How to Help Struggling Readers Build Confidence and Self-Esteem Through Reading
Updated: Apr 30
Have you ever noticed that your child can be reluctant to do homework or read when struggling with it? You may sit down to read at night with your child and immediately realize that the book you chose is too challenging. They get visibly frustrated immediately, say they don't want to read and devise excuses for not reading right now. From there, it becomes a struggle or a fight, and you are left scratching your head and wondering if you should continue to battle it out and push them at the risk of making reading feel like a chore or something they have to do.
Does this sound familiar?
I always see it with my students and parents that I tutor online. I have over eight years of experience helping struggling readers and noticed that they often come to me with low self-esteem.
Why is this? Why are reading and self-esteem so correlated? Why do children go from being reluctant readers to beginning to beam when they start to click with their reading confidently? So much so that they never want to put a book down once they start to take off. The sense of pride, accomplishment, and joy I see on my student's faces when they start to click with their reading and graduate from picture books to chapter books is always one that I look forward to seeing!
I wanted to dive deeply into this topic and find out how we can better help struggling readers with their reading skills and emotional health as well! In this blog post, I will uncover the relationship between self-esteem and reading, the benefits of reading for self-esteem, and easy tips for using reading to boost self-esteem for young readers.
What is Self-Esteem?
Self esteem is the way we view ourselves. It's how we evaluate our self-worth and value as individuals. How we view ourselves and the abilities we believe we are capable of can significantly impact our lives, but reading can be a vital component for children and building strong self-esteem because it's such a large part of their young lives and overall educational experience.
What Does Self-Esteem Have to Do with Reading?
There have been many studies done on the topic of self-esteem and reading. They show that higher self-esteem is associated with children who have stronger reading skills. However, low-self esteem can often lead to reading challenges because when children feel anxious, frustrated, discouraged, or any other negative feelings around reading, it can get in the way of their learning.
A present study by the University of Sheffield in the UK found that intervention programs that target self-esteem significantly impact reading outcomes in elementary school-aged children. Therefore, interventions that emphasize self-esteem and other social-emotional skills (like self-confidence and self-worth) can be very supportive in helping a child progress in their development.
I recently read the book The Six Pillars of Self-Esteem by Nathaniel Branden. He states in the book that "Self-esteem is confidence in our ability to think, confidence to cope with the basic challenges of life and confidence in our right to be successful and happy."
When I read that, I thought ok, that makes sense to me. My students come to me struggling with reading and needing more confidence in their thinking abilities. They think, "I'm not smart enough," or "I am behind all my peers in reading; I must be dumb."
They may have already tried a bunch of interventions at school and continue to struggle, so their confidence to cope with challenges (like reading) is also lacking.
Lastly, do they believe they can succeed in their reading and deserve to be successful and happy? This one is so interesting to me. Often my students declare they can't read a word or passage before even attempting it. I will pull it up on the screen, and they instantly say, "I have no idea!" Or "This one is too hard for me."
I often find myself coaching students on how they can reframe their thinking, see the power in possibilities, and believe in themselves. I often say things like, "Just do your best. I promise I wouldn't give you this reading passage if I didn't think you could. You have been working so hard in your reading, and you should be proud of yourself and allow yourself to trust in your abilities. Let's give it a shot and see what happens. All I am asking for is to try your best. I don't care what the outcome is."
And do you know what usually occurs once they take a deep breath and consider what I have said? They can do it and reach their reading goal for the day! Their self concept has a massive impact on their reading outcome. It reminds me of the great quote by Henry Ford, "Whether you think you can or you think you can't, you're right."
The more confident a child is in their thinking abilities, the confidence to take on challenges in reading, and confidence in their potential reading success, the more successful they will be!
Why Can Reading Improve a Child's Self-Esteem?
A child's reading skills can make a significant difference in their self-esteem. If a child struggles with reading, it can lead to feelings of frustration, embarrassment, and often low self-worth. On the other hand, if a child excels at reading, it can boost their self-esteem and confidence by enhancing the skills listed below.
What Are The Benefits of Reading for Self-Esteem?
There are so many benefits to reading that have a positive effect on self-esteem, but here are some of the most prevalent ones worth noting below:
Confidence: When children begin to excel in their reading, it gives them confidence and a feeling of accomplishment. They might be more willing to take risks, read more, and participate in class discussions around their reading.
Academic Achievement: Reading is vital to excelling in all subject areas. If a child is a strong reader, they are more likely to succeed all around in school and, in turn, have higher confidence in all subjects.
Social Skills: Students doing well in reading are more likely to engage actively in classroom activities involving reading, which forms more substantial relationships with their peers. These strong bonds with peers will also boost their confidence and self-esteem.
Vocabulary and General Knowledge: strong readers also have strong language skills and general knowledge about the world around them. These skills can help a child feel more confident and capable of taking on whatever comes their way.
Self-Expression: Reading can also aid children in expressing themselves through creativity and imagination. When they can read stories that inspire them or make them feel connected to the world around them or others, it can boost their confidence and sense of self-expression.
Independence: Children love being able to read directions, signs on the road, or a book alone. It gives them a sense of freedom, accomplishment, and autonomy. With all of this, children can take on new challenges and feel capable of solving problems on their own
Self-awareness: Reading requires children to reflect on their reading material. When they read about various characters and reflect on their situations and circumstances, they can see commonalities, which may give them new insight into their lives and experiences. Encouraging this type of reflection can lead to a better understanding of their thoughts, behaviors, and emotions.
Increased empathy: Reading expands children's critical thinking skills and exposes them to new scenarios and circumstances they wouldn't experience otherwise, which helps them build upon empathy and compassion for others and their overall emotional intelligence.
Self-improvement: Reading allows children to build upon their perspective as it introduces them to different ideas, cultures, beliefs, and more. In turn, this helps them to become more understanding and empathetic toward not only themselves but others as well.
Focus and Concentration: Children who read more have a longer attention span. The ability to concentrate for more extended periods leads to productivity, and we all feel better about ourselves when we get things done. The sense of accomplishment and moving forward always boosts self-esteem and self-worth!
Practical Ways to Use Reading to Boost Self-Esteem
1. Seek out Self-help Books For Children
You might not think of self-help books as a genre appropriate for children, but there are so many great books out there that address complex topics as it becomes more acceptable and widespread to discuss things like self-esteem, emotions, and other complicated issues or negative feelings children may encounter. I have listed a few great children's self-help books below and provided a short blurb about what they might be able to help your child with!
(This list does contain affiliate links for your convenience. I do make a small commission from any purchases made.)
A Little Spot of Perserverence: This story about not giving up is excellent. It's full of colorful pictures, positive messages, and fun for kids to read! It's easy for children to relate to and learn from.
Confident Ninja: Kids love this book because of its lightness and fun illustrations. Yet, it addresses the problem of overcoming low self-esteem and low self-confidence in a fun and relatable way!