Article Library

How to Reverse Reading Stress in 30 Seconds

by Sarah Forrest | 13 September 2018
Have you heard people throw around the phrase “reluctant reader”?

Well, if you’ve taught or parented a so-called reluctant reader, you know that phrase can be a vast understatement.


  • tantrums around reading practice
  • shut-down refusal to engage with text
  • books flying across the room
  • tears of frustration (from child and adult alike!)

Sound familiar? If so, then your learner is dealing with a classic case of stress spirals around reading. And it can be crushing for everyone involved.

Why stress can actually cause reading difficulty

Stress causes a cascade of chemicals to sort of “take over” the brain. When confronted with a stressful situation, the brain reduces energy flow to the higher functioning areas, and focuses everything on that basic brain stem “fight, flight, or freeze” response (see Harvard Medical School’s neat explanation here).

And learning to read is definitely a higher brain function. So when the child’s brain gets in a stress state, it can become nearly impossible to actually do the neurological steps required to read. (Take in the word visually → break it apart into its auditory phonetic components → blend those together → semantically interpret the meaning of the word → say it out loud).

So rather than just being the result of finding reading hard, stress can actually cause further difficulty. This is why it is crucial to disable the stress response before it really gets going.

How to reverse it quickly and painlessly

We have found one way to stop stress in its tracks that works almost every time, tested on the thousands of children we have helped over the years. And it is something we call The Rule of 5.

The Rule of 5 states that for every correction or criticism of a child’s reading, you have to say 5 positive things. The power of praise can turn around a struggler’s psychology in a matter of seconds, in fact!

It is hard to remember to do it when it feels like our job is to steer learners onto the right course, which naturally involves a lot of correction. But balancing that correction with an abundance of affirmations is the way to avoid a reluctant learner’s reading shutdown. It doesn’t need to be over the top. We always recommend keeping it simple — “yep… good… got it… well done… nice!” with each little success is the way to go.

And how you correct is a part of the Rule of 5 too. Rather than a “no” or grunt when a child has made an error, we advise a gentler spin: “close! let’s look at that again…” or “almost there! try that one…”

Give it a try. I guarantee that you will see benefits in under a minute!

Sarah Forrest is an Advisor for David Morgan Education, and contributor at Helping Children to Read. After studying Spanish literature at Yale University, she worked at Easyread HQ in Oxford, England for 4 years. She now lives in the sunny south of the United States with her two children, where she loves coaching parent and children through pictophonics.

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This