It's easy to panic when your child seems to be falling behind in school. But you can calm your concern and help her at the same time with these tips.

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girls reading on cushion
Credit: Priscilla Gragg

If you're child is not reading at grade level, whether they're in first, third or fifth grade, the first thing to do isn't to freak out. Parents advisor Cathy Vatterott, Ph.D., professor emeritus at the University of Missouri–St. Louis and author of Rethinking Homework, says to ask yourself these three questions first, then go from there.

1. Who says your child is struggling?

If the problem was revealed through school testing or her teacher's concern, then you should figure out which assessment was used and ask what issues it found. But opinions of other parents and comparisons with what other children in her grade are reading aren't valid reasons to worry.

2. Why is she not reading at grade level?

Reading is a complex process. If your child tests below grade level, this could point to several possible causes, like word-recognition or decoding issues or even vision or hearing problems (each of which requires a different type of intervention). Once you learn which reading behaviors might be factors, rest assured that her teacher and reading specialist have many tools available to help her get to the next level.

3. What can you do together at home?

Allow your kid's interests to drive what she reads. (She loves dogs? Find every book you can about them!) Your child's teacher and reading specialist might also suggest ways to support her improvement, such as having you read to her, having her read to you (and the dog!), talking with her about what she's reading, getting her to reread a book she liked, or letting her write her own story to read.

Finally, relax. You don't want your worries to affect your child's confidence. Reading is supposed to be fun, not an anxious chore.

Parents Magazine