I’ve spent the last four days in this series of 5 Easy and Surprising Ways of Raising Writers sharing reasons why your child may not want to write. Now I want to share with you what I consider the secret sauce for motivating young writers.
I’ve taught my own children to write, some of whom come by their writing skills naturally. But I’ve also taught dyslexic students, students with other learning challenges, and students who hated the very idea of writing. As a psychologist (and not just a writing teacher) I’ve observed something interesting.
Most children who don’t want to write think they aren’t good at it.
The Problem With Reluctant Writers
It’s as though they believe writers are born, not made. Where would they get that idea? I think some of it comes from our failure to communicate that making changes to written work is not the same as marking a math answer or a test question incorrect. Red lines equal wrong. And no matter how hard they try, they can’t avoid those dreaded red lines.
Even if you don’t think your child believes that edited work means they aren’t good writers, you may have a child who could benefit from the secret sauce.
Many moms (as I mentioned in the post on what you’re not doing that may be keeping your child from writing) don’t think they can write well. As a result, they’re reluctant to praise their children’s writing. They’ve told me, “I don’t know if it’s good or not.” My friends have asked me to grade their children’s papers. If, as a result of mom’s writing insecurity, a child is getting no praise and only editing marks, it’s no wonder a child would believe she isn’t good at writing. No one wants to devote a lot of time to doing something they’re not good at.
How to Use the Secret Sauce to Overcome Your Child’s Writing Insecurity
Now that we know the problem, it’s time for me to share the ingredients for the secret sauce that will help your child overcome the belief that they aren’t good at writing.
First, explain editing to your child. Every writer, even the most successful, has an editor. Why? Because writers make mistakes. Being a good writer does not mean that they will not have their work edited. Sometimes the person doing the editing is making a mistake. Editors are human, too! But editing allows us to become better writers.
Second, praise your child’s writing. Even if you aren’t really familiar with writing mechanics like spelling, punctuation, and grammar, you can find something to praise about your child’s writing. It does not have to be perfect to warrant encouragement. Writing is a very vulnerable expression, very unlike math problems and tests your child completes. Our children share their opinions, their emotions, and their personality when they write. There is always something praiseworthy in their efforts.
You will not do a child a disservice by acknowledging positives in writing. Even more beneficial to your child’s confidence is expressing surprise. I often appear blown away by something a child writes and I am not acting. I did not know the young writer was capable of such deep thought, such hilarious description, or explaining something complex in such an understandable way. I have had many children, including my own, giggle nervously as I tell them that I see the gift in them. The gift doesn’t have to be for writing, but for observation, for compassion, for wisdom. Once you acknowledge the gift, you can explain that the areas where they struggle can easily be mastered with practice. But the gift? That can’t be taught. That’s theirs forever.
It has been one of my greatest joys in homeschooling to see a child begin to believe that he does, in fact, have something worth sharing with the world.
Third, document progress. As moms, it’s easy to get frustrated with a child who did not capitalize the first letter of a sentence or left off an end mark for the umpteenth time. But if we focus on what isn’t right, our children become convinced that they aren’t getting it. If they aren’t getting it, they won’t want to write any more. Be even more vigilant about finding evidence of progress than you are of mistakes. A scoring rubric for your child’s papers can be very helpful in this regard. I don’t think they’re necessary for young writers, who should be learning to write for the joy of it. But older students will appreciate a list of things to look for in their papers before handing them in. If your curriculum doesn’t include one, you may like this one for elementary students or this editing game.
If you don’t feel comfortable grading your children’s papers, you can ask a writing friend to help. Even if you enroll your child in an outside course, make sure you continue to express your approval and enjoyment of your child’s writing.
When I applied these three ingredients to reluctant writers I taught, I ended up being amazed by what they coud do. When a student believes he is capable of becoming a competent writer, little miracles happen. It all begins with the secret sauce.
If you have a beginning reader or writer, check out Grammar Galaxy. It’s a fast, fun, and easy way for kids to learn.