My heart breaks a little whenever I hear about a child who dislikes writing. I remember how necessary writing was in my own childhood: I would use words on paper the way I was too shy and scared to use them with people. For me, writing was a way to explore my own mind and make sense of the world.
Yet it's only to be expected that kids would find writing an agonizing chore. Many of them only ever experience it as a forced activity. They're told what to write, how to write it, and then chastised for not “saying enough.”
If you’re seeing resistance to writing in your child, maybe writing isn’t the problem. Maybe it’s the lack of connection to writing.
Writing Isn't Just for School
What if you had only ever played football and no other sport? And what if it was a miserable experience? You didn’t like getting jostled around. You hated the sticky, sweaty helmet. You were bored by having to memorize all the plays. And you got really frustrated when your teammates didn’t pass to you, even though you were wide open.
You might decide that sports and athletic ability are a big fat waste of time. And that wouldn’t be fair. There are a lot of other sports out there. If you had the chance to try cross country, or volleyball, or tennis, or swimming, or hiking, maybe you would find your joy.
Sometimes the dislike of writing is really the dislike of the type of writing we’ve been forced to do. [Tweet that]
At school, writing tends to mean expository essays. But in reality, writing means a whole host of activities. If we give children a chance to experience and experiment with those various forms of writing, they will have a chance to develop a connection to it.
Writing Can Be a Joyful Experience
In writing, joy comes from personal connection. It's easy to feel connected when you have:
- something to say
- a purpose or plan for your writing
- the trust that your writing will be respectfully received
1. Writing Privately
If your child is very resistant to writing and perhaps even has some trauma around it from past experiences, start gently. Encourage your child to write only for him- or herself. Make an agreement that you won’t read anything unless your child decides to share.
Try these ideas:
- Journaling. Never underestimate the power of a brand new journal or notebook that your child gets to select, or the perfect mechanical pencil!
- Freewriting. Setting a timer for 10 minutes and inviting your child to write down all of his or her thoughts about a topic can be very helpful for stuck writers. It often gives them just enough structure to feel safe embracing their writing freedom. If your child says, “But I don’t know what to write about!” you might volunteer to make a “topic box” with little slips of paper that have people, places, things, objects, or ideas written on them. Your child can select at random to add a game element to the activity.
- Writing free-form poetry. Check out a book of poetry from the library and invite your child to imitate the style of the poems he or she reads. Even copying down poems into a notebook is a great way to begin!
- Making comics with dialogue
- Making art and writing descriptions of it
2. Writing for a Trusted Audience
If your child has the willingness to share writing but very little motivation to do it, adding in a social aspect can be helpful.
Try these ideas:
- Find a pen pal. This doesn’t have to be someone who lives far away. Even a friend from school can make a great pen pal over the summer when your child won’t see him or her regularly.
- Join or start a story club. Check out your local library, community center, or parks and recreation department to see if they offer story-writing classes or workshops. If you don’t find one, consider starting your own story club. Invite families you know to meet once a week so that there is a communal commitment to write.
- Sign-up for a one-on-one writing class where your child can learn skills at his or her own pace through fun activities and personalized, positive feedback.
3. Writing About Passions
One of the many memorable moments in my career as a writing teacher was reading a detailed, thoughtful, five-paragraph essay on Pokemon characters. It was penned by a student who could barely get out three sentences on a topic when we first started working together. He said he hated writing. But when he was given the opportunity to write about a topic he really cared about—and really knew about—he was unstoppable! Put your child’s passions to work in the service of practicing writing.
Try these ideas:
- Writing about a favorite game. This might be descriptions of different characters or levels in the game. It might be strategies. It could even be fantasy add-ons.
- Submitting to a newspaper or magazine. Depending on the platform, your child can share either creative writing or articles about a favorite subject with the larger world. Here are some places to start looking:
- Starting a blog about a topic your child really cares about. This will provide motivation to write through both an interesting topic and an intended audience. You can set up a free blog, no coding skills required, at any of the following:
Joy is an Invitation
It’s my experience that enthusiasm leads to faster learning, no matter the subject. If I can find joy and connection with a new skill, I am more inclined to practice and more invested in my outcome. Writing is no different.
Hone your writing craft with joy. You’ll get better at it that much faster. [Tweet that]
I won’t promise that your child will never have to write on an assigned topic ever again. After all, writing is the main way we communicate our thoughts to others, so if we have to respond to an idea or show our competence in an area, we’ll have to write about it, usually in a standard way.
But even essay writing can be transformed to invite students into writing by allowing them to write about their passions, talents, and interests.
Moreover, when structured, formal writing is balanced with more joyful, connected writing, students begin to develop an internal motivation to find their own writing voices.
Once the motivation is there, the skills can be taught. If your child begins learning writing resistant to the whole activity, the process will be slow and painful. If, on the other hand, your child has the opportunity to first fall in love with writing, he or she will be far more open to learning the skills necessary to write for the rest of school, career, and life.
Are you ready to stop fighting about writing with your child? Learn more here!
Join the conversation! What's your own experience with writing? How do you help your child get motivated to write?