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How to Motivate a Kid with ADHD to Read

If you need help to get your ADHD Kids reading, this is the post for you. These tips have proven successful for my own boys and countless kids with ADHD (and neurotypical kiddos , too).

I’ve mentioned before how my boys are prolific readers. I often find them with their noses stuck in a  book. In fact, sometimes I have to say, “Stop reading, please” when it’s time to go somewhere or eat dinner.

This has not always been the case. Both of my boys have ADHD and struggled to learn to read.

Read on to see my time tested, proven reading strategies for ADHD kids.  

How do you Motivate kids with ADHD to read?

First, let me tell you a bit of the back story.

When my oldest started 1st grade we were told he was in need of “Immediate Intervention” because his reading scores were so low.

I was shocked.

My son loved reading–we listened to books on tape, I read aloud to him, multiple times a day.  I was panicked, truly panicked.

Things were much the same for my younger son. He loved books and was mesmerized by the pictures, but did not start reading chapter books until the end of 3rd grade.

 I won’t lie – it was hard work. But it has been one of the most enjoyable, rewarding parts of my parenthood – Instilling a love of reading in my boys with ADHD.

I am focusing on what worked best to get the reading help my two boys with ADHD needed, but also what I know to be true for other kids with ADHD from my 20 plus years as a teacher.

Why do kids with ADHD often struggle to read?

In a nutshell: Kids with ADHD are motivated by their own interests-if they find reading fun, they will read.

While this may seem like an over-simplified idea, it has been my experience 95% of the time. 

If kids with ADHD do not believe reading to be enjoyable, you will have a tough time getting them to pick up a book.

To say that ADHD kids are unfocused is not exactly correct. Kids with ADHD have selective focus, that is they can hyper focus on what they love to do, and can’t focus on things they don’t.  Kids with ADHD first must see reading as an enjoyable activity, something that will pique their interests before they willingly choose to read.

How to get ADHD kids to love reading

Start as early as you can, but it’s never too late.

I realize now that I was already doing lots of great stuff with my kids, laying the foundation for future voracious readers.  

It just took awhile to show up.

 ADHD is a developmental condition, so kids may lag behind their peers in one or several ways. It’s great if you can start instilling a love of reading when your kids are babies, but, trust, me, it is never too late to instill a love of reading. 

Personal Story: When I taught 6th grade at a school where few kids even had books at home, my excitement for books and daily read alouds (Thank you Roald Dahl and J.K. Rowling) sparked so much motivation.  Kids who had never picked up a book, were talking about books, looking forward to reading and asking their parents to go to the library. Reading scores shot up through the roof (some people thought I must be cheating!) and many kids felt success for the first time in their lives – at 11 or 12. 

So, don’t worry if your kids are not 3 years old, this stuff still works.

Take away the pressure 

The pressure for kids to read at an incredibly early age is real – and stupid.

Reading happens according to one’s own very unique development, not by a universal age or grade. Because ADHD is a developmental disorder, many kids with ADHD are just not ready to read at 4 or 5-with some not really starting until 7 or 8. They just need a little extra time to develop and catch up to their nuerotypical peers.

Older kids with ADHD certainly do not need any extra anxiety-producing pressure. More likely than not, they just have not been given the right opportunities or discovered the right reading material. Keeping your attitude about reading light and fun will do wonders for getting your kids hooked.

Put away incentive charts and gold stars

Rewarding kids for a desired behavior actually backfires and totally kills intrinsic motivation. Children who are rewarded for reading will end up doing less reading in the end.(Alfie Kohn’s book is a must read!)

Reading, itself, is the reward. Kids will learn that reading is fun!

Get your child to love stories

When kids get hooked on stories, they are more likely to pick up a book themselves. Here are a few ways you can go about getting your kids to love stories:

Read aloud to them

No matter what age your kids are, they will enjoy listening to a book. Kids become interested in the story and often beg you to read more. Sharing a story together connects you as a family and cements the love of stories even more.

Once kids are able to read on their own, we often think there is not need to read aloud to them. Quite the contrary – Reading with your kids – even tweens and teens – is a great way to form a lasting bond and instill a love of books.

My kids favorite read alouds: The Green Ember, Hank the Cowdog, Winnie the Pooh, The Wind in the Willows, James Herriot’s Animal Stories for Children

Listen to audio books

Audio books are a great way for struggling readers to get hooked on stories. Kids with ADHD can listen and understand stories  on a higher reading level than they can read themselves. (Bonus! They’ll be  exposed to lots of new vocabulary.)

We love Audible for the ease….we can listen to just about any book anywhere, anytime.

Listening on an iPod is a great quiet, screenfree activity for older kids. The whole family can listen to audio books during road trips or on the way to school each morning.

Sneaking in 10 minutes a day can really have exponential results.

Our favorite audio stories: Farmer Boy, The Railway Children, Tru and Nelle, Mary Poppins, Shakespeare StarWars.

Listening to books does not replace learning to decode words and read, but it does go a long way in getting kids interested in stories, making them infinitely more likely to pick up a book on their own. 

 Make reading a daily habit

When you work reading into your daily rhythm, it will not take long before it just becomes something your kids do, without even thinking.

It’s easier to create a habit if you link it to another habit. Try reading during snack time, after dinner, or before bath time. In our family we read for about 30 to 45 minutes before lights off every night. We have been doing it for as long as I can remember.

You must make time to do this….That means if you are over scheduled, you need to give something up. Most kids need to have time when screens are not an option, in order to pick up a book.  

