What If My Kid Hates Writing Part 3December 27, 2022
Part 3 of a three-part series on handwriting
Guest post by HollyonHandwriting
How often I hear (and have said myself), “I want my kids to love learning!” But what’s a parent (teacher) to do when our kids don’t love the things we are trying to teach? Writing is one of those skills that can be frustrating to both students and teachers. What can we do when our child pushes back against any effort to teach them how to write?
We know that learning to write is essential, healthy, and necessary, but how in the world do we get children to like learning something (let alone love it) when they balk every time they are faced with the task? Well, this kind of problem-solving is not new to parents! All of us have had to figure out how to get our children to do the right thing when they don’t want to do it; think, for example, of training our children to go to bed on time, do their house chores, or eat their leafy greens.
In this third installment of the three-part series, we get to another possible reason why your child might struggle with writing. In parts one and two, I suggested two aspects of writing fluency that may be hindering a child’s ability to write and therefore blocking a child’s enjoyment of the writing process. (Read Part 1 and Part 2) Here, I talk about what can be done if your student has a persistent reluctance to writing.
Possible Problem: Preset Negative Attitude
Some kids respond to writing as a toddler responds to eating brussels sprouts or a sour lemon; the response being negative and immediate. Others build up resentment over time due to a number of factors (two of which are discussed in parts one and two of this blog series). It is important for a parent to diagnose the problem as accurately as possible in order to remedy the situation and prevent long-term damage and prolonged suffering. If you have already considered the problems associated with literally getting words from their head onto paper, then it is time to broadly consider why their attitude toward writing is so negative.
It is worth repeating that the fundamental skills of writing such as forming letters efficiently, being able to spell, and putting together a coherent sentence must be trained incrementally and consistently. For writing to become enjoyable and useful, it must be relatively easy, and it will not become easy if it is not done every single day.
Attitudes are shaped over time, so an attempt to change your child’s mind about writing must be shaped—intentionally and methodically. A negative attitude about writing (or anything!) can halt forward progress. Here are some approaches that may help change their hearts and minds:
Back Up A Bit
Sometimes writing assignments try to push a child forward with challenging requirements that feel daunting to the student. Bad attitudes are often because a student does not feel equipped to handle the task. In middle school, I did a large writing unit around children’s books. The 12- and 13-year-old kids were asked to bring in their favorite children’s book. We discussed why they liked it and what the author’s goals were in writing the book. After exploring the writing devices, word choices, and audience, the kids were then asked to think of what they would write for a young child. We spent the next couple of weeks writing, illustrating, and binding the books. Not a single student resented the process and moreover were very proud of their achievement!
Break It Down
The cognitive skills and knowledge needed to write are incredibly complex. When a young writer is given an assignment that asks too much of their brain, (even if it’s just their attitude that tells them it’s too much) they can feel overwhelmed, discouraged, or incapable. Breaking down an assignment helps them achieve little victories that assure them that they have what it takes to learn.
For example, consider these writing exercises that build confidence in young writers by breaking the process into digestible parts:
SAY IT-WRITE IT-FIX IT: Give your student a question or topic. Have your student speak a one- or two-sentence answer/thought. Let them work through the sentence orally, then you write it down on paper for them as they say it to you. Have them read the sentence back to you to hear how it sounds. Talk through the words used, the word order, and the intent. Then, ask if the sentence could be improved. Work through that with them, fine-tuning it so it says what they wanted to say in the best way they can.
COPY & FILL-IN THE BLANK: On lined paper using neat handwriting, write a sentence or a paragraph about a topic of interest. (You could also pull an excerpt from a book your child is currently reading.) As you write it, choose several words to leave out, putting a blank line instead. Have your child copy the entire sentence or paragraph filling in the blanks with their own word choices. Then have them add on one more sentence.
If a student’s negative attitude toward writing has been built up over time, then expect that it will take some time to change their feelings about it. Slowing forward momentum and breaking down the process helps a lot but, of course, we want to see them grow and improve their writing skills. Do this incrementally and creatively by increasing the number and frequency of new writing challenges. As with physical interval training, small, new brain training exercises produce stamina and know-how.
Additional Ideas to Improve Attitudes
Attitudes about learning can be improved if the student feels some sense of purpose. Try giving your child “real life” reasons to write, apart from curriculum. You’ll have to get creative for this one! For example, have them write a letter to a soldier during the holidays or create a descriptive flyer for a fundraising event in your community. I once had an idea I took from my junior high teacher to create a restaurant menu for a holiday dinner complete with descriptions of each item being served and the price. How about an article for publication in a kids’ magazine?
To help writing become automatic and commonplace, incorporate writing into your daily life by creating routines around writing. For example, journal the day’s events; track the weather and write a regular weather report; write a weekly letter to family or a friend. Lastly, some students benefit from copy work, that is, writing by hand such works as scripture and/or poetry. This helps to internalize rich language, increase attention, and provides practice in putting words on paper to improve stamina.
Like health, a student’s negative attitude about writing may come from something he’s eaten over his short life that has left him sick, or perhaps from environmental factors that have seeped in undetected. In any case, it is worthwhile taking a step back to view the problem for what it is in order to administer effective remedies.
More about the Author Holly Britton. The Squiggle Squad’s program designer, Holly Britton, M.Ed., is a curriculum and instruction specialist with teaching experience in all grades K-8. She is an author and conference speaker and a former home educator of four now-adult children. Holly brings over 22 years of private and public education experience to this program. Holly relishes time with her friends and family including her horse, Shasta.