Mom tips: Getting your kid over the fear of writing

Do your kids love writing? Or do they resist any assignment that involves pencil-and-paper (or keyboard-and-printer)?


My oldest, now age 14, HATED to write when he was younger. If I asked him to write anything, he would moan and groan and produce a piece of simplistic, scrawled writing that didn't begin to represent his knowledge of the topic. At first, I was confused. My son could talk about fishing for what seemed like hours, in full sentences and paragraphs. Verbally, he was capable of expressing complex ideas in easily understandable, engaging language. But you'd never have known it by looking at his writing. At age 10, he could discuss fishing (and many other topics) at a high school level. His writing, on other hand, looked like something produced by a first grader.

Eventually, I realized that the physical process of writing was very difficult for my son. Holding a pencil and physically creating the letters was tough for him. He also was a less-than-stellar speller, and his inability to spell many of the words he wanted to use limited his writing. So when asked to write something independently, he self-censored his words, choosing ones that were easy for him to spell instead of the longer, richer, more complex words that were part of his everyday vocabulary. And because writing was akin to torture for him, he wrote as little as possible.

So for a time, I stopped asking him to write anything beyond a few simple words or sentences. Instead, I took dictation. I sat at the keyboard and typed his words, complete with the punctuation suggested by his intonation, as he spooled off story after story. The words flowed, unrestricted, and he "wrote" a play. Then another (18 pages!). He wrote a Letter to the Editor and all about fishing and all kinds of things. At the same time, he spent a lot of time with words. He read books, voraciously, and listened to many, many books on tape.

As he grew and spent more time on the computer, I gradually introduced keyboarding. Typing was easier for him than handwriting, and the words began to flow more freely. His spelling skills had improved too; most of the time, Microsoft Word would recognize his errors, giving him the opportunity to self-correct his mistakes with spellcheck. Over time, he learned to spell most of his commonly misspelled words.

Today, my 14-year-old son spends two hours a day writing content for a fishing website. His attitude toward writing has completely changed. Now, he can write complex papers independently -- and he loves to write. He's even started writing a book.

If you have a struggling writer, these tips might help him or her eventually love writing:

  • Put away the paper and pencil. Let your kids experiment with writing on the computer. Many of today's tech-savvy kids feel far more comfortable with a keyboard than a pen or pencil. If your kids can't type yet, take dictation and/or introduce typing skills.
  • Tell stories. Read aloud to your kids, even the older ones. Listen to audiobooks. Make up silly stories at the dinner table, and encourage kids to add on. Good writing tells stories, so exposure to stories now may drastically improve your kids' writing down the road.
  • Praise their efforts. Don't obsess over commas and periods. Not now. Instead, focus on content. Comment on a great description, word choice or character development.
  • Read aloud examples of good writing. Find a great sentence in the newspaper today? Read it to your kids, and discuss what you liked about it.
  • Provide low-key opportunities to practice writing. Most kids love making lists. Teen boys, especially, love to add to the grocery list.
  • Write them notes. End with a question to encourage them to write you back.