they get things wrong and make mistakes.

You will not get it perfect, but you know what you can get? Better than nothing. Doing a small thing right is a heck of a lot better than doing nothing in case you get it wrong.  Approach your instruction from a place of love and connection. At best you help your child read and at the worst you are building a better relationship. Either way, you are further ahead than where you started.  

You can do so much that will help your child’s reading, and it a lot of it can be done without touching a single worksheet. You can help them by talking about words, by counting sounds when you’re in the car, and even by singing songs and playing games. It does not need to be hard, and even if you do only a tiny bit, it’s still more than what your child would be learning if you did nothing.

Tiny steps are still steps. Progress is progress, no matter how slight.