How to Encourage Your Child to Read When They Don’t Want to Sit Still

Does your child hate reading because they don’t like sitting still to do it? Try these 7 suggestions to help energetic kids focus on reading and develop a love for books.

This post is part of an ongoing Summer Reading for Kids series. Click HERE to find ideas for reading activities, reading lists, and reading incentives…and keep checking back for more!

My youngest daughter is a bit of a reluctant reader.

She’s actually quite a good reader, but she just hates to sit still long enough to read a couple pages, much less an entire book! She’s a ball of energy and just getting our 20 minutes in before bed during the school year is often a fight.

She is just about to graduate from 3rd grade, and I want to really help her focus on learning to enjoy reading this summer.

Last year, one of my blog readers who runs a summer reading program sent me a lovely email with pointers on how to help children like my daughter love to read. And I’ve learned a few tricks of my own as her mother, too.

Does your child have so much energy that it's hard to sit still to read a book? Here are some tips on how to help focus that energy and learn to love reading! #overstuffedlife

7 Ways to Help Your Energetic Child Focus on Reading

1. Read to your child

Set aside a little bit of time every day where you are the reader.

During that time, let your child play with toys or draw pictures as you read to her. She will still be listening, but will also have a simultaneous outlet for her hands as she hears the story.

I am always amazed at just how much my daughter is able to comprehend when we read this way, and some of her favorite books are the ones I read aloud to her first. Because she is already familiar with the stories I have read to her, she can focus on them more easily when she reads them by herself.

2. Change reading positions

It sounds weird, but it totally works!

Instead of having them read while sitting on the couch, encourage them to lay on their tummies or even stand on their heads while reading. I’m not even kidding about the standing on their head thing. My daughter reads like that all the time. (She also watches TV or participates in family games while standing on her head!)

These unconventional positions use up a lot more energy than sitting does, and that small outlet of energy helps the really active kids focus better on the book. Try it, it really works!

3. Practice deep breathing before reading

Help your child to take five deep breaths before beginning to read. Have them slowly count to five on their fingers as they inhale, and then use their other hand to count to five as they exhale.

The deep breaths serve to settle down their active little bodies and help them prepare to focus on reading.

4. Read in small increments throughout the day

Instead of insisting that your child read for 20 minutes in one shot, have them read for only five minutes at a time.

They’ll still get their required reading time in, but it won’t feel quite so torturous to sit still for TWENTY ENTIRE MINUTES.

5. Give incentives for reading

Small rewards are super motivating for some kids.

My daughter will happily sit and read for 20 minutes if she knows that means she can go outside and ride her bike for an hour afterward. I also give rewards for every book they finish during the summer, and when I choose the right rewards (this year it will be money), the kids read more books.

(See our reading incentives by clicking here: Summer Reading Motivation.)

6. Let them choose books about movie or TV characters

Sometimes, as a parent, I have wanted to move away from books that feature the characters they are already watching during screen time. But now I understand that reading about characters they already know and love is a great motivator.

I let them buy those character books from their book order forms all the time, and they definitely get read often! Reading is reading.

Graphic novels are also a hit for my daughter. She was obsessed with Dork Diaries, so I worked hard to find novels that were similar: 35 Series Like Dork Diaries

7. Allow reading on electronic devices

To me, a book is a book is a book is a book. I read on my Kindle, my iPad, actual books, audio books—whichever format is easiest at the time. But to my daughter, being allowed to read on the iPad or the computer is really exciting!

To her, it feels like she’s getting all sorts of free screen time since I don’t count reading as screen time.

Update: 2 years later, she still does her best reading on electronic devices. We got her a Kindle Fire for Christmas and she LOVES reading books on it—in fact, she reads much more often now that she has her own Kindle.

We got the opportunity to try out Disney Story Central this past week, and she is addicted! It is going to be an amazing addition to our summer reading!

We first got our account set up on the computer, and we picked a few books together.

My daughter especially loved being able to pick books that featured her favorite characters.

One of my favorite things about Disney Story Central is that it already incorporates many of the tips and tricks I have been using to get my daughter to really enjoy reading.

It will read aloud to your child if they are not feeling like reading themselves, or if they are early readers who still need help with their reading.

The books are all about children’s favorite Disney characters.

It has special rewards and incentives based on how many pages you read, which books you read, and how much time you spend reading. She LOVES this feature.

In fact, she loves it so much that she was devastated when she accidentally read under my reader name (you can have multiple readers on one account), so I have her trophies from that reading session. No worries, though, because she has still earned plenty of trophies under her own name!

Update: Disney Story Central has been retired since this article was written. This daughter is now 17 years old and has no need for apps like this anymore. I did some research and found the Epic reading app for kids which seems to have similar features as the Disney.

I haven’t seen her sit still to read this long for a while. Maybe I’ve never seen her sit still this long to read! Even though some of the books are really easy for her, I don’t mind because she is reading, and that’s what matters most to me.

I will definitely be rewarding her with more tokens as an incentive to keep it up. She has been loving using the tokens I had to choose the books she wanted to read most, and I think that’s another reason she has been engaged for so long.

Does your child hate reading because they don't like sitting still to do it? Try these 7 suggestions to help energetic kids focus on reading and develop a love for books.

I was selected for this opportunity as a member of Clever Girls and the content and opinions expressed here are all my own.

This post may contain affiliate links, for more information, please see my disclosure.
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My middle one is a great reader, but he hates it. I love to read, so it's frustrating. He definitely loves the summer reading program at the library šŸ™‚ These are all GREAT tips. Thank you!


I hear you! Sophia is that way, she doesn't hate reading so much as she hates calming down and sitting still, though. I have a hard time understanding since I love reading and sitting still both so much!


I suppose e-readers for older children might be more motivating. My teenager likes to read on them sometimes.

Kim (The Kim Six Fix)

My kids were never big readers until I let them read via their electronics devices. There was something about it that probably felt familiar to them..

Colleen (Souffle Bombay)

MY kids go in and out when it comes to reading – sort of like me…I love to read…keep reading like crazy, then take a break for a month or two.! Great tips here!

Bekah @ reā€¢solve

I think I want this for myself.