Reading Anxiety in Children

Posted by Brainspring on 18th Feb 2021

[Editor’s Note: This article was first published in August 2019.]

If you watch television, are on social media, listen to the radio, or read magazines, you have likely seen dozens of advertisements, stories, and mentions of anxiety. It seems that anxiety is on the rise, especially in children. As a parent and professional educator, I can attest to this. I see more and more children with symptoms of anxiety today than I did 20 years ago, especially when it comes to reading.  Today let’s take a closer look at reading anxiety.


Some of the biggest fears people have are death, illness, and public speaking. Imagine yourself in a room filled with your peers. You are on a stage, and there is a bright spotlight shining down upon you. You are about to give a speech. It’s time to begin; You glance at your note cards, but you don’t recognize any of the letters or words. Knowing that you must begin your speech right now – your peers are prodding you on, “Come on, Jimmy,” and so is your boss, “Jimmy? Can you get started please?” – you begin. You stumble over the words. Laughter erupts. You lose your concentration. Your hands are shaking. Your forehead is sweating. Your face turns red. You try again, but the words aren’t coming out right. You begin to sweat and shake. You are frustrated and embarrassed and want to run off stage, but you can’t.

For many children, reading aloud in the classroom feels just like that. It feels like public speaking combined with the pressure of giving a good and accurate performance, all while being evaluated by a boss (the teacher) and several peers. When you consider it this way, it is no wonder that some children experience reading anxiety.

How can I help?

There are a few things teachers and parents can do to help alleviate reading anxiety in children, such as allowing an anxious child to practice pre-reading a passage before being asked to read it aloud in class. Teachers also might assign shorter and less complex passages for anxious readers. They might also develop a signal for students (such as standing next to the student or tapping the desk) to alert them that they will be asked to begin reading shortly as this allows the students a brief time to prepare to read. Students themselves may also have ideas on what would help them to feel more comfortable reading aloud.

Is it anxiety?

As with any official diagnosis, reading anxiety cannot be given by teachers or parents – only a licensed medical professional such as a psychologist can offer a diagnosis. However, there are symptoms you can watch for to see if a child is struggling with reading anxiety. If you suspect your child is developing or struggling with reading anxiety, talk to his or her teacher about it, set up a meeting with a counselor or psychologist, and develop strategies that may help alleviate the anxiety.

What should you watch for?

Below is a list of common reading anxiety symptoms:

  • Avoiding reading at home or school
  • Seeming restless while reading
  • Complaining of fatigue (“I’m too tired to do this.”)
  • Frequent headaches
  • Frequent stomachaches
  • Seeming inattentive
  • Refusing to participate
  • Asking to leave the room during reading group (“May I use the bathroom?” or “I need to get a pencil from my locker.”)
  • Expressing a sense of dread (“I hate my reading group.” or “Reading is stupid.” or “Do we have to?)
  • Expressing worry about reading group activities (“Are we going to read out loud today?” or “Will I have to do that, too?)
  • Expressing concern about reading group status (“Why does that group get all the good books?” or “Why do we have to read baby books?”
  • Stalling or not coming to the reading group on time (“I can’t find my book.”)
  • Hands shaking while holding a book or while reading
  • Fidgeting or not paying attention
  • Face or turning red or splotchy when reading
  • Giving up too easily (“I can’t do this.” or “I don’t get it.”)
  • Removing accountability from self (“You have to help me.”)
  • Throwing a tantrum
  • Shutting down, quitting, or refusing to try (“You can’t make me.”)
  • Sweating
  • A feeling of butterflies in the stomach

Do you notice any of these symptoms in your students or children?

Tammi Brandon, M.Ed., CDP

Tammi Brandon is a Master Instructor and Education Consultant with Brainspring Educator Academy.

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