For kids who have a hard time putting down a screen, I recommend reading an old fashioned book. There will be less temptation to start playing a game. 

Strew interesting books around

Entice your kids by placing interesting looking books around the house. Keep a basket by their bed, by the sofa, in the bathroom – anywhere they might sit for a spell.

I often pick books out at the library that I think look inviting. I find my kids are attracted to non-fiction books with lots of great images, like the Dorling Kindersley Eyewitness series.

My kids still love Stephen Biesty’s Cross-Section Books .They sit for hours and pour over the pictures!

Over the years their tastes have changed and I have fun keeping up!

Related: The Best Books for Reluctant Boy Readers

Try paired reading

Also known as the “you read a little, I’ll read a little” method, this is a fantastic way to get your reluctant reader to gain confidence.

I spent many, many days(that stretched into months) sitting on the sofa with my son while we read a book together – I read a page and he read a page.  I started with books he was already familiar with – read alouds he had practically memorized. I made it a daily habit and little by little he’d read more and more.

I have to confess that at first this was not easy. My son begged me to read to him instead of him reading anything. I pushed just enough to get him a smidge out of his comfort zone. It was the consistency that worked.

Skip this step if you think you will be too hard on your kids.

Reading should always be more snuggly than teachery.

Model a love of reading yourself

Your kids are watching you – always. If they see you reading and enjoying a life filled with books, they are much more likely to follow suit.

Check books out of the library when your kids do, read in front of them, talk about how much you are loving (or not loving) your latest read.

Your kids reading life starts with YOU. 

Related: What we can learn from a great reader.

Take a field trip

Expose your kid to lots of different kinds of reading material – magazines, digital books, printable pdfs….

I have such great memories of going to an old fashioned magazine stand with  my dad when I was young. We’d peruse for as long as I wanted and I’d always get to pick out a magazine to take home.  

Go someplace new with your kids. Spend a leisurely hour at an independent bookstore or Goodwill just looking at the books. I give my kids an allowance for books every month – read more on that HERE.

Put down the devices!

You have to make time for reading. Time without a device in sight.

(Yes, some people do read on devices, okay.)

But kids with ADHD have little self control when it comes to devices.  My boys rarely read on an iPad because they’d be playing a game on it in no time. 

Encourage(this might look more like enforce) screen free time at your house – this means you, too – so kids will have the opportunity to pick up a book.

Related: Managing screens and ADHD Kids

Overwhelmed with all these ideas?

Which idea sounds like it would bring you and your child the most joy?

Start with that one, for sure.

Kids who see reading as a fun pastime are the ones who will stick with it. Period.

More on what worked for us & great resources!

When I learned how “behind” my son was in first grade, I did two things:

I did not panic and I got to work.

Starting first grade in a public school system can mean there are high, unobtainable standards. I saw first grade as a time for learning to read, not for being penalized because he wasn’t already reading.

I also, was not going to  leave it entirely up to the school to get him where he needed to be.

Luckily, he already LOVED books and loved to be read to.  I started doing paired reading everyday at the same time – it became part of our daily rhythm.

At first, he complained, “NO, you read to me, mama.” But I lovingly persisted and little by little he complained less and read more.

We visited the library a lot. I read aloud to him every day, sometimes twice in the same day.

We subscribed to Sparkle Stories, an online producer of original audio stories for kids. I can’t say enough about these stories–we continue to listen to them on a weekly basis. You have to check them out-we’ve been subscribers for 9 years.

By the end of 1st grade, my son’s “scores” were way above average which was a relief, but meant much less to me than the fact that he was LOVING reading and so excited to identify himself as a independent reader.

Now that my kids are 11 and 13, we still have a very active life as readers. You can get more ideas and see loads of my favorite resources HERE and HERE.

When do you need professional intervention?  

Children with ADHD can have learning disabilities that affect their reading.

Yes, a love of reading can go a long way. But, sometimes kids need more than just a love of reading to become better readers. You may have to become a bit more of a detective, if they continue to struggle with basic reading skills after first or second grade.

Be open to what your kid’s teacher’s are saying. Get a second opinion. Have your child tested for learning difficulties, if necessary.

You know your children best, so go with your intuition.

I knew my oldest son was just lagging a bit behind his peers and I was right. But my younger son did need professional intervention with his writing skills. He did not catch up on his own and is now getting additional help for his writing.

These reading strategies kids with ADHD are very doable and dare I say, can be a completely enjoyable process! Perhaps it will take some hard work. But, I promise the rewards of having a great reader are so worth it.

What is your favorite strategy to get your kids to pick up a book? Let us know in the comments!

Want more on ADHD?

You might find these helpful:

Read about our amazing a weighted blanket  here.

WE have a great bedtime routine. Read about it here.

Want more ADHD diet help? Here’s how we do breakfast.


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  1. I’m so glad I found your blog , I’ve been searching for help with my grandsons reading he is 10 and has adhd along with odd and he struggles with reading he can read big words easier than little words I’m so happy I found your blog I’m going to try a lot of your ideas

    1. Hi Bev! Glad you found us! There are loads of books I mention that he will surely love….lots to look at and have him learn to sit and concentrate. Let me know what he loves!

  2. Hi! Very helpful tips. My son is 10 and reads on kindergarten level. His retention is the biggest issue. How do you get them to learn to read when they can’t remember letter sounds and sight words?

    1. HI Ashley! Sorry to hear your son is having trouble. I have heard lots of great things about the Orton Gillingham method of teaching reading…it gets all the senses involved. Ask at his school or see if you can find a tutor to help–even online.