If your child or teen has a burgeoning interest in being a writer, there are many ways to encourage this newfound interest. Here are seven suggestions for supporting the literary urge in young members of your family.
1: Offer your child fun writing tools
Your young poet or novelist will appreciate a field trip together to choose special writing tools. Depending on his or her personality, your child might prefer to write in a lined journal, in a blank art sketchbook, on monogrammed stationery, or even on neon-colored legal pads. He or she might like a set of colored gel pens, a set of fine-tipped Sharpie markers, or a fresh set of sharpened #2 pencils. See How to Start a Poetry Journal for ideas on different kinds of journals your child might prefer.
Some older kids or teens might prefer a digital environment for writing. But there are still ways to provide cool writing tools for a computer or mobile device. For example, you can download a free application at OmmWriter.com that is similar to Microsoft Word, but with a minimalist interface and relaxing music.
Children of all ages will enjoy seeing their finished poems or stories in print. It’s easy to create a poetry chapbook using a word processing program and your home printer. You can bind the book yourself with a hole punch and ribbon, or take it to a copy shop to be perfect-bound in order to look more like a “real book.”
2: Bring back bedtime reading by enjoying a nightly poem together
For younger children, you can incorporate poetry into your existing nighttime routine of reading before bed. Older kids and teens might also enjoy a nightly poetry ritual. Family members can take turns choosing a poem and reading it aloud. This could happen before bed or at the dinner table.
If you think your child would enjoy the poem but not the public sharing of it, think of a more private alternative. For example, once a week you could tuck a “poetry surprise” into your child’s lunchbox, sock drawer, or other locations.
3: Hold back criticism unless your child requests it
When your child comes to you to share something he or she has written, it’s best to respond with an observation about the effort put into the writing process rather than focusing on the quality of the writing itself. For example, you might say, “Wow, you’ve worked hard on this poem! I can see that you’re feeling really excited and proud of yourself.” If your child then asks for your feedback (“Do you like it?” or “Do you think it’s good?”), you can focus on a specific aspect of the writing that you genuinely enjoyed, such as:
- “It’s really neat how you wrote from the point of view of the horse in the story.”
- “You chose such perfect language to show the sounds of the city traffic.”
- “I like how you used cloudy weather to create a mood of sadness.”
You can also directly express how much you enjoy reading your child’s brand-new writing: “It makes me feel so special that you’re sharing this with me. I really like seeing what you’re working on.”
Sometimes children and teenagers share their writing with a trusted person when they simply want encouragement to keep writing. Other times, they may actually want specific help in improving what they’ve written. If your child requests this kind of detailed feedback, ask him or her which part of the writing is the most troublesome, and be sure to keep your response specific and constructive. Use “what if” language to convey your constructive criticism as a possibility rather than a directive: “What if you made this long sentence into two shorter sentences?”
4: Respect your child’s privacy as a writer
Your son or daughter might choose to share pieces of writing with you. Then again, he or she might not want you to see it. This is absolutely normal, even though it might hurt your feelings to be excluded. The best way to address this kind of secrecy is to make an off-hand remark about how much your child seems to enjoy writing—and then leave it at that. He or she is likely to share the writing later on, and in the meantime you’ll earn his or her respect by being respectful yourself.
5: Know the difference between support and pressure
Parents sometimes feel compelled to offer a child every possible opportunity to develop his or her creative skills. You might wonder if you should be enrolling your child in writing classes or helping him or her to enter writing contests. However, this can lead to your child feeling pressured to excel. What began as a form of creative self-expression could become another source of stress or anxiety.
Instead, demonstrate your support with positive observations about your child’s interest in writing. Wait for verbal clues before offering involvement in writing-related classes or other activities, and gauge your child’s interest in these opportunities through his or her response. Most importantly, let your child decide on his or her level of involvement with structured writing activities. Whether your child is 8 or 16, it’s okay for writing simply to be a means of creative experimentation.
6: Be a creative role model by engaging in your own hobbies
Whether your interests lie in writing, music, or other creative outlets, developing your own hobbies will give your child a positive model for self-expression. Even pursuits that are not traditionally thought of as “creative”—from golf to cooking—contain elements of artistry. When your child sees you engaged in meaningful activities, he or she will feel empowered to follow in a variety of pursuits as a personal journey of creativity.
7: Institute a family “Creative Time” each week
Show your child that creativity is a valued priority in your family. One way to do this is to set a time each week dedicated to creative hobbies. For example, every Sunday afternoon between 4 p.m. and dinnertime could be designated as Creative Time. This could take many forms, depending on your family’s preferences:
- It could be a quiet time in which individuals work on their own creative projects.
- It could be a shared time of working side-by-side on individual projects or collaboratively on a family project.
- It could be a designated field trip time, in which the family explores local creative resources for creative play and inspiration.
These suggestions are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to encouraging your young writer. The key is to keep writing fun by remembering that it’s the creative process that matters most, not the end result. Having creative fun together, as well as modeling your own engagement with creativity, is the best way to encourage your child’s writing talent both now and in the future.