It’s a question that comes across every parent’s mind at some point: “How do I help my struggling child?” There are a multitude of reasons as to why your child might struggle with something at some point in their lives, but we as parents will eventually have to endure the pain and heartache at some point. So why let that struggle occur over the alphabet and reading?

I’m going to teach you how to use your child’s strengths to support them in their learning. By understanding how and why you’re child’s struggling, you can incorporate a plan that will help them learn the alphabet (and how to read…) with ease!

After reading you will:

  • Learn the clues that your child is struggling
  • Understand why your child may be struggling
  • Get actionable tips to support their learning
Preschool child frustrated at desk and holding head in his hands.

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Clues Your Child Has Difficulty Learning the Alphabet

There are many ways to determine if your child has difficulty learning the alphabet aside from kicking and screaming and running in the complete opposite direction. Let’s check out some of the more common signs.

They Aren’t Retaining Letters

You may have tried over and over to get your child to tell you what letter you’re holding up or maybe you tried one of those cute Pinterest activities, but the excitement was short-lived and ended in tears.

One of the major reasons for not retaining letters could be a lack of interest. You want to keep your child’s interest and engagement around print as high as possible so that they have a desire to want to learn and read. When their motivation tanks, learning is going to become increasingly difficult.

Your Child Isn’t Labeling Things in Their Environment

I always share how labeling as a way to see if your child is ready to learn the alphabet. This actually is a telltale sign of your child’s readiness.


little tired boy sitting at a desk horizontal; child has difficulty learning the alphabet

Let’s look into this further. When your child is able to label something in their environment, they are providing it with a name. This helps to support their vocabulary as they make meaning of the world around them.

If your child isn’t able to label objects yet like milk, shoes, or maybe even colors, learning the alphabet or their numbers is going to be extremely difficult. They need to have some way to communicate the names for these objects whether it be orally or in sign language or some other way. This means that they are assigning meaning to an object and will be able to do that with each individual letter of the alphabet as well.

They Know Names of Letters, But Can’t Recall Any Sounds

If your child has been learning and retaining the letter names, but not the letter sounds, this might be a sign that they need more practice with phonological awareness.

You also want to ensure that you aren’t just naming letters, but are also providing their sound as well when you’re playing with your child. This will help them to associate that sound with the letter because of the increased exposure you’re providing.

Why Your Child Has Difficulty Learning the Alphabet

There are a couple of main reasons why your child might have some difficulty when learning the alphabet. Let’s take a closer look.

Unhappy Male Student Working At Desk In Chinese School Classroom; child has difficulty learning the alphabet

They Aren’t Ready

This is probably the most common reason that your child has difficulty learning the alphabet: they simply aren’t ready. Jumping in before your child is ready can lead to a lot of confusion and frustration.

Like I mentioned above, your child has to be labeling their environment in some way in order to attach meaning to a letter.

In addition, your child needs to be showing interest in learning the letters in order to capitalize on their learning. Engagement and motivation is key when priming the brain to learn.

Learn more about the signs your child is ready to learn the alphabet here!

They Haven’t Had Enough Exposure to Print

Another reason that your child may be struggling is because they haven’t previously had enough exposure to print. I’m not necessarily talking about books, but just print in their environment in general.

Having items labeled, using bathtub letters during bathtime, or having magnetic letters to sort and play with during free play are just some ways that your child can be surrounded by print.

You want to keep exposure high, but in child-controlled environment where they are exploring and learning through discovery.

Young boy playing with alphabet puzzle; child has difficulty learning the alphabet

Your Child Lacks Interest

This might be one of the tougher nuts to crack. If your child lacks interest, you may notice them paying no attention to print, they never want to attend to a story, or they aren’t curious about letters when you expose them to them.

Getting your child motivated can be tough, but the key is to share excitement around print in your child’s own way. Playing into their interests and existing strengths can do wonders for engagement.

Incorporate print into play by bringing in some magnetic letters involved in your child’s existing play. Don’t direct or interrupt the play, just find natural ways to incorporate the print into the existing play.

How to Help When a Child Has Difficulty Learning the Alphabet

Let’s chat about some ways that you can support your child. One of the most powerful things that you can do is to notice your child’s strengths. What CAN they do? Do they have any interests? What type of play do they like? You can use all of this information to tailor your support and get your child moving forward with their learning.

Frustrated sad little kid boy with glasses and lots of pupil's stuff like crayons pencils, scissors and books. Tired child and student is back to school and unhappy about begin of lessons.

Let’s check out some general things to consider when a child has difficulty learning the alphabet.

1. Go Back to Phonological Awareness

Phonological awareness is a foundational skill that your child needs to have some success with before learning the alphabet.

clipart picture of a cat with three rings for phonological awareness practice

This skill is critical when learning to read and can help your child identify and isolate sounds as they are attaching those sounds to letters.
Check out these posts all about how to support phonological awareness:

2. Use More Multi-Sensory Approaches

I talk a lot about how important multi-sensory instruction is for learning. It literally makes an imprint on your child’s brain, which increases retention and recall.

If you’ve read my approach to actually teaching the alphabet, you will know that I have a very detailed, engaging way that involves multi-sensory learning. I focus on auditory, visual, and kinesthetic cues to support learning.

This is where it’s important to know your child’s interests and capitalize on them. If your child loves music, sing a song to introduce one letter. If your child is fascinated by nature, introduce letters outside by making letters in dirt or with rocks. Get creative and find ways to pique your child’s interest, while incorporating more senses into the instruction.

3. Slow Down, Mama

I know this one can be a hard one. You want your child to learn quickly and with ease. And it doesn’t help when neighbor Karen comes over and tells you that her 4-year-old is reading Harry Potter.

Don’t concern yourself with others. Every child learns differently and at a different pace. (And btw, I call bullsh*t on a 4-year-old reading Harry Potter…)

If your child needs to take 10 days to learn a letter, take 10 days. If your child needs 2 days, take 2. Your child should decide the pace, not your neighbor.

asian woman holding hand up to say stop on a red background

Think again about your child’s strengths and how they’ve learned the letters they’ve had success with. Were they letters in your child’s name? Were they letters that were in your child’s favorite toy?

Capitalize on this interest and find words that have the letters your child is struggling with in them. Then, use your child’s interest in these items to help create engagement with the new letters.

So for example, if my son was struggling with the letter M, I’d bring out Mickey Mouse and label anything and everything with Mickey. Use the opportunity to keep pointing out the letter M and how Mickey starts with the letter M.

4. Up the Exposure

I say this literally all the time: Exposure is one of the most powerful tools at your disposal. It’s never, ever too early to expose your child to print.

Reading every day, labeling items in your home, having your child’s name on everything and pointing it out to them, all of these things have significance no matter the age.

The more your child is around print, the more they will be curious about it and will want to learn more about it.

Be a Cheerleader

Young asian boy holding head in his hands in frustration

So there you have it. My tips to help support a child who has difficulty learning the alphabet. The key is to keep motivation high around learning and to honor and celebrate your child’s strengths. Be that cheerleader that they need. The more you celebrate their growth and their progress, the more confidence they will gain and will continue to grow. Mindset is half the battle.

If you’re looking for a more direct way to support a struggling learner, I invite you to check out my exclusive Problem Solver package. It allows you to work with me 1:1 and get some powerful coaching that will have your child walking around naming letters and reading words. I will provide you with an exact blueprint tailored specifically to your child so that you can drop the struggle and get back to what matters most. Apply now!