Help! My Child Hates Writing
So your child says he hates to write. What’s a homeschool mama to do? Believe me, I feel your pain. Teaching writing classes for thirty years, I’m no stranger to kids who dread writing. With experience, though, I found some strategies that work. I love the challenge of convincing reluctant writers that they have something worthwhile to say.
Start here: Figure out why your child hates to write.
The first step is to figure out why your child hates to write. Then become partners in removing those barriers. Tackling the challenge together will show your kids how to solve their own roadblocks to learning going forward.
In my experience, I find two big reasons kids hate to write:
1. Kids dread writing because they lack self-confidence.
They don’t like the way their words sound, and they believe others will view what they’ve written negatively. They think their ideas are stupid or their grammar and spelling are unacceptable. If this is the fundamental roadblock, create a writing environment that guarantees success and affirmation. Avoid situations (like a graded class) where perceived failure might occur.
2. Kids dread writing because the physical demands of handwriting (or keyboarding) suck up precious energy.
A child’s attention span is a limited resource. If the physical act of creating a written piece is draining your child, then move the physical act on to someone else’s plate. Work on developing the stamina required for handwriting or keyboarding in other subjects.
Neither of these two constraints to confident, fluent writing may fit your child. God wants us to be a student of how our kid ticks. I found if I asked Him to show me what was going on inside my kids or students, He was faithful to answer. What barriers do you suspect influence your child’s dread of writing?
Once I’ve figured out what underlying obstacle is in the way, I select from my arsenal of strategies that have worked in the past:
Ten Writing Hacks to End the Struggle
Deescalate the hostilities.
If your kids have strong negative emotions about an assignment, their ability to create will be compromised. Positive emotions enhance our creativity and cognitive functioning. Change the requirements of the assignment. Change the assignment. Eliminate the threat of a grade. Never share something a child has written with others without the child’s permission.
You write too.
You will be surprised by how engaged your kids become when mom or dad take on the assignment too. They will be eager to see what you produce. And, more importantly, you will gain a lot of empathy and insight into the struggles of a young writer as you try to answer the prompt as well.
Create a spark.
Do something different, take a field trip, bring in a surprise visitor, read a story, share a unique image etc. Then ask your kids to write about the experience. Do it right away, while the moment is fresh in their minds. Or, when something unexpected happens, seize the opportunity to use that as a writing prompt for everyone. Enjoy comparing perspective later on.
Have your kids write responses to questions.
Relate the questions to one central idea and increase them in complexity. Here’s how I might help students start a short story:
- Pick a name for your character.
- Is your character a boy, girl, animal, fantastic creature?
- How old is your character?
- What does your character look like?
- Where does your character live?
- Who are your characters’ parents?
- Who is your character’s best friend?
- What are your character’s favorite hobbies?
- What is a big problem your character is facing?
- Who is preventing your character from solving this problem?
- Who is helping your character solve this problem?
- How does this big problem get worse?
- What will happen if your character can’t solve this big problem?
5. Ignore irregular spelling, please!
When we emphasize correct spelling in anything other than a final draft, we limit what kids will write to the words they can confidently spell. This produces very boring, stilted writing. Let them use their full vocabulary and commend them for reasonable guesses. Celebrate any attempt to use new words, even if not technically correct. Most confident teen writers were once wildly experimental elementary writers. Spelling is an interesting cognitive skill that has little to do with a child’s writing ability. It is more connected to the strength of a child’s visual memory skills. My twin sons were natural spellers. My two daughters were inventive spellers. I’m a not a natural speller either. I didn’t use a spelling program with any of my kids. My daughters’ spelling improved by high school, but they had to use spell checkers and me to edit their work. Because my students were typically in high school, I did circle words that were misspelled in their final drafts, but I did not deduct points.
6. Let your kids dictate their thoughts to you.
Whether it is the beginning of a short story, a personal essay, or a research paper—the first step in transforming thoughts into formal written language is to state those thoughts aloud. (I frequently talk to myself when I’m writing.) With older kids you might negotiate an arrangement where you record one paragraph, and then they record the next. Or, you might agree to record the first page and then they take over from there.
7. Encourage your kids to just start writing anything on the page.
The key is to get the composing process underway. Coherent ideas often begin to emerge about half way down the first page. The act of writing has a reciprocal effect on our thinking. As we write, our brains become more capable of organizing our thoughts into a logical progression of ideas.
8. Write every day.
Clear the schedule of all other distractions and ask your kids to write for 15 minutes. Set the timer. Don’t give up. Stick to it. By the end of the first week, you should start to see less effort and more enthusiasm for the act of composing.
9. Have your kids read what they write to the dog.
Truly, a pet is an indispensable life hack for every homeschool program. If you don’t have a pet, then a stuffed animal will do in a pinch. But pets make the ideal listener—no judgement, just love and affirmation. Lots of kids became confident readers and writers because the family dog/cat/fish/rabbit always had time to listen.
10. Co-author with your child.
Professional writers do this all the time and it’s a smart way to produce more writing. Work on some pieces together—they will love this together time. Collaborate with your child wherever a barrier to writing exists. Some of my own kids were in middle school, and I was still collaborating with them in authoring or typing a paper. (If you child is in a co-op class, just clue the teacher in so there are no misunderstandings.)
If none of these work, let me know, please. I’m happy to brainstorm with you. No matter what, don’t eliminate writing from your homeschool program. Our kids need to leave home confident, capable writers—it’s an essential skill that will open the doors to their futures.
Need more inspiration? Read this next:
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Join My Mission — Raise a Writer in Residence
I’m passionate about helping parents raise writers in residence in their homeschools. I’d love to hear from you—what writing successes and struggles have you experienced in your homeschool? Anything I’ve missed in this post that you’d like to share? Connect with me on Facebook and at DebraBell.com.
For teens, Aim Academy offers writing-intensive English classes. See our selection here.