All of childhood is an extended lesson in the art of self-expression. From a baby’s first word through toddlers’ simple phrases to high school SAT vocabulary lessons, a huge portion of your child’s life is spent learning to speak and write.
In this day and age of standardized testing, it can sometimes be hard to remember that learning to write is about more than just a test score or a perfect school essay — writing is still a skill that can allow for clearer self-expression than off-the-cuff speaking, and it’s a crucial element of future success and happiness.
Enter journaling. If you’re worried about your child either not developing their writing skills or not learning to enjoy writing sufficiently, you may find that introducing them to journaling frees your child to explore their thoughts, ideas and talents on paper in a way they haven’t tried before. Journaling can be a powerful tool of self-expression and offers many benefits to children of all ages, including the following:
- A way to reduce stress. Writing about problems can make them seem more manageable, and getting problems off their chest can help your child relax and let go, which can improve sleep and overall health and wellbeing.
- A way to work out problems. Using a journal to imagine alternate endings to confrontations or list different ways to tackle a challenge can be an important step in learning to dissect and solve a personal problem.
- A fun way to improve writing skills. If your child isn’t interested in academic writing, they’ll probably still enjoy writing about themselves and their friends — most people do! No matter what the subject, frequent practice leads to more polished writing, so journaling is a great way to sneak in those extra lessons without your child even noticing.
- A way to record history. Your child won’t be young forever, and in the future, they’ll appreciate having a detailed record of what they were like as a kid or teen. Sure, some of it may be utterly cringe-worthy, and you won’t be able to read it, but your child will be glad to have it someday.
- A way to be creative. Many kids are great, imaginative writers and thinkers but struggle to shine in classes where facts and figures are emphasized. A journal can serve as a creative outlet, and your child may prefer working on fiction rather than autobiography — which is ok, too!
Journaling for Students With Disabilities
Journaling can have additional benefits for kids and teens who are challenged by certain physical or learning disabilities. While they may generally crave an outlet to work out their anxieties outside of school, children with specific disabilities that make self-expression difficult may particularly enjoy journaling. For example, a child with a stutter or other speech impediment can get much-needed practice getting out their ideas in a pressure-free way by writing them down at home. For non-verbal students, a journal can be a lifeline.
Many children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) also struggle with self-expression, and journaling can be another way to help them learn to express their feelings and communicate information about themselves. It must be acknowledged that many students with ASD intensely dislike writing due to its wide-open, unregulated nature and utter lack of structural cues — a blank page can be intimidating, enraging or frightening.
Still, journaling can help a child with ASD become a stronger writer and better engage with family, so it’s worth the effort to set your child up for journaling success. Try these tips to help a child with autism ease into journaling at home:
- Create a routine. Students with ASD thrive on routines they can understand and rely on, so work on making journal time a regular, anticipated part of the day. Perhaps it’s something you work on together during an after-school snack or after dinner. Choose a place to work and a warm-up routine to set the stage in a predictable way.
- Provide a template. To minimize the frustration of open-ended writing, create a template with simple sentences and a fill-in-the-blank structure (“Today I ate ____. I liked ____. I didn’t enjoy ____.”). Stick with the template for as long as you need to develop comfort and confidence, then consider branching out incrementally.
- Use pictures. If your child is non-verbal, use picture flashcards to get the ball rolling and help them communicate. You can scribe as needed, or even begin by taping pictures onto the template blanks.
- Get advice from your child’s teacher. If your child is working on writing techniques or routines in school, it can be hugely helpful to mirror them at home. Use your child’s teacher as a resource for ideas about how to work together on journaling.
If you’re willing to meet your child on their own terms, you’ll find that journaling can be a great way to enhance their writing and set them on a path toward a lifetime of self-expression and communication.
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