Parents’ concerns about children’s reading should not be ignored

The study’s authors recommend counselling parents on creating a positive c
The study’s authors recommend counselling parents on creating a positive climate around reading. (Lina Kivaka/Pexels)

If you have concerns your child is having trouble reading, new research shows it’s likely something that needs attention. As children across the country head back to class this week, a new study from Western researchers shows parental concern is often an accurate indicator of children’s reading difficulty.

Katelyn Bryant, assistant director at Western’s Mary J. Wright Child and Youth Development Clinic

"The main takeaway is not to ignore parents’ concern about reading. If a parent is concerned, there is often a learning difficulty that needs addressing," said Katelyn Bryant, assistant director at Western’s Mary J. Wright Child and Youth Development Clinic and the study’s lead author.

In the study of grade two children, the researchers found that parents’ concern or lack thereof accurately corresponded with whether or not their children had reading difficulties more than 80 per cent of the time.

The study authors point out that reading difficulties are extremely common among school-aged children, with over a quarter of students in many Canadian provinces failing to meet provincial standards for reading proficiency, and that early intervention is crucial to avoiding persistent reading difficulty as children get older.

"Parents have a pretty good pulse on whether their kids are having reading difficulties or not," said Bryant, also an Education professor and school and clinical psychologist who works with children and adolescents with learning, development and mental health difficulties.

"We can identify a lot of kids with reading difficulties just by asking parents about their concerns, and when parents endorse concerns, there is a good chance there is an issue that requires intervention." – Katelyn Bryant

The study, published in the journal Pediatrics and Child Health , offers practical advice for professionals to help respond to parental concern and improve children’s reading proficiency. Firstly, they emphasize the importance of acknowledging parents’ concerns. They also recommend further assessment to determine whether children may have difficulty with word recognition - being able sound out words for example, or language comprehension - understanding and remembering the content they read.

"Parents can’t always judge precisely what the difficulty is with their child’s reading so it’s helpful to do some more testing," Bryant said.

The paper recommends also screening for commonly co-occurring conditions such as language disorders or ADHD, and counselling parents on creating a positive climate around reading and ensuring reading material is appropriately difficult.

The study authors say if children are reading books appropriate to their reading level, they should be able to read with at least 95 per cent accuracy, which Bryant points out usually equates to a maximum of one to two mistakes per page.

"If they are reading books that are too challenging, they will end up being frustrated and they aren’t going to learn," said Bryant. "We want to make sure the books they are practising with are at the right level and that they are getting lots of practice in a way that makes reading enjoyable and fun."