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How to End Reading Battles in Under a Minute

by Sarah Forrest || 13 September 2018

Got a child who throws tantrums when it’s time for reading practice?

Seen books flying cross the floor?

Perhaps you just get the silent treatment?

If any of these are ringing a bell, then your child has a bad case of stress built up around reading. And it’s a serious matter not just for the learner, but for the parent trying to help. As I’m sure you know, it can basically bring progress to a standstill.

Why stress is a cause of reading problems

If you’ve read our 9 Causes of Reading Difficulty info, then you may recognize stress as a common factor in reading problems. That is because stress actually changes the way the brain can function. Rather than a free flow of energy to the higher brain functioning areas, stress powers the “fight, flight, or freeze” area of the brain – sometimes called the “lizard brain” or brain stem. (See Harvard Medical School’s neat explanation here).

The problem is that learning to read is definitely a higher brain function. So stress actually all but shuts down the neurological areas required to read. Rather than just being the result of finding reading hard, stress can actually cause difficulty all by itself!

To enable progress, you need to reverse the stress spirals before they take over your practice sessions.

Our top tip to reduce reading stress

“The Rule of 5” is our secret weapon against stress spirals, and it has an amazing positive effect on parent and child alike! The rule  states that every time you correct a child during reading practice, you have to then say 5 bits of praise before you correct again. We have actually seen praise change a struggler’s psychology in a matter of seconds.

Of course, it is not always easy to remember to do. And especially when your child is currently making lots of mistakes! But balancing that correction with loads of affirmations will work for you. It doesn’t need to be loud and celebratory either. We always recommend a simple flow of praise — “yep… good… got it… well done… nice!” A high five is a nice switch-up too.

And how should you word your corrections? The key is to avoid a “no!”. Aim for a gentle “almost! let’s look at that again…” or “oops, try that one one more time?”

I dare you to try it. You will see benefits in under a minute!

Sarah Forrest is a Program Advisor for David Morgan Education and contributor at She joined DM Ed in Oxford, England after studying Spanish lit at Yale University. She now lives in the sunny south of the United States with her two children, where she coaches parents and children through trainertext visual phonics.