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!
The Self-Love Book: A sweet book about loving yourself and being more confident overall! A must-read for all children!
There Must Be More Than That!: Is a fun, engaging book for kids about the power of possibility and perspective.
I Can't Do That, Yet: This book has a wonderful message about not limiting yourself and using the power of possibility and a positive mindset to say instead, "I can't do that, yet."
Team Supercrew: Emotions and Powers Boxed Set: This boxed set helps children overcome issues such as anger, fear, frustration, and sadness. The relatable stories help children recognize their emotions, create a positive mindset, build confidence, and more
Your Fantastic Elastic Brain: Another fun growth mindset book for children! I love that the message teaches children that making mistakes is okay because it's a part of growing and learning!
2. Find Stories or Books with Relatable Characters
Finding books or stories with relatable characters for your child can help build their self-esteem as they feel validated and understood by making connections to the characters. When children read about characters going through similar experiences, overcoming similar challenges, or having similar feelings, they tend to feel less alone and more connected to others and the world around them. A sense of connection empowers children and can help them build positive images of themselves. When children see characters overcoming similar obstacles they might face, it gives them hope and confidence to face these issues. Reading about successful characters, despite their struggles, can inspire and help them develop a positive outlook on life and their abilities.
This works! I have seen it first hand!
Using relatable stories is something that I do as a life coach for kids. A life coach for kids? Yes, you heard that right. We don't usually think of life coaches for kids, but it is a thing! It's very beneficial for children. Think of life coaches as confidence coaches for kids. I recently got certified in a program called Adventures in Wisdom. Through this program, I use stories to help children navigate the ups and downs of growing up. I pair the stories with follow-up activities and discussions to help deepen their understanding and retrain their brain through positive mindset training.
This program works so well because children can see similarities between themselves and the characters in the story! It allows them to relate to the characters, increase their empathy and understanding of the character in the story and themselves, connect it back to their own life, and evaluate the circumstances to improve their lives!
So far, the program has been highly successful in helping children overcome negative self-talk, self-esteem, specific fears (like falling asleep alone), living a life of integrity, and more!
To learn more about life coaching for kids, click the blue button below! Sign up for a FREE 30-minute Discovery call to find out if coaching might be the perfect fit for your child!
3. Read Books That Match Your Child's Personal Interests
Allowing children to choose what books they read is very motivating. When they have good experiences with reading, enjoy it, and find it engaging, it builds their confidence and self-esteem. On the contrary, if forcing kids to read books they aren't interested in, they can become frustrated and discouraged and make negative connotations with reading. This reading view can negatively impact their self-esteem, excitement, and willingness to take it on.
We want children to seek books independently and feel they have control over their reading and learning. A feeling of power and interest in reading builds strong self-esteem, independence, and self-determination. So, let your child seek whatever might interest them and spark a compelling interest! It may differ from what you would want them to read, but remember, this is a critical issue! Choice goes a long way in helping children see reading as a rewarding and fun thing to do!
4. Creating a reading routine
Having a regular reading routine with your child at home can have a positive impact on their self-esteem in the following ways:
Consistency: creates comfort, a sense of predictability, and a feeling that they know what to expect. This routine allows them to feel in control of their reading experience and feel accomplished as they build consistency in their daily reading.
Proficiency: Daily reading will help your child develop reading skills such as word recognition, fluency, and comprehension. Their success will surely build their confidence and self-esteem around reading as they move up the ladder of skills and or reading levels.
Goal Setting: Daily reading helps your child learn to set and work towards goals. Achieving their reading goals can create a sense of pride and motivate them to keep reading and progressing!
Bonding: Creating a reading routine at home also helps you, as the parent, bond with your child. It allows you to spend time together and have a shared experience. When parents take the time to read with their children, it shows that reading is important to them. Being right there alongside them to cheer them on and provide support will make them feel supported and encouraged in their reading journey! Ensure you ask your child questions and engage in conversations around their reading. Engaging in the text with them allows them to build upon their critical thinking skills and form opinions. Also, let them have opportunities to be confident in their ability to think critically and ask you questions about the material they are reading. Asking questions helps them better understand the world and think critically, leading to higher confidence and self-esteem!
5. Hire Help
One last effective way to help your child build their self-esteem and reading skills is to hire help from a tutor or reading specialist such as myself. A reading specialist provides one-on-one, individualized attention and support. Their individualized learning plan can help the child feel seen and heard and create a supportive and safe learning environment.
When I start with a student, I first do a Free Reading Assessment to determine their strengths and weaknesses. The assessment allows me to create an individualized learning plan and build them up from where they currently are. Meeting them where there are and catering to their specific needs helps a child progress quickly and raises their confidence in reading rapidly.
Tutoring a child each week also allows ample opportunities to provide positive reinforcement, which can motivate and build confidence in children as their efforts are being noticed, recognized, and praised often. The exact opposite of what they might feel in a busy classroom, where they feel left behind and unnoticed because the teacher is overloaded with students. One of the reasons I love my job most is that I can create a more supportive and empowering learning environment for children!
If you want to help your child go from frustrated, defeated and stuck in their reading to reading with confidence and high self-esteem, please click the link below to sign up for a FREE Reading Assessment and start the tutoring process today!
Reading is an essential building block in your child's education. The better they are at reading, the better they will do in all subjects in school. The better they do in all subjects, the more confident they will feel. Reading has many benefits to your child's self-esteem, so ensure that you give them time each day to do their reading by building a reading routine at home.
It's crucial to create opportunities for your child to feel confident in their abilities (no matter where they are on their reading journey), so make reading light and fun at home and allow them to choose books they are interested in.
Also, find books that model resilience or similar issues they are going through so they can relate to the text, and remember to celebrate their successes along the way! No matter how significant or small their reading improvement is, pointing it out and celebrating it can help them develop a sense of pride and confidence in their reading abilities. Praising their efforts will motivate them to continue working towards their reading goals!
Good luck, and happy reading!!
About The Author
Janay Neufeld is an online reading specialist and confidence coach for kids. Her unique approach can help children worldwide increase their confidence and reading skills with positive mindset training, helping them reach their full potential!
She has her multiple-subject teaching credential, almost a decade of experience helping children learn to read, and a Master of the Arts in Education. She is also certified as a life coach for kids through Adventures in Wisdom.
Click the button below to sign up for a FREE Reading Assessment and find out if tutoring might be the perfect fit for your child!