There was a situation I ran into a few times before I became a parent that I never really knew how to handle. It always involved a child who had an older sibling who was either learning to read, or had just mastered reading. I would say to the younger child, “Let’s read a book,” and that child would soberly respond, “I can’t read.”

That response always took me aback; I wasn’t sure if I was supposed to encourage them, reassure them, ignore it, or what. It did make me a little sad, though. The kid was acknowledging that their sibling had taken a large developmental leap that they were not yet capable of. There was always a bit of sadness or longing in their response.

M. has continued to improve her reading skills. She wants to sound out things she sees, or write down things she wants to say, constantly. She’s getting good at picking up books she is not familiar with and working her way through them, with a little help on the tricky words. It won’t be long until we can turn her loose with a stack of books and know she’ll be good until she reaches the end of the last one.

Saturday we went to the library and after returning home with a bag full of books for the girls, I suggested we make a reading chart to keep us focused. Read a few books a day, get a sticker, and at when we reached a defined point, the girls get to go to a bookstore and buy the book of their choice.

I threw out ideas for how we should reward the girls. “How about if we read two books a day, you get a sticker? Once you get 20 stickers, we’ll go buy a book, ok?”

M. thought that was a great idea, but C. stood next to me and said, matter-of-factly, “But Dad, I can’t read.”


I hope I reacted better than I did in the past. I told her I understood that and S. and I would still help her read her books. But it again made me sad at how that milestone is so concrete to the younger kids. They see all the praise and attention big sister is getting and know they can’t compete. C. will sit down with books and flip through them, point at the words, and make up her own stories. But she knows that isn’t really reading. She’ll get there, and then we’ll go through the same thing again with L. But I wish we could avoid those sad little responses.